FERTILITY SPECIALISTS SHARE A REAL KINSHIP WITH THEIR PATIENTS
CAIRNS DOCTOR ANNE COFFEY AND NURSE REBECCA AUKER KNOW THE GRIEF OF INFERTILITY AND THE JOYS OF PARENTHOOD AFTER TURNING TO IVF. THIS KINSHIP WITH PATIENTS MAKES THEM BETTER AT THEIR WORK
The irony of discovering she was unable to have a baby was not lost on fertility specialist Dr Anne Coffey. “It was not long after I’d made a decision that that was the area of medicine I was going to work in. All of a sudden there was that realisation that I was going to have to go through the process myself,” says the clinical director of Queensland Fertility Group in Cairns.
It came after six years studying medicine at the University of Adelaide and another decade of general, obstetrics and gynaecology training.
Like most women, Anne assumed pregnancy would happen when she was ready. It didn’t. “I used to avoid Muddy’s playground — I wouldn’t ever walk through it,” she says.
“It was too painful. I wanted to have a pram. I wanted to have a child running around in the water and all I could think was I’ll never have that.”
She says society underestimates the pain of infertility.
“It is a period of awful suffering. It’s a disenfranchised form of grief, where there isn’t a visible loss, but it’s a loss of an expected outcome in life — one of the core things many people believe their life is for.
“And it’s the loss of potential identity as a parent — that inclusion into parenthood and, for people who are childless, the potential losses in later life, such as missing out on being a grandparent.”
Anne had IVF at 33 after three years of trying for a baby and miscarrying.
“I was very lucky. It was successful early on. The pregnancy was incredibly difficult. Many IVF pregnancies are really difficult because people are often preparing themselves for more bad news.
“They’ve often had a long period of bad experiences leading up to it and, as much as pregnancy is the cure in many ways for infertility, there’s still a lot of baggage brought into pregnancy.
“I experienced the normal feelings in pregnancy, but when my daughter was born, for me it was an instant fix. It was an incredible thing,” Anne says.
“I will never forget driving her home from the hospital. It was something I never thought I would get to experience. It still shakes me up to this day if we go down that road where I realised we had finally gotten there.”
The highs and lows of her own fertility journey have helped Anne better understand the needs of patients at Queensland Fertility Group, which she runs with fellow specialist Dr Suvi Hyytinen, in tandem with their medical practice, Evelyn & Rose Women’s Health.
“I understood the medical aspects before, but I didn’t understand the psychological aspects of infertility.”
Clinical nurse specialist and mother-of-two Rebecca Auker is another with first-hand experience of IVF after conceiving her first child naturally and struggling to get pregnant a second time.
“We really pride ourselves on the fact that we’ve both been QFG patients,” Bec says. “I’ve got a very energetic three-year-old and Dr Coffey has a four-year-old.” She says it can help put patients at ease. “We feel it really makes a difference when you can share a similar experience with your patients.
“There’s a level of mutual understanding — how they might be feeling and what their fears are.”
Bec says the all-female team at QFG Cairns is unusual and the clinic has introduced a new low-cost service for women younger than 35.
“We’re trying to give people better access to what is an expensive treatment in a younger age group when they’ve got a better chance of it actually working.
“Treatment that usually attracts a $9000 upfront payment is now available for less than $3000 for those who meet the criteria.
“Normally, patients would have to travel to Brisbane or further south,” Bec says.
Anne says IVF is a last resort at Queensland Fertility Group.
“In the past, fertility clinics have focused on IVF, but most people never want to do IVF. It’s not part of their life plan.
“There are a lot of people with fertility problems who can get pregnant without IVF, so we’ve introduced a bulk-billed natural fertility service to encourage people to access us sooner when we can assist with their natural fertility, not six or seven years down the track. “It’s not all about IVF.” Anne says infertility can be socially isolating for those struggling to conceive. Baby showers, children’s birthdays and even family events can be difficult to cope with.
“It’s not only the absence of a child that makes it harder. It’s also engaging in social things.
“That is one of the great obligations we have — to carry people through that somewhat lonely time and try to maintain their wellness, so they can remain connected to the community, so their lives are not as shattered as they can be by infertility and IVF.”