More taking ‘leap of faith’ with fertility treatments

mprabhu@thesunnews.comSeptember 7, 2012 

— At just 5 months old, the differences in the personalities of twins Allie and Olivia are easily seen by their parents.

“Olivia is laid back and calm. A sweet, little baby. Allie is more like me. She’s a feisty, smiley, happy baby,” said Edie Sawyer of her daughters. “They’re wonderful. When I have a bad day, I think about all we went through to have them. … I’m just grateful.”

Sawyer and her husband Keith Sawyer tried unsuccessfully to conceive children naturally for four years before the Florence couple decided to take a closer look at what could be causing the problems, visiting the Southeastern Fertility Center in Charleston. The center also has offices in Conway, Columbia and Mt. Pleasant, as well as Savannah, Ga.

“At first we thought it was unexplained infertility issues, but then we learned that [it was Keith],” Edie Sawyer, 33, said.

According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, one third of infertility cases are caused because of an issue with the man and one third are caused because of an issue with the woman. The remaining third of cases are caused because there are infertility issues with both the man and the woman.

Although issues are just as common in women, men often have a hard time dealing with the fact that they are unable to naturally conceive a child.

“I was stunned, of course. I was in denial. I was embarrassed,” Keith Sawyer, 34, said. “Most men don’t want to talk about it. I mean I don’t want to talk about it. But guys really need to swallow [their] pride and get checked.”

‘Leap of faith’

The Sawyers’ story is one of success. Once doctors determined the source of the problem, the couple took a “leap of faith” and opted for in vitro fertilization, or IVF. With IVF, eggs are harvested from the woman and fertilized with the man’s sperm, then implanted in the woman’s uterus.

“It’s a big leap of faith. It’s something that you need to think about. There’s so much unknown. But it’s really so much money, especially for the average person,” Keith Sawyer said.

Success rates vary depending on a number of factors, according to the Mayo Clinic, and by many accounts the Sawyers were lucky. Two of Edie’s eggs were harvested and planted – and two baby girls were conceived and born.

“We were blown away that we were able to have two [babies] and they’re here and they’re healthy,” Edie Sawyer said. “That doesn’t happen to a lot of people.”

The Sawyers said between hormone treatments and the single IVF procedure, the cost ran them about $15,000 – none of which was covered by their insurance.

“I was fortunate to have a good credit card with a high limit and a low interest rate,” Keith Sawyer said.

Dr. Stephanie Singleton, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at Southeastern Fertility Center in Conway, said an IVF procedure typically runs about $11,000. An IVF procedure is recommended when there is low or abnormal sperm or an issue with the woman’s fallopian tubes, she said. The center also offers intrauterine insemination, or IUI, where doctors deposit an entire semen sample into the uterus closer to where it needs to be, Singleton said. That procedure could cost anywhere from $1,000 to $11,000.

But even with the cost, the Sawyers said if they weren’t successful the first time they definitely would have tried again.

“Whatever it took, we were going to do this even if we had to move to a smaller house. We would figure something else out,” Keith Sawyer said.

His wife agreed.

“I would have always wondered if I didn’t try enough, you know? Could I have gotten pregnant if I had tried harder?” Edie Sawyer said.

Not always successful

Not all couples have the same success the Sawyers experienced and the outcome often is dependant on the woman’s age, Singleton said.

“Pregnancy rates are going to go down depending on the method and age,” she said.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 147,260 assisted reproductive technology cycles were performed at 443 clinics in the United States in 2010. Assisted reproductive technology, or ART, includes fertility treatments when both sperm and eggs are handled – such as with IVF. The reported numbers do not include instances in which only sperm are handled, such as with IUI, or when women take medicine to stimulate egg production.

Of the nearly 150,000 cases reported, 47,090 resulted in live births of 61,564 babies.

“Today, over 1 percent of all infants born in the U.S. every year are conceived using ART,” according to the CDC website.

A growing trend

Singleton said Southeastern treats patients between the ages of 21 and 50, but once women get to be 40 or older they likely are using donor eggs.

“We will transfer donor egg embryos until [women are] age 50,” she said.

Singleton said she’s seen a growing trend of more people seeking fertility treatments, but for a couple of different reasons. Some couples are waiting longer to have children – with many women seeking careers first. But the numbers might be growing simply because people know more about the available options, she said.

“Diagnostic and treatment procedures have improved. The ability to help people has improved, so they’re seeking our help,” Singleton said. “Plus, people are more familiar with it. In the past many were afraid of the technology, but they’re more understanding of what it can provide for them.”

According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, between 10 percent and 15 percent of couples in the United States are infertile. The Mayo Clinic website suggests that any couple who has unsuccessfully attempted to conceive a child for a full year – or six months of the woman is 34 or older – should receive an assessment to see if there’s an issue.

Know when to get help

Keith Sawyer said it took him a while to accept that he could be the factor causing problems in his and his wife’s efforts to have a child.

“I didn’t want to do anything. I tried to fix it myself with supplements I found off the Internet. And wasted a lot of money,” he said. “It was embarrassing, but what we have now is worth it, of course."

Keith Sawyer said he would encourage anyone who has had trouble getting pregnant to at least do some homework on infertility and get familiar with the process.

Singleton said making that first appointment is often the hardest part.

“We want to get people to take that first step,” she said. “We want them to get the information so they can make a decision about what they want to do.”

The Sawyers said they took a few months before deciding to move forward with treatment. And once the decision was made, they had to have faith.

“You have to have a lot of faith. Put your trust in the doctors and do what they’re telling you to do,” Edie Sawyer said. “We’re proof that it does work.”

Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722.

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