For Mrs. Unwana Okon, a native of Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, it was an avoidable psychological trauma if she had listened to the advice of her co-wife about seven years ago exactly on December, 24, 2015 to seek Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) preferably, in Vitro Fertilisation, popularly called IVF.
Immediately the idea was mooted according to Unwana, her mother in-law interjected saying that such an act was ungodly and babies gotten through that process have cognitive challenges in life.
Unwana, a 34-year-old mother of one told our correspondent that she got married at the age of 24 as a virgin without an inkling of what will befall her after marriage. Two years down the line, there was no sign of pregnancy which made her visit hospitals and churches without getting help.
She said in the midst of her worry and confusions, her mother in-law always told her that she was still young and that at God’s appointed time, she would conceive and that she would vehemently oppose the suggestion for IVF, saying that it is ‘satanic’ and a way of challenging God.
Unwana said she has tried to remain a good daughter in-law over the years without a solution coming in sight until late 2021 when she and her husband resolved to take the option of IVF which resulted to the birth of their son, Miracle, regretting that they would have taken that decision earlier than the year 2021.
IVF is a method of assisted reproduction in which a man’s sperm and a woman’s eggs are combined outside of the body in a laboratory dish. One or more fertilized eggs (embryos) may be transferred into the woman’s uterus, where they may implant in the uterine lining and develop.
Investigation revealed that the level of infertility among married couples is increasing. That is why recent statistics by the World Health Organisation showed that more than 180 million couples (1 in every 4 couples) in developing countries suffer from primary or secondary infertility.
The introduction of IVF forty years ago and other methods of Assisted Reproductive Technology had helped to abate these issues though the myths and misconceptions surrounding it have continued to undermine its acceptability and access.
In an interview with Dr Dolapo Shittu, a gynaecologist and Chief Executive Officer of Shelterd’ IVF and Fertility Centre Uyo, he told DAILY POST that infertility is not age specific as it is not only meant for older people. He said younger ones could be affected too, advising young couples to seek medical attention early enough to address any fertility issue.
Shittu, who is a specialist in IVF and other assisted reproductive technology while clarifying the misconception said, “that’s not true, because we know that even young people can have fertility issues and if they continue to wait like this they are going to wait unnecessarily before benefitting from the treatment.
“IVF is not just for elderly people alone, rather it gives them the opportunity they never had, I know people get pregnant after forty and even forty five, but the question is how many of the forty or forty five year olds in their population do get pregnant naturally? When you bring IVF, the success rate will be high, then you will see someone in her fifties getting pregnant in the first attempt.
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“As a matter of fact, up to 40% of those using IVF to get pregnant are below thirty years old. In this facility, we offer what is most impactful. IVF is one of the treatment options for infertility and it is the one that is most impactful.
“We have about four patients carrying triplets, we have two patients that are carrying quadruplets pregnancy, one of them is below thirty. We have 12 patients carrying twins and about 15 patients carrying single pregnancies and most of them are below forty. You see that these patients are not old and most of them, it was their first attempt.”
He added that there was no age limit to getting pregnant through IVF saying that the only thing that would make them not to use IVF on an elderly person is due to her physical inability to carry a pregnancy.
“So there is no age limit for a woman to get pregnant even the one at 90 so far she has a cavity. What will make us not to do IVF for a 90-year-old woman or very old women is because they will not have the stamina to carry a pregnancy, not that IVF will not work for them.
“We have had someone, about 56 years in this facility that gave birth to triplets, though one of the triplets could not make it even after incubator care. But the woman and the two surviving babies are doing very well now,” he said.
When asked about the high cost of undergoing that process as it is believed that it’s only for the rich, the Infertility Expert said: “People have this misconception that IVF is only for the rich, no, IVF is not as expensive as it used to be, in those days you need to have Two to Three Million Naira , there have been a lot of research to bring down the cost of IVF, sometimes you have fee discount so that more people can access it.
“There is no infertility issue that IVF cannot address. For pregnancy to occur, it’s when the egg is released that sperm will be able to fertilize it. In IVF, we ensure we see fertilization, everything is done outside.
“The causes of infertility among young people, especially women, could be blockage of fallopian tubes and irregular ovulation. So by depositing the embryo into the uterus, you have circumvented so many causes of infertility through that technology,” Shittu explained.
However successful IVF could be, some religious leaders in Akwa Ibom still discourage couples looking for the fruit of the womb from adopting that option, saying that it was just like equating oneself with God.
But, a woman that identified herself as Mrs Ability, who delivered a set of triplet at the Shelter’d IVF Fertility Centre a day before our correspondent visited, was not caught in the web of undue waiting as she explained that it was foolhardy for her to continue waiting when she was left with better option.
Mrs Ability, 39, said she had a son five years ago (still alive), thereafter two miscarriages and would not want to keep on waiting or trying considering her age, saying that she had no regret having her babies through IVF.
Asked if the amount for the treatment was pocket breaking, Mrs Ability confessed that the money she spent in search of fruit of the womb in the churches, herbal homes (without result) within the period was almost higher than what she spent on IVF treatment and encouraged women in same situation to look for right medical attention.
Her husband, Mr Ability said it is only those who are not educated or informed that would be sceptical about IVF adding, “I’ve even recommended to someone to save a little money and do it (IVF) and he has done it and the wife is pregnant now.
“People should move towards that paradigm shift. I don’t know whether it is out of nature or luck that people don’t conceive as they should nowadays. For us not to continue wasting our time, we decided to adopt this process. Instead of people wasting their money in healing homes and traditional birth attendant homes, they can put them together and adopt this (IVF) process. My wife is here, she will tell you how much we have spent in those places before. We were fortunate enough to come here, we actually tested positive at the first attempt,” Mr Ability explained.
Speaking with a priest in one of the orthodox churches in Uyo, he described IVF as ‘an affront’ to the powers of God, saying he would not encourage anyone to go for IVF rather should pray and believe that God would one day remember them as He remembered Abraham and Sarah.
He stressed that there is nothing impossible for God to do but the ‘problems with humans are unbelief and impatience.”
However, Shittu dismissed those thoughts saying IVF is the idea of God impacted on man.
According to him, “misconceptions are rife, yes I’m aware that some religious leaders believe that IVF is ungodly, that it is man trying to be God. I must say that when I brought IVF to Akwa Ibom, it was to deconstruct that misconception at the grassroots. It is not man trying to be God rather it is the idea of God impacted in man because God is a Scientist!
“Look, I always tell my patients, when we transfer embryos we have no control over the implant, it is only God that determines implantation. IVF is man being used by God and not man trying to be God.”