New research shows Australian women with fertility problems would benefit from “back to basics” information

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New research shows Australian women accessing assisted reproductive technology (ART) would benefit from simplified information about fertility and processes like IVF, to prepare themselves for physical procedures, reduce financial and emotional impacts and optimise chances of success.1

Science and technology company Merck conducted in-depth interviews with women who had experienced fertility treatments, to understand how they felt about the process when they started, where they obtained information, and their level of comfort asking questions of their healthcare professionals.

Some of the gaps identified by the research include a lack of awareness of the length of time advisable to try to conceive naturally before seeing a specialist; not being told or appreciating the significance of keeping to a schedule for hormone therapies; and the relative likelihood of a live birth in Australia from ART.

In 2018, there were 84,064 ART treatment cycles reported from Australian and New Zealand fertility clinics (76,341 and 7,723 respectively), representing an increase of 1.9 per cent in Australia and 6.2 per cent in New Zealand from 2017.2 Informed by these latest research insights, and by larger studies pointing to knowledge gaps as a factor influencing the chances of success in ART,3 Merck has launched Q&A-style animations as the first release in a new series of plain language, online educational resources called ‘I Wish I’d Known’.

According to Australian fertility specialist Dr Tamara Hunter, “The journey of starting a family through assisted fertility services is an emotional and physical roller coaster. At the same time as going through physically challenging treatment, people – especially women – are absorbing a lot of new information that may be presented in a technical way, plus doing their own online research, and trying to determine what’s relevant, current and credible. It’s no wonder men, women and couples often find assisted reproduction the hardest journey they will ever take.

“In such heightened circumstances, there really is no such thing as a dumb question – fertility is complex and everyone’s situation is different, but there are common themes around the mental and emotional challenges where having a basic grip on the fundamentals can alleviate the fear that you’re making a mistake or not doing all you can, and, in some cases, avoid delays or simple slip-ups that can actually affect the outcome,” she said.

Merck’s Q&A animations provide evidence-based answers to core questions identified in its interviews and also guides those who want more detailed information to a website: www.fertilityportal.com.au/Merck/patient-information-booklets.

“For people who require medical support such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or other methods to conceive, Merck’s ‘I Wish I’d Known’ series will help meet the need for core fertility information presented in modern and accessible ways. Being better informed ahead of appointments and procedures, knowing when to seek medical advice and understanding why you need to follow it, gives people the best chance to get through assisted reproduction treatments in order to have a baby,” said Dr Hunter.

Sydney-based mother Ella Mannix, who had a daughter through IVF and went on to create the ‘All About Fertility’ Expo series for Australians and New Zealanders starting families, said simple resources like these are helpful. Ella, an advocate for talking about fertility challenges, also hosts a podcast on related topics and is currently undergoing her second round of IVF.

“I did a year’s research into different clinics, treatments, specialists, lifestyle changes, and alternative options before jumping on the IVF ride,” Ella says. “It is a hell of a ride – you need to not only find great healthcare professionals to support you, but to feel that you have all the information you need, and that you understand it, to go through the process,” said Ella.

“There’s a lot of conflicting information and you can go down a rabbit hole with different research and advice you find on Google: that’s where most women will start when researching,” she continued. “I created the All About Fertility Expo to support and educate the fertility community by having some of the top specialists and fertility expects across Australia presenting with live Q&A.”

One in six couples in Australia and New Zealand experience infertility, which may be caused by an underlying condition in the woman, the man or both, or it can be of no known cause.4 It is recommended people speak to a GP or see a fertility specialist if they are under 35 and have been trying to conceive naturally without using contraception, for 12 months or longer; and if they are over 35, to seek help after six months of actively trying to become pregnant.5

Merck is proud to sponsor the 2021 All About Fertility Expo, which is running in a virtual format this year from 9:00am AEST, Saturday 26th June 2021. Speakers include Dr Tamara Hunter and many others. Registration is free: www.allaboutfertility.com.au

Sample quotes from research interviews:

  •  “When you first start, you don’t realise about the statistics of miscarriages, you don’t realise about procedures not working, you don’t realise about stillbirths.”
  •  “Our start to anything was really really delayed –I went to a GP after about 14 months of trying and I was told that ‘there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just stressed out and if you just went on a holiday it would happen’ and the GP I saw refused to give me a referral to a fertility specialist until we’d been trying for two years, which put us behind and, at the time I was struggling to get my partner to understand there was something going on here.”
  •  “It was made clear to me that you must take this medication but was what not made clear to me was that it must be taken at the same time every day, so it was missed on that occasion. I didn’t get the right information and there was no waiver, (they just said), ‘It happened, what’s done is done and you can’t go back, so be it,’ and that could have been the cause of an unsuccessful round. I was very disappointed because I was thinking, ‘Could I have prevented this from happening?’”
  •  “I’ve had lots of needles in my life but for some reason I had an anxiety about it in the beginning because it was just so critical at that time to get it right, to make sure it was right, to get the result you desire.”
  •  “I knew absolutely nothing about IVF when I went to it. I guess I was just one of those ones who thought it would never happen to them.”