Surviving Mother’s Day when undergoing fertility treatment

Whilst Mother’s Day is indeed a celebration for some, it can also be one of the most painful days of the year for families trying to conceive. IVF is one of the various options available for couples with fertility issues tohave a baby. The Embryo Protection Act (EPA) is now in place and provides the legislation that controls protocols for receiving IVF treatment in Malta.

On Mother’s Day, TheJournal.MT caught up with gynaecologist Dr Mark Sant to shed light on the stresses faced by couples undergoing fertility treatment, as Mother’s Day can be emotionally and physically stressful for couples facing this experience. Dr Sant opens up on how stressful infertility is, and how only those that have been through it can really appreciate how bad it can be. He describes how upsetting it is for him when people describe women as having a “desire” to have a baby, as in his words, a woman will have a desire to purchase an item, but she has a very powerful innate instinct to fulfil, when trying to have a baby. 

The changes in the law that came into effect in 2018, have been a massive step forward. Dr Sant, however, is keen to point out and address certain misunderstandings that may have emerged from the recent Embryo Protection Authority (EPA) report that has been published. Dr Sant insists that embryo freezing has led to better outcomes for the embryos, and had increased success.

“Embryo freezing in Malta has translated into not even one case of Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome(OHSS), a very serious complication that can arise from IVF treatment. It has also meant better outcomes for the embryos. Statistics show that we had 26% success when using frozen embryos as opposed to 19% with fresh. And this is no surprise, as we knew this from what is happening abroad and that is why we fought so hard to get these amendments through.”

Statistics show that we had 26% success when using frozen embryos as opposed to 19% with fresh.

Whilst Dr Sant lauds the new laws and their positive outcomes, he believes there is still more that can be done, including by addressing the debate surrounding embryo donation.

“The rule that patients have to consent to before they even start any treatment, which states that if for any reason, there are embryos that the couple cannot utilise, will be given for embryo donation, is absurd. An insult to those seeking such treatment. This needs to be addressed straight away.”

Recently, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne announced that amendments to introduce genetic testing procedures used in vitro fertilisation (IVF) will be tabled in Parliament. These tests, not only have been performed for decades in other European countries, but would allow couples with known severe hereditary genetic conditions to avoid their children from having these same conditions, such as Huntington’s chorea, to name but one example.

They would also allow women in their 40s to have an embryo transferred back into their womb, that does not carry a genetic condition leading to a miscarriage or inability to implant. It is worth noting that 73% of embryos in this age group would be in this category. 

These amendments would also lessen the number of couples travelling overseas for their IVF treatment, and additionally, make the treatment available to all couples to avail themselves of this treatment regardless of their financial situation as not all couples can afford to travel overseas for treatment.

Amendments would also lessen the number of couples travelling overseas for their IVF treatment.

Dr Mark Sant remarks that the fertility journey gets harder the longer it takes, and this is why Malta needs to ensure it offers the best possible care as offered overseas.

“Legislation for fear of not being approved by pressure groups is definitely not a good enough reason to cause such pain to these people. And from my experience, and I can cite several examples, when the problem gets closer to home, even these staunch individuals will offer the best possible care, and send their loved ones abroad.”

When asked what advice he would give to couples facing infertility on Mother’s Day, Dr Sant encouraged couples to seek all the help they can get, medical and psychological. There are numerous and various people that are truly ready and able to offer their help and give them the best possible care. These same people will continue to fight on their behalf so that couples undergoing infertility treatment will have the best possible holistic care.

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