Jess* and Steve* started fertility treatments while they were still in their 20s.
Now, five years later, they’ve experienced 13 rounds of IVF without a successful pregnancy — and the financial and emotional impacts have been immense.
WARNING: Readers are advised this article contains details some may find distressing.
All up, the couple estimate they’ve spent $120,000 — and they’ve withdrawn money from their superannuation accounts to cover some of the costs.
“I think every couple has a different kind of breaking point,” Steve explains.
“I think we probably got close to that point.”
Each cycle set the couple back around $8,000 and they also had to find ways to pay for specialist appointments, scans, medication, and travel costs.
To make things more complicated, they were living in a regional city with limited IVF services.
After their first cycle failed, they tried their luck in Melbourne. It meant long trips by plane for appointments, egg collections and even some medications.
In your late 20s, the conversation seems to suddenly flip from avoiding pregnancy to when exactly you'll be expecting. And then egg freezing comes up.
Jess, 34, and Steve, 32, decided to see a fertility specialist after Jess was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
At the time, Jess was 29 and Steve was 27 and they’d been trying for a pregnancy for six months without success.
After further testing revealed Steve also had an “alarmingly low” sperm count, specialists recommended they start IVF immediately.
“Usually it takes years before people get to IVF, especially at those ages,” Jess says.
“It was like an emergency — that’s what it felt like.”
There were high expectations on the first cycle, and when it failed, Jess and Steve had to work through the emotional impact of their loss.
“We didn't have a lot of friends, absolutely no family and not much in the way of support,” Jess explains.
“It really affected us as a couple. It took us about a year to emotionally recover, properly reconnect, and be at a point where we wanted to start trying again.”
To help find the cause of their problems, Jess and Steve sought advice from different doctors.
“We've seen a number as you can probably imagine and they said opposite things,” Jess says.
“One specialist insisted it was my eggs while two others insisted it was the sperm.”
After the couple began treatment in Melbourne, they saw a glimmer of hope when Jess became pregnant.
“We were thinking we'd cracked the code,” Steve says.
“But that was just the start of what seemed like the never-ending trauma of miscarriage.”
All up, Jess has had four miscarriages. It’s pushed her to her limit, and she’s spent time in hospital seeking support for her mental health.
“We went a long time without the mental health support that we needed,” she says.
“Finally, we accessed that help … and I've had a perinatal psychiatrist since then. That's been of enormous help.”
To help fund their treatments, Jess and Steve withdrew money from their super accounts on hardship grounds, which require documents from the IVF specialist and a psychiatrist.
“We're very privileged and we both have well-paying jobs,” Jess says.
“But we we’ve been living pay cheque to pay cheque and our car is worth $3,000 because everything else has gone to medical expenses.”
While the costs have set the couple back enormously, Steve says he doesn’t have any regrets.
“Obviously it's not ideal to be to be dipping into your super but it was so important to us,” he says.
“It felt like what's the point of having the super if we don't get to live the life that we want.”
For Jess, there’s also a sense of lost opportunities. She says home ownership might not be in reach for a while.
“It's also very hard to spend a huge amount of money on something that most people get to do for free,” she says.
“That's always going to hurt a bit. And just the sheer administration of the loans, the phone calls alone.
“It's not just the financial impact — it’s everything else as well.”
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While the journey has caused them both unimaginable amounts of pain and heartbreak, Steve feels like their relationship is stronger than ever.
“I think it’s often said about IVF how it makes or breaks you,” he says.
“It's a bit cheesy but it's true. I think we've learned a lot about each other, how we react to things and our emotional type.
“We obviously knew each other well enough to get married but this has just been different.”
Despite the challenges, they’re not giving up just yet. Jess and Steve still have a number of treatments to explore, and they’re hopeful they’ll lead to a successful pregnancy.
“You hear of women starting IVF when they’re 38, or 40. Here we are, we started trying in our 20s,” she says.
“I have quite a bit of faith in my body … we just need to give it the right ingredients.
“I feel strongly that there's nothing except maybe the death of the child in our future that could challenge us as much as we've already been challenged.”
*Names changed for privacy
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