By J.P. Hoornstra
Combine the emotional toll of infertility with the omnipresent threat of Covid-19, and you get a powerful recipe for depression.
Peter Nieves, the Chief Commercial Officer for WINFertility, the leading fertility benefits management company, which offers emotional support to all patient clients, has noted an increase in concern among his patients over Covid-19.
“One hundred percent of our patients over the past few weeks are all focused on Covid-19 and impact on emotional well-being. There’s a tremendous need right now for patients to have access to WINS’s behavioral health specialists to help guide them through this pandemic,”Nieves said. “Patients are experiencing stress from financial issues and possible threat of job loss, concerns with sperm, egg, and embryo storage, relationship stress, stress compounded by virus risk to themselves and family members, and the emotional distress from just the idea of delaying starting a family. We are helping patients and partners get through this.”
Combine infertility, Covid-19, and the anxiety of a spouse’s possible deployment, and you have the story of Lauren Buchanan.
Buchanan, 34, married her longtime boyfriend Trevor two years ago. They planned to have children right away. Those plans changed quickly when natural conception didn’t work. Buchanan said she and her husband underwent the usual battery of tests to determine their reproductive fitness, only to gain no answers.
“I was diagnosed as ‘unexplained infertility.’ Now you just feel like you’re not a woman because you’re doing this thing that’s supposed to be natural, and you can’t even do that,” she said. “I went into almost a depression. I was so embarrassed. I never thought it was going to be this difficult.”
Fortunately, the Buchanans were good candidates for in vitro fertilization (IVF), a procedure in which eggs are harvested from the mother and fertilized by the father’s sperm in a laboratory. If the procedure is successful, a couple selects an embryo to be placed in the woman’s uterus and the pregnancy begins.
In January, when the novel Coronavirus began its slow emergence in the United States, the Buchanans began the IVF process. By March, they had successfully fertilized two eggs. The timing couldn’t have been better. Trevor, a reserve Petty Officer MA2 in the Navy, was scheduled for a spring deployment. Although he might be absent for the birth of his son or daughter, Trevor Buchanan could head overseas knowing the IVF procedure was a success.
Then he became a statistic.
While many New Yorkers sheltered in place, Trevor continued his essential work as a police officer in Yonkers. He still isn’t sure where he contacted the novel coronavirus. No one else in his precinct had been diagnosed with Covid-19 until he was, on March 19. Lauren Buchanan said 35 others at the Yonkers precinct were subsequently diagnosed.
A global pandemic is worrisome enough for anyone, let alone those who are soon to become pregnant. For the Buchanans, their fears became their reality. While Trevor dealt with body aches, a fever, and a sinus headache, Lauren was tested for coronavirus herself. Luckily her test came back negative. Trevor’s symptoms abated relatively quickly.
On March 30, Lauren was scheduled for the transfer― the big day when an embryo leaves the lab and enters her body. She was excited to soon meet again with her Reproductive Endocrinologist, Dr. Barry Witt, the Medical Director of WINFertility and Greenwich Fertility & IVF Center for this much anticipated day.
“Dr. Witt calls me about a week and a half before: ‘Listen, with everything going on, I wanted to see if you wanted to go through with this. We’re recommending you don’t but we’ll support you if you do.’ Considering he’ll be gone for a year and might not be here for the birth if it happened, I wanted to go for it.”
Though Trevor Buchanan recovered swiftly enough to be deployed in April, thousands of New Yorkers with Covid-19 died. The impact on the local medical community has been unfathomable.
Dr. Witt called Lauren back the next day with bad news: Any IVF patients who weren’t to the point of using progesterone oils in their process would have their treatments halted. Lauren was two days away from beginning progesterone oil.
The frozen embryos—one boy and one girl—will wait for Lauren, and Trevor, and the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel. The waiting is the hardest part.
“My mom and my sister, they’re my best friends,” she said. “I call them. I vent. I cry. I talk things out. Without them I’d be lost completely.”
JP Hoornstra is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. He is a regular television commentator on Sports LA and ESPN SportsCenter and Outside the Lines and the author of “The 50 Greatest Dodger Games of All Time”. As the executive editor of the lifestyle website ConwayConfidential.com, he also writes about travel, food, celebrities, and business.