By Chioma Obinna
Since the birth of the world’s first, In-vitro Fertilisation, IVF, baby, over five million babies have been born. In Nigeria alone, the number of babies conceived through IVF is over 5,000 and still growing. But many Nigerian couples who have benefited from Assisted Reproductive Technique, ART, don’t disclose that they underwent fertility treatment.
In fact, they regard telling people that their babies were courtesy of IVF as one of the greatest taboos.
Unconfirmed reports showed that only a few of these lucky beneficiaries showcase their babies. Why the secrecy? Several instances abound.
Deception by some IVF beneficiaries
There is the case of a couple that is regarded as role model to a large gathering of people. The couple underwent ART procedures, conceived and gave birth to quadruplets after several years of childlessness but did not disclose this to anyone.
Rather, the couple claimed to everyone that the babies were born as a result of what they described as a ‘divine miracle’ without explaining the details.
A Lagos socialite had similar experience after 10 years of childlessness. When asked if he and his wife had undergone IVF, he denied but only said they followed ‘medical advice’. No details of the medical advice were given.
In truth, the couple had undergone IVF to have quintuplets. According to medical records, is a rare for humans to conceive naturally and give birth to five babies at once. However, it is more common for twins and less commonly, triplets to be conceived naturally.
The failure of beneficiaries of IVF and other ART procedures to acknowledge or to testify publicly is denying others from also benefiting.
Why are people not disclosing the truth about the process of conception which health watchers say would help millions of other Nigerian couples going through agony of childlessness? What is the big deal anyway?
Every birth is considered a miracle whether it is natural or assisted, the only difference being the process of conception. The natural conception occurs in the bedroom while the IVF conception, or other Assisted Reproductive Technique, ART, conception takes place in the laboratory.
Kudos to families that have showcased their babies!
IVF treatment is the fertilization of an egg (or eggs) outside the body and this can be performed using your own eggs and sperm, or using either donated sperm or donated eggs, or both.
The first IVF (test tube) baby, Louise Brown, was born at Oldham General Hospital on July 25, 1978 after her parents Lesley and John became the first people to successfully undergo in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
Although, her birth attracted controversy, with religious leaders expressing concern about the use of artificial intervention and some raising fears that science was creating abnormal babies, that singular event paved the way for millions of further IVF births.
The technology has come to stay because more babies are being born through IVF. This is the reason why people need to disclose when they conceive through IVF.
Fertility experts’ views
According to the Chief of the Centre for Human Reproduction at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, Dr. Avner Hershlag, most children born through IVF are healthy.
Hershlag who said in a report that he was not aware of alleged case of mental retardation or autism in babies resulting from treatment explained that; “Based on the available data, “in general we tell parents that IVF is safe and to a large degree, babies born from IVF are healthy and grow into healthy adults.”
Also, corroborating this view, the Medical Director/ CEO, Nordica Fertility Centre Lagos, Abuja and Asaba, Dr Abayomi Ajayi, who said children born through IVF are normal, remarked that fears and concerns about these babies are often misconstrued.
Ajayi who noted that research is ongoing to document some of the lasting effects IVF may have on early development, however disagreed that the procedure makes children more vulnerable to cognitive or other developmental issues.
The Nordica boss noted that scientifically, IVF babies are no more unusual than naturally conceived babies. “Some say there is nothing, some say they may inherit their parents’ infertility, of course that may not be far-fetched because many causes of infertility are inherited. So it is possible for that one to happen. Some talk about their intelligence but nothing unusual has been found on that aspect; these are just anecdotal. As far these things go,
“From what I have seen, children conceived through IVF tend to be intelligent. But this is not backed up with scientific fact. I have seen more than 1,500 of these babies born at our centres in Nordica and there hasn’t been any fact to suggest a risk.”
In Nigeria, a woman’s place in marriage remains insecure until she gives birth to a child. A man also has to prove his manhood by fathering a child.
Experiences of childless couples
With the fact that children are seen as pride, strength and economic fortune for the family, goes to show the plight of childless couples.
They go through a lot of humiliation and lose their self esteem due to the attendant emotional, psychological, cultural and social burdens of infertility. The unsolicited and often societal demands and expectations place unimaginable pressure and tension on the couples.
This aptly describes the experience of Christie and Victor. When they were married at the age of 26, they never expected to be diagnosed as an infertile couple. But as the years passed and their hopes of conceiving dimmed, Christie gradually became an object of ridicule before her in-laws. Her mother-in law in particular, was a thorn in her flesh.
She seized every opportunity to accuse her of being barren and openly challenged Victor to take a second wife that will bear him a child and give her a grandchild. The couple endured this torture for five years until one day Christie met an old friend in the neighbourhood who revealed that she had her two children through ART. It did not take long for this friend to introduce Christie and Victor to a private fertility clinic in Lagos. Filled with hope the couple went to the clinic and began investigations with the hope of obtaining treatment for their condition.
After series of tests, it was discovered that she had blocked Fallopian tubes. The fertility specialist at the clinic explained that when a woman has blocked tubes, her eggs cannot be fertilised and she cannot get pregnant.
Christie was asked to go for an Hysterosalpingogram, HSG, test, an X-ray test that looks at the inside of the uterus and Fallopian tubes and the area around them. It is used to test whether the Fallopian tube is open or blocked. Victor also went through some tests but was given a clean bill of health.
The couple was diagnosed with tubal factor infertility, counselled and eventually opted for IVF. Christy was asked to return during her next menstrual cycle and was given some drugs to make her ovulate more than normal. Her eggs were collected and Victor was asked to provide a semen sample which was also collected.
According to experts, to treat tubal infertility with IVF, sperm and eggs are mixed together in the laboratory and then the resulting embryos are transferred to the woman’s uterus.
Available statistics show that success rates with IVF for tubal factor infertility in women under 39 years old are usually very good because these women are relatively unlikely to have additional infertility problems.
However, at 31, Christie’s eggs were still okay for IVF. After the eggs were fertilised, three healthy embryos were obtained and transferred into her uterus three days later. A little over two weeks later, when she went for the first pregnancy test, to their joy and relief it was positive.
For the first time she was pregnant, Christie went on to have anormal pregnancy and gave birth nine months later to twins – a boy and a girl. Christie and Victor will forever be grateful to her childhood friend whose testimony led them to know about IVF and benefit from it.
However, Christie may have been lucky to have met a beneficiary of the ART, who was able to open up. But Sebastine and Great had a different experience. Married as virgins, the couple had no inkling that 10 years after marriage, they would still be searching for fruit of the womb.
As devout Christians, the couple was more into spiritual healing than medical treatment. However, the incident that opened their eyes occurred from the least expected source.
A couple of their spiritual leaders that was also battling infertility, but had always been against IVF, travelled abroad for some time only to return with a set of quadruplets.
There was joy and celebration all over, although quite a few people including Sebastine and Great, were curious about the whole development especially as nothing had been mentioned about ART.Rather claims were being made that the birth of the children was through ‘divine miracle’.
Soon enough their suspicions were proved right when much later, the new mother opened up to Great and confessed that she and her husband actually went abroad for infertility treatment and that the babies were conceived through IVF.
The news soon spread and actions of the spiritual leaders was widely acknowledged as uncharitable and selfish. Today, such attitude is common among many beneficiaries of IVF who refused to disclosed that their babies were conceived through IVF.
One of the findings why beneficiaries don’t want to talk is because of stigma. There is a common perception that IVF children are not normal. One way to overcome this, is through education and awareness.
Stop the stigmatization
There is need to demystify the myths and misconceptions about IVF children. And one of the effective ways is disclosure. People should learn to speak out. This can be buttressed by the views of parents of children conceived through IVF.
Recently during the official inauguration of Fertility Advocate Awareness Initiative, FAAI, in Lagos, parents of children conceived through IVF gave glowing testimonies.
In the view of the mother of the first IVF baby at Nordica Fertility Centre, Mrs. Francesca Onwudijo, there is no shame having a child through IVF. “I am not ashamed to tell people that my baby was born through IVF. IVF babies are perfectly normal. My child is the 1st in Nordica. I had him 12 years ago and carried him full term. He is normal; he used to have fever like any other child, crawled like other babies, and grew teeth like any other and started school normally. He is in JSS 2, and is the same age with his peers; he talks and behaves like every other normal child. He is not ashamed about being called IVF baby.
Demystify infertility treatment
On efforts to demystify infertility treatment, the Nordica boss, Dr Abayomi Ajayi, said the facility has trained fertility counsellors because they discovered that emotional support was essential. “We also learned that the support could be professional and also come from those affected and their families. The members of Fertility Advocate Awareness Initiative, FAAI are sharing their ebxperiences with other people.
Ajayi explained that the silence about the successes of IVF does not help fertility treatment, adding that it may create room for quackery if awareness is not created.
Fertility treatment options
Fertility Drugs: Injected or taken in pill form, the drugs release hormones that induce ovulation to boost egg production and make the uterus more receptive to embryo implantation.
Artificial Insemination (also known as Intrauterine insemination or IUI): It is specially prepared (“washed”) sperm is inserted directly into the uterus through a thin, flexible catheter during IUI, the most commonly fertility method.
Sperm from a man other than the intended father is used during IUI or IVF. It is best for couples experiencing male-factor infertility, men carrying genetic disorders they that don’t want to pass on to their children, single women, or lesbian couples.
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): It is a multi-step process (called a cycle) in the eggs are extracted and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory. Once embryos develop, one or two are implanted in the uterus and the rest are stored.
Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI): An embryologist selects a healthy-looking, single sperm from the male’s semen and injects it directly into the egg with a microscopic needle. Once an embryo develops it’s transferred into the uterus through IVF.
Donor Eggs: The Eggs are obtained from the ovaries of another woman (usually younger) and fertilized by sperm from the recipient’s partner. Resulting embryos are then transferred into the recipient’s uterus.
Surrogacy: The surrogate carries a baby for another woman. The surrogate becomes pregnant by artificial insemination, using the father’s sperm or through IVF with the couple’s embryo. Donor eggs and sperm may also be used.
Donor Embryos: Embryos are donated by couples undergoing IVF who become pregnant and no longer need unused fertilized eggs. The donated embryo is then transferred into the recipient.
Reproductive Surgery: It sometimes requires a hospital stay and sometimes done on an outpatient basis. It is used to correct anatomical abnormalities, remove scarring and clear blockages in either the man or the woman.
Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT): Eggs from the woman are collected, mixed with sperm from the man in a petri dish, and then placed directly inside the fallopian tubes, where fertilization can occur.
Zygote Intrafallopian Transfer (ZIFT): It is like IVF but in this case the embryo is inserted into the fallopian tube, not the uterus. It is best for couples who have unexplained infertility or those in which the man has a low sperm count, the woman has at least one tube open, and/or there are ovulation problems.
Who needs IVF treatment?
IVF can help couples overcome various types of infertility. IVF is recommended for some diagnoses or conditions, such as tubal factor (damage to fallopian tubes) / pelvic adhesions, Endometriosis, male factor infertility, diminished ovarian function & age related infertility, anovulation & Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), unexplained Infertility, family Balancing (also known as gender or sex Selection), and genetic diseases / Preimplantation Genetic Screening or diagnosis (PGS or PGD)