Joanna McCall and her sons Jacob, Issac and Caleb

Women's Health, Family Health | 4 years ago

Real-world Fertility Advice, from a Nurse Who Knows Firsthand

She spent years as a fertility patient, years as a fertility nurse, and now, Joanna has another title: Mom. All of these roles guide her work with IVF patients at CMC Women’s Institute. 
“You need to relax.” 

“Just stop trying, and everything will be OK.”

Women struggling with infertility hear a lot of bad advice. Too often it’s inaccurate, showing an ignorance of the causes of infertility, and too often it’s hurtful, showing a lack of understanding for the difficult struggle against it. But Joanna McCall, BSN, RN, a nurse at Atrium Health’s CMC Women’s Institute, understands all too well. Before Joanna was a nurse at a fertility program, she was a patient at one.

Joanna and her husband spent six years trying to have a baby. Exhausted, frustrated, and emotionally drained, they stopped trying. They grieved for the life they expected to have and accepted a future as a family of two. But Joanna’s life didn’t return to normal; she switched her nursing focus to fertility.
Jacob, Issac and Caleb McCall
“I was intrigued by everything I had gone through, and I was curious about a lot that I still didn’t know about infertility,” Joanna says. “Part of my grieving process was to understand what I didn’t know and to share my heart with other women going through this process.”

When she moved to Charlotte from New York, Joanna joined CMC Women’s Institute as an in-vitro fertilization (IVF) coordinator. Getting to know the program and the staff gave her the encouragement to try again. Now, nine years later, Joanna has a family of five: an eight-year-old son Jacob and six-year-old twins Isaac and Caleb. She still marvels that her dream of children came true.

“This past Saturday was a rainy day, so my boys and I cuddled on the couch to watch a show. They piled on me, and I just looked at them, looked at their ginormous brown eyes, and I felt grateful they’re here and that they’re real. I still can’t believe some days that they’re here – that I can actually reach out and touch them.”

A Revolution in Reproductive Technology

Joanna entered reproductive medicine as it entered an exciting phase. Emerging advancements have improved outcomes considerably. For women who pursue IVF, genetic testing of embryos greatly increases the odds of a successful transfer and a healthy baby. Prior to this testing, a traditional IVF treatment for a 42-year-old woman resulted in a 5% live birth success rate. But with genetic testing, that success rate has increased tenfold to 50% for some. 

This success in outcomes has put a greater focus on single-embryo transfer, even just since Joanna’s IVF experience six years ago. Multiple-birth pregnancies bring health complications for infants and mothers, as well as a greater price – the costs to deliver twins can be ten times that of delivering a single baby.

“New technology has revolutionized reproductive medicine in the past few years,” says Bradley Hurst, MD, director of assisted reproduction at CMC Women’s Institute. “We’ve had very good success in patients who are older and patients who weren’t successful in the past, allowing more women to have healthy families, one baby at a time.”

Medical Expertise, Emotional Support

As both a nurse and a former patient, Joanna understands that the women who walk in the doors of a fertility center require not just excellent medical care and advanced treatments, but emotional support as well. The center is more than a medical office; for many women, it’s a place of refuge. The process can be an intense one for women, many of whom are striving to fulfill a lifelong dream amid a world that doesn’t always understand how difficult infertility is.

“When you’re in this place and you’re with us, it’s a safe place to be. You can say anything you need to. You can ask any question,” Joanna says. “There’s not a place like this anywhere else in their lives, to be with people who are helping you, who understand.”

Including Joanna, a nurse who understands perfectly.

5 Tips for Women Considering Fertility Treatments

Infertility can be a daunting experience to navigate. Here, Joanna and Dr. Hurst share insight about when, how, and where to find the right help for you.

1. On Knowing When to Seek Help
If you think you may need fertility help, then you probably do, Dr. Hurst says. Talk with your OB/GYN, who may recommend a consultation with a fertility center. The consultation is an informal and unintimidating meeting, simply meant for a doctor to review your situation and begin a discussion about options and next steps.

2. On Finding the Clinic Best for You
Look for a clinic with physicians who are board certified or board eligible in reproductive endocrinology. A helpful website is the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology which offers an online search tool that allows you to find clinics and to compare outcomes and complication rates between programs.

3. On Trusting the Process
It’s important for patients to trust the process, Joanna says from experience. Don’t consult Dr. Google, she says, but create a close relationship with your doctor and your nurse in which you feel free to ask questions but you feel confident in your care.

4. On Ignoring Bad Advice
Women dealing with fertility treatments often hear unhelpful and uninformed tips from well-intentioned loved ones. Joanna urges women to take such advice with a grain of salt. “Don’t let bad advice get in the way of you making progress,” she says.

5. On Correcting Misconceptions
Dr. Hurst finds two primary misconceptions regarding infertility treatment: cost and outcomes. Many new patients believe infertility treatments are more expensive than they really are. Some centers, including CMC Women’s Institute, offer financial advisors who help patients navigate insurance coverage. The next misconception – that infertility treatments just don’t work – is one that Dr. Hurst would also like to correct. “For most people who are persistent, most of the time we’re successful in our treatments, and they have a healthy baby.”

If you’d like to schedule a consultation with CMC Women’s Institute to learn about the programs, the staff, and the options that may be right for you, call 704-355-3149.