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Patients going through fertility treatments feel vulnerable and often experience a roller coaster of emotions. Due to these common stresses, Anova Fertility has made humanized, compassionate support for patients central to its mission.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Q&A with Dr. Marjorie Dixon

Canadian Infertility Awareness Week is a time to profile the impact of infertility, to counteract the stigma many feel and to educate Canadians on the care and treatment options.

Dr. Marjorie Dixon is a leading reproductive health specialist and a passionate advocate for expanding access to fertility care. She is an obstetrician and gynecologist with a specialty in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. In 2016, she founded Anova Fertility & Reproductive Health, which has four clinic locations in the Greater Toronto Area.

She had a clear mission in mind:

“I wanted to create the fertility centre that I would have wanted when I was an IVF patient. This translates to an offering with Canada’s most technologically advanced embryology lab – all the while providing a warm, safe and inclusive atmosphere for all patients.”

You’ve talked about the importance of helping a diverse cross-section of people access fertility care and how you see finding a pathway to building a family as a human right. How do these principles come to life at Anova?

Having a diverse background myself, I believe it is important to ensure access to fertility care for all who want it. In our centre, we have a diverse team, and we speak multiple languages. We have workshops to help our physicians and staff understand and counteract any implicit biases that we might have related to race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and ethnicity.

We’re consistently thinking about how can we make the journey easy for all of our patients: for those women who want to freeze their eggs for future fertilization, for members of our LGBTQ+ community, and for our ethnically diverse population who might not always see a path to care because they might not know how to navigate the system. How do we make it simpler for all of those wanting to build a family?

" I want to increase accessibility for all with no stigma, no bias, so that everybody feels welcome, and everybody can build their families.

Dr. Marjorie Dixon

You are also a strong advocate for policy and legislative changes to expand access to fertility care across Canada. What are the current barriers?

The latest treatments are not available everywhere, and they are costly, which puts them out of reach for many people. I was part of the advisory group for the Ontario Ministry of Health on its development of an IVF funding program in 2015. Four other provinces provide financial assistance to people going through fertility treatments, but more is needed to create true equity.

I’m now advocating across the country for a systemic approach to lower the barriers to access. Provincial funding should be augmented by having more employers include fertility care and fertility preservation in their benefits packages.

You have stressed the importance of humanized, compassionate care for people seeking fertility services. How did your own experience with IVF reinforce the importance of that caring approach?

I know what it feels like to feel helpless because so much is out of your control. You don’t know how you will respond to the medication. You are constantly worried that you’re spending all this money, and it’s going to be in vain because it’s not a 100 per cent success rate.

It’s natural to be in a very vulnerable place. And I was a fertility expert who understood what was going on, and still it was difficult for me. I walked a mile in my patients’ shoes and that’s why humanized care is so important to me.

How do we help reduce the stigma associated with being infertile, for those who feel they have somehow failed because they haven’t been able to conceive?

Stigma is a serious problem. It takes a huge toll on people and they feel ashamed. There’s still that feeling of “brokenness” that women and men feel when it doesn’t work.

One thing we need to do is raise awareness. As a society, we’re not doing a good job of educating people about the limitations of their reproductive lifecycle. The average age of having babies in Canada has now crossed the threshold of 30, and many women don’t understand that by that age, most will have lost 90 per cent of their eggs.

And we need to provide more education to doctors. Some will tell their patients: don’t be discouraged; go try for another year because you’re young. They should be telling them to get a fertility checkup, so that if there needs to be an intervention that can preserve your fertility, you can consult with a fertility specialist.

As we mark Infertility Awareness Week, what are your hopes for the future?

That everybody can access care; that there’s equity across Canada and employer benefits. I also hope that our patients see greater success through innovation, and that patients are aware that there are options and that they can get best-in-class care here in Canada. I want to increase accessibility for all with no stigma, no bias, so that everybody feels welcome, and everybody can build their families.

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Anova Fertility. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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