(25 July is celebrated as World IVF Day to mark the world's first 'test tube baby' born on this day in 1978. FIT is republishing this story in light of it.)
After three miscarriages over six years, when Tara and Raghav (names changed) decided to opt for In vitro fertilization (IVF), their parents told the couple ‘not tell anyone else.’ “We don’t want anyone to talk behind our backs. Or tell everyone that the baby was conceived naturally,” the parents said apprehensively, shaking the confidence of the couple.
“Until then, I was glad that there was a medical approach that could make us realise our dreams. We lost the chance to become parents three times before. But when our parents insisted that we should not tell anyone, I started seeing it not as a medical treatment but as my failure. I started thinking about whether I even deserved a child,” Bengaluru-based Tara told FIT.
For two years neither Tara nor Raghav spoke about IVF or adoption. But on their 8th anniversary in 2018, 32-year-old Tara told her husband that she wanted to give it a shot.
“He was elated, and we decided that we will take it as it comes. Thousands of tests, scans and injections later, we witnessed a tiny heartbeat. In January 2020, we were blessed with a baby girl. I am glad we took a chance. I took my time but I am glad that I eventually realized that seeking medical help to bear a child is nothing to be ashamed of,” says Tara.
It has been 42 years since India’s first IVF baby was born in a private hospital in Kolkata in 1978.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, IVF cycles resulted in live births in 38.3 percent of women under 35, with the number falling to 32 percent for women aged 35 to 37. The success rate fell to 23.1percent for those aged 38 to 40, and to 10.4 percent in women over 40.
In India, reports suggest that a couple seeking to have a child via IVF will have a 35-40 percent success rate. Since 1978, an estimated 8 million ‘test tube’ babies have been born worldwide, according to data for 2017 compiled by the International Committee Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ICMART), an international non-profit organisation.
But seeking medical intervention like IVF to bear a child is still whispered about or kept a secret by families not because of the success rate of the procedure but– ‘Log kya khayenge?’ (What will people say?)
‘Unnatural’ to ‘Weird’: Why The Stigma
Dr Ritu Hinduja, a Fertility Specialist at Nova IVF Fertility, Mumbai, says that when the reason for couple’s apprehension to opt for IVF is societal pressure, she tells them that it is only the parents who can decide how they want to bring a child into the world. She also adds that the confidentiality agreement between the doctor and the patient assures them.
In many cases, she says, it is only the couple who know of the treatment and in some cases, their parents are also kept informed.
“We have to understand that the stigma against IVF is not against the procedure, but against the couple who are unable to conceive a child by what the society considers natural means. Conceiving a baby is a personal choice. It is between the couple to decide how they want to bring a child into the world. But sometimes, no matter how much you counsel them, they don’t want anyone else to know.”Dr Ritu Hinduja, Fertility Specialist at Nova IVF Fertility, Mumbai
‘Is It Your Own Child?’, ‘Who Had a Problem?’
When Neha and Alwin (names changed) took their then 8-month-old Amelia to a family wedding in Kerala, they were in for a rude shock.
“Someone came to me and asked how the baby looked like me when it was an ‘not conceived by me.’ Another aunty, who is a close family friend, thought she had the liberty to ask whether it was my husband or me who had ‘the problem.’ I came back to our parents’ home and cried my heart out. Our society is ignorant towards other people’s feelings – and do a pity party in the name of being nice,” says Neha, a Delhi-based lawyer, whose four-year-old Amelia has started attending online school.
At 27, Neha went through two rounds of the painful procedure of egg retrieval to have Amelia – a decision she is proud of today.
“On that day, we decided that we would want her to know the story, and it will be her call to tell anyone else. We fought so hard to bring her into our life. I will tell her she is an IVF baby,” says Neha, adding that ‘ignorance’ cannot be an ‘excuse’ for lack of awareness.
Dr Jayashree, a Fertility Specialist in a private hospital in Bengaluru, echoes this. “First and foremost, inability to conceive without medical intervention should not be considered the norm. Times have changed, lifestyles have changed. So, if a couple has made up their mind about going through IVF – which is now a time-tested and successful procedure – they should blank voices that are calling it ‘unnatural’ or ‘weird.’ They should thank science for giving them the opportunity to have a child,” she said.
The doctors added that whether you are a single parent looking to have a child through IVF, or a couple, you need to understand and acknowledge that you are ready to take on the emotional and physical toll the process could take.
‘Need to Be Strong Through Process’: IVF Mother
Unlike Tara or Neha, Mumbai-based Sonal and her husband Tanuj had the full support of their family when they decided to opt for IVF under Dr Hinduja in 2017.
“We did not want to wait because everyone advised us that with fertility treatment, the earlier the better. When we took the call and told our parents, they said that it was completely our decision, and they would support us in every way. Literally everyone who knows me knows how our child was born,” says Sonal, who was 25 years old when she made the decision.
On Day 0, when the egg is retrieved from the ovaries, Sonal recalled that she was overwhelmed and anxious. When only eight embryos came out in the culture, and just three survived, she was disappointed.
“We decided to transfer two embryos and keep one frozen. But unfortunately, in the first scan, the doctor told us that the sack was empty. It was the most painful day of my life. I remember it was a Sunday, and I thought I should just go on with life but I broke down the next day. I had no one to talk to. I don’t think anyone understood what I was going through. A few days later, I started having panic attacks. I did not understand why I could not have a child,” says Sonal, adding that she told her husband that she needed to see a psychiatrist.
Almost 10 months later, she felt she wanted to take a chance again – with the frozen embryo.
“This time, I was prepared for the possibility that it might not work, but at the same time, I was hopeful. And when I heard the heartbeat during the scan, I was excited and nervous. I was under strict bed rest and took a break from work for the rest of my pregnancy. And when the baby was born, my husband and I were on cloud nine. We gave birth to a fighter,” she added.
While her daughter is 1.5 years old, Sonal urges women to talk about going through fertility treatment, reach out to support groups.
“When I was going through resources, I barely read anything where Indian women have written about or talked about their experience with IVF. We really need to normalise it. We need to realise that we are not defective pieces. That will change only when we talk about it and support women like us who are going through it,” she added
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