COMMENTARY | Reading the study on fertility treatment and an increased risk of birth defects published this weekend in the New England Journal of Medicine, I was especially intrigued. Researchers determined that babies conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) using a special procedure known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) are at higher risk of birth defects than those conceived spontaneously. Further, they found that babies conceived spontaneously following siblings conceived through fertility treatments are also at a higher risk of birth defects.
It's always compelling to discover you match a statistic. As it happens, my youngest daughter was born with a large congenital heart defect. I've always called her "God's little bonus" because our reproductive endocrinologist had told us a few years before that we had less than a one in a million chance of conceiving without IVF. We battled infertility nearly 10 years before our twins were born, conceived through the help of IVF and ICSI.
According to the Australian study, "As compared with births from spontaneous conception in fertile women, births from spontaneous conception in women who had had a previous birth with assisted conception were also associated with an increased overall risk of any birth defect… A history of infertility without any treatment with assisted reproductive technology was associated with a similar, albeit borderline, significant increase in risk."
After reading the study, I caught myself staring at a picture of my sweet, perfect little girl, thinking about how amazed we were that she came into our lives after so many years of infertility. We had gone so far as to give away all our baby things, certain that we would never have more children on our own. Of course, we wish she had been born without her heart defect, but she is the happiest little girl and it really doesn't complicate her life too badly.
I found myself considering whether we would have been afraid to go without birth control had we known that the chances were higher that any child we might conceive after infertility would have a birth defect. Reading the study again, I realized although the chances of defects are significantly higher, the risk is only slightly greater than for other babies, and the vast majority are born defect free. Although we were unaware of a risk, the risk is small, and if I had it to do over, I wouldn't change a thing.