Opting to go to a fertility clinic means a lot more than parents deciding that they need a little help with conception. It means potentially confronting serious medical issues or overcoming reproductive shortcomings that have been stigmatized in society for generations. It means lots of testing, a certain degree of isolation, and facing a very private situation in a proactive way. And it can also be a burden on a bank account.
Finding the right fertility clinic should involve more than simply Googling the closest one to home. Doing it right means diligently searching for the best available option, weighing finances and insurance availability, finding a doctor both parents can be comfortable with, and knowing when to walk away.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to IVF
When To Look For A Fertility Clinic
Getting involved with a fertility clinic really starts with knowing when to go in in the first place. There are a number of factors that can contribute to a couple’s inability to conceive a child. Those factors are primarily related to sperm issues, egg or hormonal abnormalities, or anatomical and structural issues in the female reproductive tract.
Without these clear issues related conception, partners are encouraged to continue trying to conceive the old-fashioned way, utilizing tools like ovulation calendars to hit the bullseye. But age is also a factor: if a woman is 35 or under, the couple should wait at least a year before becoming concerned. After age 35, though, it’s encouraged that couples seek a reproductive professional after 6 months.
“That seems paradoxical. You would think that older women would take longer to get pregnant, and that’s true,” says Dr. Kevin Doody, former president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) and director of Center for Assisted Reproduction. “But the reason the recommendation is to seek help earlier is that as women get older, our success with fertility treatments goes down, so we have less time to accomplish our goal of building a family.”
Prepare For Your Fertility Clinic Journey
The first step in identifying the right clinic is, coincidentally, finding one at all. For patients in bigger cities, there is a wealth of options. For folks in smaller towns, finding a specialist can be tougher, involving long drives to more metropolitan areas. That might limit the ability to see a sub-specialist.
“If available, I would certainly recommend seeking care from a reproductive endocrinologist,” says Doody. “OB-GYNs have some basic exposure to infertility and may be the best options in areas that don’t have specialists. But if you have a sub-specialist available to you, that’s the best option.”
There are plenty of tools available to help. Doody recommends ensuring that a practitioner is SART certified, which requires them to adhere to strict guidelines across the facility. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) reports regularly on the success rates of fertility clinics around the U.S in the Assisted Reproductive Therapy (ART) Success Rates reports. These success rates are collected from across the U.S, and are easily searchable by zip code or state.
A couple should also be weighing the financial impact of treatments before fully committing. Luckily, Doody says that more and more employer-provided insurance companies are providing reproductive benefits. Still, the further into the process a couple gets, the more expensive things can get, and if an insurance plan doesn’t cover treatments, it’s best to approach with a sound financial cushion.
“Fortunately employers increasingly are recognizing this is a big quality of life issue and offering insurance that covers a lot of the evaluation and treatment,” says Doody. “Just like with any medical condition, people want to make sure the doctor they’re going to is a provider within the plan that they have.”
Fertility Clinic Investigation And Consultation
Once a clinic is identified, parents are encouraged to educate themselves on what to expect. This can help lessen the surprises associated with diagnostics and also give them the tools to figure out whether a clinic is the right choice for them. In particular, it can arm them with ways to identify whether a clinic is pushing them to costly In-Vitro Fertilization options without ruling out less invasive (and expensive) options.
“There may be more than one way to approach it. Ideally, we want to correct underlying issues, but oftentimes we can circumvent the problem through ART that don’t really fix the problem but get around it,” says Doody.
Know When To Leave a Fertility Clinic Behind
Basically, a good clinic knows how to check off all other treatment options — prescribing medications to regulate ovulation or increase sperm counts, looking for and removing polyps in the reproductive tract — and when to resort to IVF. And if patients feel immediately pressured or otherwise comfortable, they can walk. Same if a clinic feels emotionally distant, unpleasant, or is pushing for a procedure that makes either parent uncomfortable. After all, going through these treatments will be stressful enough without the added pressure. A good clinic or specialist knows that. They might be further away, but it will be worth the trip.