There’s an oft-repeated adage that it takes a village to raise a child. But one Terrace couple is taking that saying a step further and asking the village to help them create a child.
Deanna and Justin Goddard, who have been struggling with infertility for four years, are asking for donations to help them pay for in vitro-fertilization (IVF), which their doctors say is their only chance to create a child of their own.
“I wouldn’t wish it on my greatest of enemies, the emotions and the ups and downs,” said Deanna, 25, while sitting on a couch at the couple’s Thornhill home.
She and Justin had tried to conceive naturally for over a year before seeking help from their family doctor, who eventually referred them to a fertility clinic in Vancouver.
Since then, there’s been multiple trips to the Lower Mainland for testing, surgery, and treatment, long periods of uncertainty over whether those treatments will work, thousands of dollars spent – and a whole lot of dashed hopes.
“The whole process has been crazy,” said Deanna. “So much waiting, months between doctor talks, always feeling so disappointed.”
The couple learned they would need IVF this past summer, following an unsuccessful surgery with an in-demand urologist to try to fix Justin’s low sperm count by unblocking whatever was preventing the sperm from coming out.
“[The urologist] said ‘I’m going to be honest, I’ve never seen anything like it’,” said Deanna. “He thinks he was born that way. He gave us a term for it – congenital bilateral absence of the vas deferens – the tube that connects the sperm to come out didn’t develop properly.”
They gave the results to their fertility doctor, who told them IVF “is your only option.”
As many as 15 per cent of Canadian couples experience infertility, according to Dr. Neal Mahutte, president of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society and medical director at the Montreal Fertility Centre, and IVF is the last option in treatment. It involves taking a man’s sperm and using it to fertilize a woman’s eggs out of her body. Once fertilized, the eggs are placed inside the woman’s uterus where the hope is a pregnancy and live birth will result.
In B.C., according to data provided by the Perinatal Services BC, 6,366 babies have been born over the last five years with IVF, or nearly three per cent of the 223,827 babies born in B.C.
That doesn’t include the number of mothers who have attempted an IVF pregnancy, or have a miscarriage before 20 weeks.
The process costs upwards of $10,000, and even more once travel costs – unavoidable for couples living in rural areas, as all of the province’s fertility clinics are located in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island – are factored in.
In Quebec, three rounds of IVF treatment are covered by the provincial medical plan, and in Ontario, more comprehensive fertility coverage is expected to be introduced in the legislature next year following the Ontario Liberal win in the last provincial election.
In B.C., IVF is not covered. “We understand that there are many couples who have difficulty conceiving, but our focus is to insure effective procedures, while keeping health care costs sustainable,” reads a statement from the ministry of health. The statement notes that B.C.’s Medical Services Plan covers certain medical procedures to assist couples experiencing infertility, including some examinations and lab tests and the cost of artificial insemination. Couples can also apply for grants to help cover travel costs.
But by not covering IVF, critics argue that the province is creating two classes of citizens – those that can pay for a full range of options in order to have a baby, and those whose baby dreams are capped because they can’t afford it.
“That’s I think the strongest argument in favour of provincial funding,” said Mahutte. “Otherwise it discriminates against people who have the funding and the means and the people who don’t.”
It’s up to each province to decide on its own to pay for IVF treatments, he said, noting that he believed eventually all of the province’s would provide funding.
“Europe is the world leader in terms of fertility coverage, in that most countries have coverage for IVF, whether it’s three cycles, four cycles, it varies but most European countries have coverage,” he said.
While there is a movement swelling across Canada calling on politicians to push for better fertility coverage, for the most part, it’s up to the couples themselves.
“For a lot of couples it’s intensely personal, and they are reluctant to share it even with their family and closest friends and yeah, they’re afraid that there’s a stigma,” Mahutte said.
That had been the experience for the Goddards, who said it took them a long time to even tell their immediate families.
“You’ve got to stay positive because you can get down very easily and it’s easy to stay down and be depressed, but you can’t,” said Justin. “But it’s hard. It’s embarrassing, it’s emasculating. It crossed my mind that maybe we shouldn’t even get married. It’s my problem… find someone else who works properly. That went through my mind a lot, that was a serious thought.”
The couple had a number of serious discussions, but ultimately, Deanna knew she couldn’t imagine being with anyone else.
“He was born that way and I love him the way he was born,” she said. They also talked about adoption. “Adoption is a very hard process. We’ve talked about it but we want to try us first – we want to do everything we can to have a child first, and then… I love children, I’ll take your baby, but we’ve talked about it and we want it to be us.”
The experience since has made them stronger as a couple, and the latest leg of their journey – raising the money for the procedure through online and in-person fundraisers – has shown the Goddards that they’re not alone.
“There’s a stigma that’s attached to infertility and that’s something that we’re trying to change by creating awareness among people that this is a real problem,” said Misty Busch, the regional manager of western Canada for the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada. “I think it’s definitely something that’s more talked about or starting to come to the forefront, but it’s definitely something that’s still extremely painful, extremely shameful, and couples are feeling isolated.”
For Deanna, those feelings came to a head last month during a break from work at a local daycare. Calculating how long it would take to raise the money for IVF – and in a moment of exasperation – she posted a note to her Facebook page asking people to help her collect bottles and cans so she could try to raise the money more quickly.
“I could raise the money on my own, but it would take me five years,” Deanna said. The sooner the couple can have the treatment, the better the couple’s chances of success – rates drop dramatically as women get older.
But Deanna wasn’t expecting the post to go very far – she wrote it for her family and friends – but it quickly took on a life of its own, with acquaintances and strangers sharing it widely and pledging help. “I just typed this big thing out,” she said. “I did not expect it to be shared as much as it did, to be honest with you.”
As of late last week, they were closing in on $4,000 raised, much of that through an online donation site, a relatively new way people are fundraising for IVF in Canada.
“I’ve seen it a lot in the United States, and I’m starting to see it more in Canada,” said Busch, on the online crowdfunding method. “I think it’s a unique way and certainly we’re for that. Whatever resources patients are able to help themselves pay for treatment is great, but ideally that’s where we would like to see the province come in and create the comprehensive program to cover. “
Beyond the financial support the community has shown, the emotional support – both to and from the couple – has been striking. After Deanna posted her note, “all of the sudden I was getting emails from people saying ‘I’ve been through it’, or ‘my sister’s been through it’, or ‘my daughter’s been through it’. I didn’t know. So many people in this town. Blows my mind.”
“You think people are going to say ‘it’s not my problem, I don’t really care’ but then you see how much everybody actually does care,” said Justin.
Infertility “is not a bad thing to talk about,” said Deanna. “You don’t have to isolate yourself.”
She knows some might be wondering what makes them more special than other couples trying to have a baby. “Nothing does,” she said. “We just took the initiative. One of the things I always think is, if you have a question, ask. And I had a question: Can you help me? So I asked.”
For Justin, opening their story up to the community has also brought in new worries. “It also makes me nervous, because if the community helps and if it doesn’t work… that is the greatest fear now,” he said. “Opening up to everyone else, everyone else is now invested.”
But those fears are tempered by what he believes are the couple’s strong chances. While he has a blockage, his sperm is fine, and doctors collected some during an earlier procedure.
“I have good sperm inside of me that they’ve taken out,” he said. “And she seems to be fine and dandy, so I feel like our success rate should be pretty darn high.”