Couple's $50,000 baby dreams remain on ice 10,000 kms away due to COVID-19 travel bans

Cate Elliott with husband Mal during a trip to Cape Town, and a baby outfit they bought in South Africa.
Cate Elliott with husband Mal during a trip to Cape Town, and a baby outfit they bought in South Africa. Photo: Supplied

Cate Elliott's, dreams of having a baby are on ice in a clinic in Cape Town.  The, 45-year-old, from Mildura, was due to fly to South Africa for the third time to have embryos transferred when COVID-19 hit.

She has been doing IVF since 2017.  When her own eggs failed to fertilise, she discovered a Cape Town Clinic offering donor eggs.

Ms Elliott lost twins at 17 weeks gestation after her first transfer and a second trip didn't result in a pregnancy.  She and husband Mal were hoping it would be third time lucky.

Brandi-Lee Cester and partner Tim
Brandi-Lee Cester and partner Tim 

"I was devastated.  We were planning on going back on the 15th of April.  Now it looks like it might be 12-18 months.

"I have been in denial for so long.  We started to watch everything unravel with this disease.  I kept saying to my husband, 'this is our baby and we are going to get it.'  I think I am still denial of it not happening," Ms Elliott said.

The couple have spent over $50,000 on IVF and two trips to South Africa and Cate worries time and money are not on her side now.

"We have all but drained our superannuation and it is becoming very limited as to what we can and cannot do now, not just financially but because of coronavirus too."

Ms Elliott still has five embryos in frozen storage in South Africa and is determined to give it one more go with them.  She and other women in a similar situation are investigating the legal avenues to bring the embryos back to Australia.

However, Australian law dictates that egg donors must be known and must be altruistic.

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"There are a lot of women whose lives are on hold and it quite frustrating.  It is the mental strain and the physical one because everyone is on a different cycle regime," Ms Elliott said.

Ms Elliott has been put into medically induced menopause since November last year awaiting the transfer of the embryos and doesn't know if she should stop taking the medication.

"Every day I wake up wondering if today we will have some good news.  Even if they told us in September we could go, we'd have something to look forward to," she said.

Ms Elliott is not alone when it comes to her baby dreams being shattered by COVID-19. Adelaide woman, Brandi-Lee Cester, 47, found her egg donor in January, and after completing rounds of tests and counselling, was elated to be starting an IVF cycle with her donor in a couple of weeks.

"We were right at the very end and finally let go of all reservations and believed it would happen, so it was a high place to fall back down to and we may never have a child together," Ms Cester explained, fighting back tears. "It is the death of a dream."

Ms Cester and her partner, Tim, began trying for a baby over five years ago and late last year began looking for an egg donor.

It only took a couple of months for them to find their donor in Newcastle and after a series of blood tests, scans and counselling sessions they were just waiting for her to get her period and then begin their first IVF cycle.

When COVID-19 hit there was much uncertainty around IVF services, but the couple continued with their counselling sessions.  Even when the state boarders began to close, Ms Cester said they thought they could still fly on compassionate grounds and even send semen.  But then the clinics stopped doing egg collection surgery.

"The thread that keeps you going is that tiny crack of a door and it gives you hope.  COVID-19 just stripped my hope. This for us, depending on how long it goes for, may be the end of the whole journey for us.  

It is an unknown how long coronavirus will go on for and our donor is awaiting surgery that will remove her ovaries and she wanted to donate to us before that.  My age might make me less receptive to being able to carry and she might not be able to donate, and we'd have to start from scratch again or go overseas and that's money we don't have," Brandi-Lee said.

She estimates they have already spent close to $10,000 and have used up most of their superannuation trying to have a baby.

Now the couple have both lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

"Your whole body and lifestyle is geared towards it and to be so close to the finish line is pretty devastating.  We are trying not to give up hope all together."

She said they understand so many people are affected by COVID-19 and are doing their best to look at the bigger picture but is anxious about her age and her body's ability to carry a baby with each month that passes.

"We don't know what the future holds.  We are sitting in limbo. Not knowing if it will start again in two months or 18 months.  My body will be a year older to carry a baby and it is of course more money."