By Chanel Dubofsky
Before she got pregnant with her daughter, L and her partner tried three IVF doctors. “The first was at the recommendation of a new GYN that I was seeing. It was such a bad experience, it took me a year to go see someone else. I found the next person using google, and she was fine, but I wasn’t ready for IVF.” Ultimately, the doctor she did choose was recommended by her midwife practice, where she was going for annual care.
L’s experience of finding an IVF doctor wasn’t atypical – for the most part, the women I spoke with for this piece found their doctor via friends and referrals, but their criteria for the right person varied.
“I needed a doctor that I felt comfortable calling the “captain of the ship” and put my trust in him or her 100%,” says Lauren Manaker, a registered dietitian in South Carolina. In addition to high success rates, she and her husband sought out someone they were both comfortable with, and who was flexible, since she traveled for work. “He was willing to link me with his colleagues in other cities in which I worked to do any cycle monitoring. It was a huge relief to know that I can travel to other cities and not have to have a discussion with my boss as to why I wished to reduce my travel and run the risk of losing my job since there is frequent monitoring involved with IVF.”
Another vital piece for Lauren was to feel like her doctor was a human, who was honest about the procedure and its pitfalls. “We also appreciated how he let us as a couple be disappointed if a cycle didn’t work. He wasn’t always trying to be a ray of sunshine for us, and instead grieved with us when things didn’t go as planned.”
Becca and her partner, currently looking for an IVF provider, have two priorities in a doctor – skilled on the medical end, of course, and “not actively homophobic.” R, who’s part of a same sex couple as well, considers her meeting with her second fertility doctor (she and her partner went through 7 months of unsuccessful IUI before being introduced to them) as “serendipitous.” “We wanted a doctor that was more than someone who simply ‘did the procedure,’” she says, “someone who felt like family because we were about to start a crazy journey to create a family… to this day, we still text and call each other!” She and her partner are now planning to have another child, and they’ll be traveling from Vermont, where they live, back to Los Angeles to work with their doctor again.
Dr. Jenna McCarthy, a Florida-based fertility specialist at IVFMD, agrees that a key part of finding the right practitioner is feeling like they’re on your side.”It’s important to choose a doctor who listens to you and addresses your concerns. Finding the right IVF doctor is like finding the right partner or husband: you want someone who understands you, supports you and will work with you to make sure you are successful. Struggling with infertility can feel overwhelming and a good doctor can help with more than just the medical aspects of infertility.” Also vital, of course, is a doctor who’s certified and affiliated with a center with excellent success rates. McCarthy suggests consulting the website for the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), where IVF centers report their rates. Although you can’t compare individual centers on the site, you can get some kind of sense of what your overall success rate might be when taking in consideration factors like age and health. You can also track fertility center rates at the CDC, and the Southern California Reproductive Center has also published a guide on how to choose a fertility clinic.
Suzanne Garber is the Director of the PBS Documentary, “GAUZE: Unraveling Global Healthcare,” for which she traveled to 174 hospitals in 24 countries. She’s the co-founder of Gauze, the world’s largest database of international hospitals, which specializes in IVF centers. She’s helped people choose IVF centers abroad, and advises patients evaluate not only the success rate of live births, as opposed to the number of pregnancies, as well as the number for multiple births, infection rates – how high the risk is and how they deal with it, and of course, the total cost of the procedure, with or without insurance.
Nichelle Sublett, Mrs. North Carolina 2018 and the creator of #StartAsking, which encourages young women to start asking questions about their fertility before it becomes an issue, says she would have done things completely different if she was looking for an IVF doctor now. After going through a miscarriage and multiple rounds of Clomid (a pill prescribed to promote ovulation), she started looking for a reproductive endocrinologist. “At the time, I didn’t know to look at a center’s outcomes, data, and IVF success rates. If I had to do it over again, I would get recommendations from others on bedside manner, read reviews, and mull over lots of data. At the time, I didn’t personally know a single soul who had gone through IVF, or was looking into IVF. There was no one to ask, so I went with my gut.”