IVF DOCTORS’ OWN EXPERIENCE | ‘If you’re thinking IVF – don’t wait!’

David Knight and Sonya Jessup both had a bunch of kids when they met, fell in love and married. They wanted one more between them. But that was a problem for Sonya who’d had her tubes tied, and the reversal didn’t work. So they opted for IVF.

Finding a specialist wasn’t a problem – both of them were IVF doctors.

But there was a problem – age. Finally they were successful and Sam, now 4, is the result. And the message they took away from their own experience is don’t wait if you want to try IVF.

Dr Knight and Dr Jessup run their own IVF clinics at Liverpool and Hurstville, pretty well having the whole south-west Sydney covered.

Neither clinic looks like a doctor’s surgery, on purpose. “We don’t run a clinic for sick people!” And neither dresses like a starchy specialist. For our interview David wore a bright blue floral shirt, buckled boots and tight black jeans.

Some patients find it hard to make the first approach into IVF. “Yeah, initially, it can be embarrassing, for several reasons. For the guys who have to provide sperm, for example. Some cultures also have a sense of inadequacy about not being able to fall pregnant naturally. We’re sensitive to that. The easiest couples to help are gay couples – they’ve already come out and faced stuff in their lives.”

David and Sonya’s company, Demeter Fertility, has just been named Champion Professional Medical Services at the Australian Small Business Champion Awards. But their greatest claim to success, understanding and compassion has been going through the IVF journey first-hand.

David: We’re one of the few remaining independently owned IVF companies in Australia. There are basically four corporate IVF companies in Australia and they do basically 85 to 95 per cent of all IVF procedures in Australia. They have a lot of money and a lot of advertising.

The secret of your success?

Sonya: We don’t run a clinic for sick people!

David: We’re a family business. We believe in good and instant communication. We’re fast movers, early adopters. Some staff are former patients. Our children work for us. There’s Janie, our daughter, who’s 25, she’s our general manager, and Matthew, 22, who’s on reception and does our website. Our friends’ children work for us. Here you’re not a number. We use ‘steam-punk cos-play’.

Sonya: We have lots of fun in the office! We have eight kids. Just the last one we had together, others we had before we met. There’s Janie and Matthew, and Ben, 20, Emma, 15, Ben, 14, Andie, 12, Cleo, 10, and Samuel, 4. It was Big Ben and Little Ben for a while!

David Knight. Picture: Ian Horner

David Knight. Picture: Ian Horner

Why couldn’t you fall pregnant naturally?

It can be embarrassing for guys to provide sperm. Some cultures also have a sense of inadequacy about not being able to fall pregnant naturally. We’re sensitive to that. The easiest couples to help are gay couples – they’ve already come out and faced stuff.

David Knight

David: Sonya was living in Brisbane and I was living in Sydney.

No wonder you didn’t get pregnant.

David: Yeah, it was hard. I had the oldest three kids.

Sonya: And I had the next four. And we had Sam together.

Why did you need an eighth?

Sonya: We didn’t need an eighth.

David: I disagree with you Sonya. Sam is the glue that really brought the whole family together. The one thing we all have in common is Sam.

That’s a lot of pressure on Sam.

David: An awful lot of pressure.

Sonya: But you haven’t met Sam yet. He can cope.

How long did it take to fall pregnant with Sam?

Sonya: I wasn’t going to fall pregnant naturally. I had no tubes. I essentially had them untied. And it didn’t work. It doesn’t always work in a lot of cases. The original operation takes out a chunk and then the tubes are too short to join up.

David: They were joined but not successful in terms of results. It’s called a tubal reanastomosis.

Sonya: Some people wouldn’t call it “re” – just anastomosis.

David: There’s a 60 per cent success with that procedure in that age group.

Sonya Jessup. Picture: Ian Horner

Sonya Jessup. Picture: Ian Horner

Sonya: I was 41. The pregnancy rate is highest when you’re in your 20s. It drops a little bit in your early 30s, a lot in your late 30s, and massively in your 40s. We’re meant to have kids in our 20s and early 30s.

David: But the economy doesn’t always fit it!

I was 41. The pregnancy rate is highest when you’re in your 20s. It drops a little bit in your early 30s, a lot in your late 30s, and massively in your 40s. We’re meant to have kids in our 20s and early 30s.

Sonya Jessup

Sonya: No, it doesn’t.

David: These days people are shagging early.

Sonya: But I didn’t feel like an adult in my 30s. Not what our grandparents felt at that age.

David: We used to call women having a baby after 35 elderly primigravids. These days 30 to 35 is the peak age to have children. That change occurred in the last 20 years. The median age for a woman seeking IVF treatment in Australia is 39. There are two main reasons for this: (1) social changes and people not meeting partners and (2) education, money and jobs.

Sonya: I had to have my first kids while I was training. I’d drop the kid at creche at 7.30 in the morning. The creche wasn’t open so I had to wait for the first staff to arrive and then I could get to work.

David: It used to be that most women I saw were 25 to 35 but now I rarely see one under 30.

Sonya: It was him saying “Let’s do it” more than me!

David: I fell in love. I asked her to marry me within two or three weeks.

Sonya: We talked about kids. We already had a lot of them. Would another one be an issue? No, and we needed to make a plan in the small window we had. We used IVF. I was lucky to fall pregnant – I was 41 and 11 months kind of thing.

Davd: One treatment cycle is a month.

Sonya: I was injecting, collecting eggs, putting embryos back and waiting to see if I was pregnant.

If I was younger I’d have waited a bit but one year’s wait at that age makes a massive difference. Time was of the essence.

Sonya Jessup

David: And still flying interstate all this time.

Sonya: If I was younger I’d have waited a bit but one year’s wait at that age makes a massive difference. Time was of the essence. The first cycle was blood tests, injections every day . . .

David: . . . hormones to make more eggs and to stop releasing the eggs early and to mature the eggs prior to collection . . .

Did the hormones affect you?

Sonya: Not particularly.

Look, I had four kids as a single mum and I was running a business. IVF is nothing like that!

Sonya Jessup

David: Yes!

Sonya: Look, I had four kids as a single mum and I was running a business. IVF is nothing like that!

The first cycle didn’t take. And I knew our chances of it taking were only 12 per cent. I was hoping, but not surprised. We just decided at the beginning we’d do three cycles then reassess.

David: Two out of three are successful for women under 35.

Sonya: I thought I must have been sterile. It didn’t used to take me long to fall pregnant. And now it was a case of gee, this is not easy in my 40s.

How did you expect your second cycle to go?

David: It was certainly higher – we’d got the crap one out of the way, this next time it’s gotta work!

People call Sam a miracle baby. My daughter says he’s not a miracle baby, he’s just a baby.

Sonya Jessup

Sonya: The first one we were not really surprised. We were realists. It;s our job. I was more surprised that it was more difficult with age. It could’ve been faulty sperm . .  .

David: Hey, I’d already had three kids!

Sonya: It was a lesson to me that someone so fertile would struggle with IVF in my 40s. I tell patients also struggling with age you have to do it a few times, that’s normal. People call Sam a miracle baby. My daughter says he’s not a miracle baby, he’s just a baby. I don’t think any different of Sam. He’s completely normal.

And with cycle no. 3 – were you less hopeful?

Sonya: We were pretty pragmatic. We were frustrated at the length of time it took. There was a sense of acceptance. Because I did already have children, I knew it had happened before.

What do you say to childless women who fail at IVF?

Sonya: Well adoption is not an option over 40. Using a donor egg is expensive but an option. That’s why I want women to do it at 37. They say ‘Don’t push me’ and you can only say so much. But if they’d come in earlier it could’ve worked.

How did you feel when it finally took?

Sonya: Excited! Happy!

We show Sam the refrigerated tubs where the embryos are kept: ‘You used to be in there, Sam. You were frozen.’

Sonya Jessup

David: She said ‘Now I’m gonna vomit for 40 weeks!’

Sonya: Yeah, that was my second thought!

And how do you talk to Sam about this?

Sonya: Sam comes in here to the clinic. We show him the refrigerated tubs where the embryos are kept: ‘You used to be in there, Sam. You were frozen.’ Our other kids tease him: ‘IVF kids are not normal, are they!’ We talk about IVF with him. We talk to him about it normally. There are other IVF kids. To us it’s just like kids who were born vaginally or by Caesarian. It’s no biggie.

David: He doesn’t care about being an IVF kid. 

Sonya: I saw a lovely cartoon in the paper. Two babies are looking at a third and one baby says: ‘Yeah, he’s an IVF baby. Way wanted!’

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