Kids Health

‘Miracle baby’ photo goes viral, but what’s the truth about IVF?

A photo of a baby, which has been going viral on social media, speaks of the physical and psychological challenges surrounding In Vitro Fertilisation.

By Disha Roy Choudhury

Those who regularly browse through social media must have already come across a photo of a baby that is now going viral. The image is that of a newborn surrounded by syringes arranged in the shape of a heart. The photo, which was posted on social media on August 11, has been melting hearts of people ever since.

As adorable as the baby’s picture looks, it is gaining attention for depicting not just the birth of a child but also the challenges associated with it. The baby was born through IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) and the syringes symbolise the difficulties the parents faced during the process.

“Mom said, ‘4 years, 7 attempts, 3 miscarriages and 1,616 shots’,” the picture was captioned, finally leading to the birth of what parents Patricia O’Neill and Kimberly call their “miracle” baby.

What is IVF?

IVF is a process of fertilisation where a woman’s egg is combined with sperm outside her body. The process entails monitoring and stimulating a woman’s ovulatory process, removing an ovum or ova from the woman’s ovaries and letting the sperm fertilise them in a liquid in a laboratory. The fertilised egg undergoes embryo culture for two to six days after which it is transferred to the same or another woman’s uterus for pregnancy.

There’s no doubt that IVF indeed revolutionised the process of pregnancy and childbirth for couples trying to become parents and those fighting the stigma of infertility.

Does IVF guarantee pregnancy?

According to an Ernst & Young report titled Call for Action: Expanding IVF treatment in India, published in 2015, infertility affects nearly 10 to 15 per cent of married couples in India. “By 2020, an increase in the proportion of women in the reproductive age (20-44 years), coupled with a skew towards those aged between 30-44 years, is likely to result in an increase in infertility prevalence,” mentions the report.

Couples coping with infertility issues often resort to IVF, but can the procedure really guarantee pregnancy? “When IVF was initially started around the 70s, we had a success rate of 5-10 per cent. With advancement in science and technology, the rate has been increasing progressively. Now, we have reached a stage where the success rate per IVF cycle is as high as 60-80 per cent. There is no cent per cent guarantee, obviously. At the same time, for so many women who have not had a pregnancy for years, IVF can be considered a boon. Yet, there would still be some patients who wouldn’t be able to conceive,” IVF specialist Dr Shweta Goswami told Express Parenting.

“The actual success rate is individualised and is not the same for every person undergoing an IVF cycle. For one patient, it could be 10 per cent, for another it could be 40 or 60 per cent,” Dr Goswami informed.

What factors influence the success rate of IVF?

“The success rate of an IVF cycle is primarily dependent on a woman’s age. Marriage and child-bearing capacity are among other factors. A lot of women, who finally seek fertility treatment via IVF, are above 35 years of age, a stage when the egg reserve and quality have already started deteriorating, thereby leading to complications during IVF. The main reason an IVF fails is the egg and sperm quality. Sperm quality has a 10 per cent role in IVF and the rest is dependent on the egg,” explained Dr Goswami.

According to the Ernst & Young report, fertility rates in women between 30-49 years of age are significantly lower as compared to those between 20-29 years of age.

Minor factors due to which IVF can fail include disease like tuberculosis or disorders like endometriosis (a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus), and uterine fibroids among others.

Physical and mental challenges in IVF

“There are two main challenges associated with IVF; one has to go through a lot of physical and emotional stress even when the process does not guarantee pregnancy. I tell my patients it is a gamble. Secondly, the process involves a lot of injections—at least 15-20—and there is no shortcut to the procedure,” said Dr Goswami.

“One puts in everything for an IVF cycle, visiting the doctor’s clinic at regular intervals, taking injections, undergoing two minor OT procedures. Besides, one also invests financial resources. In India, an IVF cycle would usually cost one about Rs 2 lakh. Overall, the process is extremely draining psychologically,” added Dr Goswami.

So, how does one cope with the challenges? “As per the guidelines issued by Indian Council of Medical Research, a patient undergoing an IVF cycle needs to have a counsellor onboard. Sometimes, people enter the IVF procedure with huge optimism but when it fails, they don’t know where to go. With counsellors supporting the patient, people tend to come to terms with IVF failure in a better way. Besides, yoga, meditation and acupuncture also help the patient, along with the husband’s support and family participation,” suggested Dr Goswami.

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