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Mother's Day without a baby: What it's like to struggle with infertility

Last Updated May 8, 2016 at 11:34 am EDT

(AP Photo/Ben Jary)

Mother’s Day is different for everyone.

For many, today is dedicated to spoiling and appreciating years of sacrifice, diaper-changing and unconditional love.

But unfortunately for others, this day is a bittersweet reminder of the diapers they haven’t been given the chance to change yet.

According to the Government of Canada, one in six Canadian couples struggle with infertility.

Health Ontario defines the condition as a lack of conception after six months to a year of unprotected sex: Six months for women over 35 and a year for women who are younger than 35.

“It’s still something that people are embarrassed about [because] it invites people into your bedroom and into your sex life,” Sandra Alsaffawi said.

Sandra Alsaffawi is a board member of Conceivable Dreams, an Ontario patient advocacy and support group, and a lobbyist for government-funded IVF treatments.

Although support groups like hers are encouraging more conversation about fertility in our society, she said the subject is still taboo for many people due to its ties to sexuality.

“It’s still something that people are embarrassed about [because] it invites people into your bedroom and into your sex life,” Alsaffawi said.

Fertility issues have been stereotypically linked to females since medieval times, but the truth is infertility in Canada can be traced to males three out of 10 times and females four out of 10 times.

Christina Shiels-Singh scrolled through Conceivable Dreams’ Facebook group during her fertility complications with her husband.

As a woman living with endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome, Shiels-Singh knew she would experience physical difficulties early in their marriage, so they tried to get pregnant right away.

The couple was relentless: Five intra-uterine inseminations (IUI) treatments, three in-vitro fertilizations (IVF) procedures and $70,000 dollars worth of debt later, the couple was able to conceive a baby girl in 2013.

“Before I just wouldn’t even get out of bed, I couldn’t bear to go on Facebook and see everyone’s posts,” Christina Shiels-Singh said.

Sheils-Singh said celebrating Mother’s Day for the second year as mom feels amazing, but she still takes time to reflect on how much she’s gone through to get to this point.

“Before I just wouldn’t even get out of bed, I couldn’t bear to go on Facebook and see everyone’s posts,” she said.

“Now there’s still a bit of sadness remembering what the other years were like and knowing that we wont get to do it again.”

Shiels-Singh said they won’t be trying for another baby because they are physically and financially tapped out.

Fertility advocates achieved a major accomplishment last year with the provincial government agreeing to fund one round of IVF per lifetime for women under the age of 43.

OHIP covers the initial costs of fertility treatments like intra-uterine inseminations (IUI) and in-vitro fertilizations (IVF), but patients are still responsible to pay for their drugs which start at $5000 per round of IVF treatment.

According to Alsaffawi, it’s typical of couples and individuals to max out credit cards, borrow money from family or take all the equity out of their homes all for a baby.

“Celebrating Mother’s Day and not having your own child can be heartbreaking, but this mother’s day there’s hope because you can get a funded cycle,” Alsaffawi said.

She thinks a lack of early education about fertility in schools is partly to blame because people aren’t informed about their reproductive health until they’ve finished school or have lined up everything else already, usually in their late 20’s.

“We’re taught about disease and pregnancy prevention but were not educated in school about our own fertility,” she said.

Alsaffawi, who lived through fertility issues of her own with her husband, said she hopes to see insensitive misconceptions that blame women for ‘waiting too long’ or wanting a ‘designer baby’ fade away.

She said no person would choose to have a medical condition like infertility, in the same way nobody would choose to break a leg or be diagnosed with a serious disease like cancer.

“This is not fun. There are people testing you, poking, prodding you… Nobody does this on purpose,” Alsaffawi said.

Mother’s Day for Alsaffawi has been better ever since the province announced IVF funding.

Even though she did not conceive during her treatment journey, Alsaffawi said seeing members post about their excitement for their first round of IVF and hearing success stories makes her feel overwhelmingly happy.

“Celebrating Mother’s Day and not having your own child can be heartbreaking, but this mother’s day there’s hope because you can get a funded cycle,” she said.

“Its not a guarantee that you’re going to have a baby, but it’s a guarantee that you can at least have a chance to try for one, and that’s something we can all celebrate.”