One in 8 couples will encounter infertility as they try to grow their family, facing struggles that are seemingly impossible on their own. Layer on a global pandemic and for many of those couples the challenges can start to feel insurmountable, as though the odds are literally working against them.
RMA New Jersey has been the leading provider of fertility medicine and research in our region for more than 20 years (they became the global leader in 2017 when they merged with Valencia, Spain-based IVI) and were among the only fertility clinics in the state to remain open during the shutdown in March and April of this year. Founding partner and reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Michael Drews explains that the decision to remain open was multi-layered. First, the entire organization had to be confident that they could keep patients and staff safe and secondly they had to think about their patients, for many of whom time is not on their side when it comes to realizing their dream of becoming parents.
“We have never considered fertility therapy to be ‘elective’, and have always maintained that our practice exists to treat infertility as a devastating disease – in most cases, a very time-sensitive disease. Most of our patients do not have the luxury of unlimited time to pursue pregnancy, as the biological clock continues to tick regardless of global crises,” he says. “This was a controversial position for us to take in March, but we are quite proud of the fact that RMANJ remained on the front line to provide care to all of the patients who desperately needed us to continue their treatments, while other fertility practices closed partially or completely.”
Read on for Dr. Drews’ answers to some of the most pressing fertility questions patients have as they consider what their options are in the COVID era. Please note that as with all things COVID-19, the information here is subject to change as we learn more about this disease. You can reach out directly to RMA New Jersey with any questions you may have about your fertility health as well as comment below.
Is it safe to still receive fertility treatments during a COVID outbreak?
According to Dr. Drews, it is safe to receive fertility treatments throughout COVID-19, even during an outbreak, but only in the presence of clear steps to reduce spread. RMANJ has taken extraordinary precautions to minimize the risk of infection to anyone who enters their buildings. They have closely followed the evolving guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (such as social-distancing measures, work-from-home for nonessential employees, contact tracing, testing, etc.), and have gone above and beyond these basic rules for additional safety. They periodically test all staff for infection or antibodies and every RMANJ patient is tested for asymptomatic COVID-19 at various points of their treatment.
“We do this for the protection of the patient herself, her fellow patients, and our staff. These measures have added some additional complexity to the treatment process and our working environment, but it has been eminently worth it. The risk of acquiring a COVID-19 infection is far higher in the “outside world” than it is in any RMANJ facility, thanks to our additional measures and continued vigilance,” says Dr. Drews.
Can I still get all fertility treatments during COVID?
RMA continues to offer the full spectrum of fertility services they have always offered, from IUI (intrauterine insemination) to IVF (in vitro fertilization) to FET (frozen embryo transfer).
“Until recently, we were very limited in our ability to provide surgical services like pelvic reconstructive/tubal surgery and hysteroscopy due to our dependence upon outside ambulatory surgery facilities (which were significantly limited or closed by state edict). We are now back to a full surgery schedule. In addition, our own ambulatory surgery facility will soon be open and fully operational at Basking Ridge, which will largely eliminate our dependence upon outside surgical centers, and offer true “one-stop full -service” to our patients.”
Is now – during a global pandemic – a good time to start fertility treatments?
Overwhelmingly, patients who’ve turned to RMANJ during this time have done so after coming to the stark realization that they dearly want to become parents and that the harsh reality is that as we age, that window of opportunity closes. That is true whether we’re in the midst of a global pandemic or not, and that’s precisely why RMANJ has been steadfast in its commitment to remain open to patients who need them.
The decision to become pregnant or not at any time is an extremely personal one, and Dr. Drews explains that through IVF and embryo (or oocyte) cryopreservation, women can preserve their current fertility potential and postpone the time to actual pregnancy, if there are concerns about being pregnant in our current COVID-19 environment. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.”
The doctors at RMANJ believe that remaining committed to defeating COVID-19 and to their responsibility they have to provide essential fertility treatments to those who need them are not mutually exclusive. You can do both at the same time, and they are proud to demonstrate that.
The story of COVID-19 and pregnancy is continually evolving, with new developments coming to light every week. Thankfully, the vast majority of available data from well-conducted research has been reassuring. Unlike the Zika virus of several years ago, COVID-19 (like all other human coronaviruses) appears to carry negligible or no risk of birth defect to the unborn baby if an expectant mother becomes infected during pregnancy. There also appears to be no increased risk of morbidity/mortality to the expectant mother herself should she become infected (unlike seasonal influenza). Researchers from Italy and France have reported in July evidence that COVID-19 has the ability to cross the placenta, raising the possibility of intrauterine infection, but to date there is no evidence that this adversely affects the baby. It is now known that in the rare instance that an infant acquires “vertical transmission” infections at birth from COVID-infected mothers, they generally do very well. But of course there is still a need to continue to collect good data, and continue to adapt treatment recommendations to this ever-evolving situation and RMANJ is proud to be an ongoing source of comfort, education, and treatment to its patients.
RMA New Jersey is comprised of 10 clinics across the state, giving hopeful parents in New Jersey and surrounding areas convenient access to the most advanced fertility care available.
The clinics–located in Basking Ridge, Eatontown, Englewood, Freehold, Marlton, Morristown, Princeton, Somerset, Springfield and West Orange–offer a full range of fertility services, including In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), and third party reproductive services, and our modern facilities are equipped with advanced diagnostic and treatment capabilities.