An Elgin couple have opened up about the “heartache and sadness” of their fertility journey, as more and more people are priced out of becoming parents.
Jade Archibald, 34, and husband Gary, 38, began trying for a baby in January 2016. After more than two years, the pair decided to undergo fertility treatment in 2018.
In Scotland, couples are entitled to three rounds of IVF treatment on the NHS. After this, they must pay out of their own pocket for further treatment.
For Jade and Gary, three rounds of treatment came and went without managing to conceive.
Which left them with a stark choice. Find the cash themselves – £6,000 to £10,000 per round of IVF – or give up on their dream of becoming parents.
Elgin couple’s fertility woes: ‘Cost was the final nail in the coffin’
“The cost was the final nail in the coffin,” said Jade.
“Even to take tests to find out why we can’t conceive involves a cost, it can be thousand of pounds.
“So we’re left not knowing why we’ve got issues, just that we’ve got a fertility issue. And it’s hard to process that – to not know why, to not have an answer.
“It could be something simple that an antibiotic could help with, but we’ll never know unless we fund that privately. And all those costs go on top of the fertility treatment.”
Jade and Gary looked at fertility treatment abroad, but ‘it didn’t feel right’
Prices at private fertility clinics have shot up since the cost-of-living crisis began, with 23% of patients reporting treatment prices increasing with no advance warning.
As a result, some would-be parents are being forced into potentially hazardous choices, according to a report published this week by Fertility Network UK.
Patient cost-cutting included sourcing less reliable medications online, and opting out of testing for inheritable conditions.
The survey reveals that the vast majority of respondents (95%) were experiencing or had experienced financial worries in relation to fertility treatment.
Drastic action to fund expensive private care included maxing out credit cards, cashing in pensions, remortgaging or selling homes, stalling careers, cancelling weddings and more.
“We did look at going abroad, where it’s a lot cheaper,” said Jade.
“Poland and Greece were two of the countries we were looking into. But we just felt it wasn’t as safe and regulated. Our gut said it wasn’t right, it wasn’t worth taking the risk.”
‘I went months without an income’
There was also the added difficulty of Jade getting time off her work as a personal care assistant to travel abroad for treatment.
She had already changed her work contract to a zero-hours one so she could undergo the initial treatment at home.
“At one point I ended up going months without an income. That just added to the stress.”
Jade feels it doesn’t have to be this way, and that couples should be given more support in conceiving.
Births in Scotland have slumped by almost a fifth in a decade, according to official figures released earlier this year.
“Even being able to spread the cost out would have been helpful,” said Jade.
“I know there are companies like Gaia who allow people to do that now, but that wasn’t an option for us at the time.
“Being able to get some of the tests done on the NHS would have been really helpful, that would have taken some of the pressure off.
“And if there was some sort of option of counselling, that would have helped massively.
“Coming to terms with a life without children takes a lot of processing.
“The counselling we were offered was booked up and there were three months between sessions.
“I do feel that if I’d had that support, it would have made a real difference.
“If they fund the treatment, they need to fund the mental health side of it. As it was, we were just burnt out and couldn’t do it anymore.”
Fertility treatment ‘like gambling’
Despite the trials and tribulations of the last eight years, Jade and Gary still hope to have a happy ending to their story.
The couple are now on the list for adoption, and will find out in December whether they’ve been approved.
“It feels more comfortable and safer for us,” said Jade.
“If you spend £10,000 on a kitchen, you’re going to get a kitchen. But if you spend £10,000 on fertility treatment, it’s like gambling – you might get everything, you might get nothing. And be left in a worse position than when you started.
“The adoption process feels a lot more positive and honest and open than any of the fertility treatments ever did. Adoption is its own journey but for us it feels right.
“But it’s always going to hang over us – what if? What if we had funded treatment, what if we’d had more options, what if we’d known what our fertility issue was? Would that have made a difference? And it’s hard sometimes to process that.
“I think it’s natural that we’ll always have that ‘what if?’”
‘A lot of pressure only to end in heartache and sadness’
Jade has her own analogy for the pressures and perils of fertility treatment: a trip to Disneyland.
“Imagine your dream holiday. For me that’s Disneyland.
“Think of all the steps you take to get there. You need to consult your work policy, make sure you can get the time off to go. You need to book, plan, then you’re going to be excitedly telling people about your trip. People are going to start giving you advice on what to do once you get there.
“Imagine you put all that effort and time and hope into planning.
“Now imagine you get told the day before you set off that you have to flip a coin. Heads you go, tails you don’t.
“And people then start giving you unsolicited advice about how to make sure it comes up heads.
“And if you flip tails, you’re not going and that’s that, and you don’t get your money back.
“That’s what it feels like going on a fertility journey.
“I’ve flipped tails and not got to go to Disneyland, despite everything I’ve put into it.
“Then you’ve to drag yourself up and think ‘right, where do we go now? Do we do this again? Do we keep going?’ It’s hard to know where your own line is.
“My family was particularly supportive, and said that if I was desperate they would have helped.
“That’s a lot of pressure to put on my family when there might be nothing at the end of it but heartache and sadness. It didn’t feel right for us to take that step.”
Fertility awareness: You are not alone
Jade feels it’s important women and couples don’t feel alone on what can be a dark and unforgiving road.
This week marks National Fertility Awareness Week, and if there’s one fact that highlights the scale of the issue, it’s that Jade and Gary are only two of 3.5million people in the UK facing fertility issues.
“People don’t talk about this,” said Jade. “You only ever hear the success stories.
“If somebody feels even a tiny bit less lonely after hearing my story then I’m happy to do my bit to help.”