Briana Fletcher and her fiancé, Chad Barkhouse, are saving their pennies in hopes of having a child through in vitro fertilization. (Janet Langille photo)
Briana Fletcher isn’t asking for the moon and the stars. She just wants to have a baby.
Fletcher and her fiancé, Chad Barkhouse, seem to have all their ducks in a row: steady employment, a solid relationship, a shared desire to start a family.
But, family planning is a complicated matter for the young couple.
Fletcher, 19, learned she is unable to carry a baby four years ago.
She vividly remembers the day a seven-months-pregnant gynecologist diagnosed her with Mayer-Rockitansky-Kuster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, a medical condition that affects one in every 5,000 females.
“It really upset me — especially coming from her,” recalls Fletcher, in a phone interview from her home in Martin’s Point, Lunenburg County.
Then 16, Fletcher had been poked and prodded for eight months, enduring MRIs, ultrasounds, blood work and chromosome testing with hopes that doctors would discover why she still didn’t have her period.
Her family doctor said it was common for a petite girl to begin menstruating later than her classmates, but Fletcher felt she was more than a late bloomer.
The MRKH diagnosis came with news that she was born without a uterus and missing the upper two-thirds of her vagina.
Fletcher, originally of Falmouth, jokes that she “came out” about her MRKH diagnosis through an article in the popular women’s magazine Cosmopolitan.
She says the tell-all article, entitled I Was Born Without a Vagina, But I’m Still a Woman, was meant to inspire others struggling with infertility.
“I don’t want people to be ashamed of that. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Some people can have kids naturally... and some people can’t. That's normal.”
Fletcher says she kept her diagnosis quiet for years, but she gained the confidence necessary to talk about her unique condition after connecting with other women living with MRKH online.
“I know so many people through my syndrome all over my world I could stay anywhere,” she says.
She suspects the women she’s met online will have sage advice to offer as she works her way up to fertility treatments.
Fletcher, a supervisor at Tim Hortons in Bridgewater, is in the process of saving her pennies for in vitro fertilization (IVF). She says they’d like to try to have a child that is biologically theirs before considering adoption.
“I always wanted to have a couple of kids and have a family,” Fletcher says.
To start trying for a baby, Fletcher and her fiancé must find a surrogate willing to carry the baby for them free of charge, as per the laws in Nova Scotia, and come up with thousands of dollars to pay for a procedure that does not guarantee they’ll be holding their newborn baby in nine months.
The website for the Halifax-based Atlantic Assisted Reproductive Therapies (AART) states that average success rate for clinical pregnancy via IVF in Canada is 34 per cent, but AART’s exceeds 52 per cent.
The bill for a patient requiring each treatment listed in the fee schedule published on AART’s website would be in the ballpark of $23,000.
The price of IVF is $6,000, plus the costs of initial assessments and prep treatments. If a donor egg is required, that’s an additional $8,750. Charges vary according to the needs of each patient.
Fletcher doesn’t have an exact estimate of what the IVF process will cost her. She says her medical insurance will only cover “some of the needles” and minimal treatments.
She admits it is stressful to know they may dig themselves deep in debt early in life with no promise of a baby.
“It’s a long, complicated process and a lot of times it doesn't work.”
But she has to try.
“I want kids — I want them now. I want them yesterday,” she said.
“People always say there is something missing and I think that is my something missing.”
Fletcher started an online fundraising campaign through indiegogo.com in an attempt to raise $500 to put in a savings account for IVF treatments. The fundraiser, launched Feb. 3, is active until April 4.
For details, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/our-mrkh-ivf-fund.