Special Report: Stephanie Lum talks about coping with infertility

Published: May. 16, 2013 at 7:29 PM HST|Updated: May. 17, 2013 at 4:09 PM HST
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Ryan Itoman & Stephanie Lum
Ryan Itoman & Stephanie Lum
Dr. Benton Chun, M.D.
Dr. Benton Chun, M.D.
The Mayfield Family
The Mayfield Family

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - First comes love, then comes marriage…but not always the baby…in the baby carriage.

"As soon as the doctor told me at age 35 the quality of your eggs start to decrease, I said uh-oh I'm in trouble, we better start soon."

Come to find out, my husband Ryan and I were 1 in 8 couples dealing with infertility.

Stories shared by celebrities about their struggles to conceive made us quite familiar with invitro fertilization, which is getting eggs and sperm together outside the body and fertilizing them inside a laboratory...but we never thought we would have to overcome the same roller coaster of emotions in order to realize our dreams of having a family too.

"I think the biggest challenge was just having the patience," said my husband Ryan.

Following several failed procedures, I had to undergo surgery to remove endometriosis which is when cells from the lining of the womb or uterus grow in other areas of the body. Although it was tough, Ryan and I stayed positive and after many disappointments, came one of the happiest times in our lives.

"All year long you've been waiting and just waiting for this one gift and you finally received that gift that you've been waiting for, for so long," said my husband.

We're now expecting our gift...a baby boy. It took us a year.

For Agnes and Geoff Mayfield, it took 7 years before they were pregnant with twins. Agnes was 34 years old when she and her husband first started trying to conceive. She, too was later diagnosed with an extreme case of endometriosis.

"IVF is not easy…it's very...difficult is not even the word for it," said Agnes Mayfield.

"You give up praying because you pray and nothing. It doesn't take and it doesn't work and there is no explanation and it's like why? You ask yourself why and no matter how many times you ask yourself why there is no answer," Geoff.

They went through 3 different doctors in Hawaii before finding the right one and even named their son after the physician who helped them.

Holding up his baby, Geoff said, "Here is Kainoa Benton Allen Mayfield."

Dr. Benton Chun has not only helped the Mayfields and our family, he's helped thousands of Hawaii couples.

He has been practicing IVF since 1985 when Hawaii's first test tube baby was born. Back then, he says the pregnancy rates were about 10-18%. Today, thanks to advancements in technology and better surgical techniques, it's gone up to above 50% for women under age 35.

One of the biggest problems, he says? Most women wait to start a family only to find out that it's too late.

"Most of them… a lot of them are professionals especially in Hawaii. In most families, two people have to work and babies are put aside until later on. In a female that's less than age 35, there's about a 66% probability that the eggs are going to be normal. By the time they're 40, it drops to 20% and at age 43 is 10% and age 45, less than 1%. Infertility is defined as if you haven't been able to get pregnant for a year ...or after age 35, for 6 months."

There are many causes of infertility. The top three causes are endometriosis, which Agnes and I had, ovarian reserve and tubal factors...and it's not just women who suffer from infertility.

"40% of infertility is male related. We are seeing a lot of changes in dropping in sperm count, motility of sperm and the number of normal sperm available for fertilization called morphology. The male sperm is the most sensitive indicator of toxins in our environment and a good example would be plastics in the ocean and environment. It's helped make it easier for us to live, but making it harder for fertility as the phytoestrogens and chemicals in plastics affect male fertility."

Although his clinic, "IVF Hawaii" has the highest pregnancy rates in the State, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, IVF does not guarantee success and it is costly.

Just for one cycle which is equivalent to a month, you're looking at $10,000 to $12,000 without insurance. Fortunately, Hawaii law requires insurance companies to cover one IVF cycle for married couples who qualify, however it'll still cost around $3,000 to $5,000...and that price tag doesn't include the expensive fertility drugs and other costs.

These days, another procedure is gaining popularity. Just last year, the Food & Drug Administration lifted the "experimental label" on egg freezing offering younger women the chance to store their eggs and stop the biological clock. Dr. Chun says women looking to freeze their eggs must be age 38 or younger.

"It's called egg vitrification which is a fast freeze method," explained Embryologist Pauline Balazy. "You don't change the way that the egg is from the time we take it out of the body."

"The difference between vitrified or freezing eggs and then transferring them after thawed out back and using fresh eggs... are almost the same with very little significant change," said Dr. Chun.

Dr. Chun's clinic has gotten many inquiries, but no takers. While widely popular, he says many haven't done it because it's too expensive...Costing $10,000 and up and it's not covered by insurance.

"The egg freezing process is new. There are certain sectors that have gotten good results but in general, most clinics are not offering egg freezing on a general basis just to postpone fertility," said Dr. Chun. "I think as the future goes on and more studies come out, we'll see whether this will come to fruition whether everybody will freeze eggs and would that be a recommendation for all young females."

For now, take it from me and Ryan and the Mayfields. If you are having a hard time getting pregnant, don't wait to get help and learn about the options available.

"Talk to the doctors, talk to the nurses, talk to the people in the waiting room," said Geoff Mayfield.

"It's been a painful journey all these years trying to conceive but in the end it was worth it and we're just really…we're grateful today that we have the beautiful twins that we have," said Agnes Mayfield.

Infertility is a complex issue and you can hear more about it, as well as what services are available to couples in an extended interview with Dr. Benton Chun. Click on this link to view the extended interview:

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