As Western Sydney shuttered its doors at the peak of the Delta COVID-19 outbreak in July last year, Penrith woman Kylie Cargill was worried about the pandemic, but also determined to press ahead with her plans for starting a family.
Kylie, then aged 45, and her husband Rhett were in their sixth year of a gruelling in vitro fertilisation (IVF) journey, having endured 10 failed rounds of treatments already.
With multiple miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy behind them, it all came down to two frozen embryos.
“I was thinking, ‘Is it going to be put on hold for a couple of years?’
“Everything goes through your mind.
“I was almost 46, was I going to be 48 before we got another chance to start our family?
“I was worried about what would happen if I got through half of my treatment and then I couldn’t do my second part because there were lockdowns and I couldn’t go to the clinic.”
In the end, Kylie was able to go into her clinic, The Fertility Centre in Liverpool, to have one of the embryos transferred.
The procedure was successful and in February, Kylie and Rhett welcomed their “miracle lockdown baby” – a son, Brodie, who is now nine months old.
National fertility rate bounces back
In the first year of the pandemic, Australia’s fertility rate fell to a record low of 1.59.
But 2021 saw a turnaround, with the fertility rate rebounding to 1.70, figures released last month by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show.
There were 309,996 registered births across the country in 2021, an increase of 15,627 – or 5.3 per cent – from 2020.
While couples planning natural births may have been set back somewhat by the beginning of the pandemic, a sustained and soaring demand for IVF services appeared to have no let-up.
IVF treatment cycles continued an upward trend in 2020, despite the pandemic, according to the latest ANZARD (Australia and New Zealand Assisted Reproduction Database) report – released by the University of New South Wales last month.
Across the country in 2020, there were more than 87,000 assisted reproductive treatment cycles performed in 2020, an increase of 7.6 per cent, compared to 2019.
Dr Peter Leung, who is the clinical director at Liverpool’s The Fertility Centre, said while the pandemic did add to the anxiety of couples going through IVF, it generally wasn’t enough to dissuade them from starting a family.
“Even through tough lockdowns, demand for IVF services continued at The Fertility Centre,” Leung said.
“The desire to become a parent is still strong, even during a pandemic.”
To cope with the rolling lockdowns and COVID-19 regulations, the clinic introduced telehealth consultations for the first time.
Leung said telehealth had proved so popular among patients seeking convenience that the clinic was continuing to offer the service.
Hopes for IVF ‘twin’
After a nail-biting first trimester – which saw her make three trips to the emergency room – the rest of her pregnancy went smoothly, Kylie said.
Although she was worried about contracting COVID-19, the pandemic made her pregnancy easier in some ways, she said.
“It was kind of like a blessing for me because I could work from home. I was in the comfort of my home. I wasn’t on my feet, I wasn’t travelling and so the timing really worked in with the pregnancy,” she said.
The birth also went smoothly, Kylie said, and Brodie was born via a planned caesarean without any complications at Nepean Hospital.
“He was put on my stomach straight away and it was just, ‘Oh my god, oh my god’.
“I think I was speechless because it just still didn’t seem real.
“I was thinking, ‘Do I have to pinch myself? Am I in a dream? I’ve got my amazing miracle.'”
Kylie said Brodie was now a happy baby who rarely stopped smiling.
“He’s just the sweetest little boy, you can’t help falling in love with him,” she said.
Kylie said she and her husband still had plans for their remaining frozen embryo and hoped to add to their family in the future.
“The remaining embryo is from the same egg collection as Brodie’s embryo three years ago, so he would be his IVF twin,” she said.
Kylie said she was grateful to have had strong support from close family and friends, as well as staff at the IFV clinic who had become “like family” after six long years of treatments.
“My message to others going through this would be – keep your loved ones around you for support and don’t give up, is it possible,” she said.