- Associated Press - Monday, September 25, 2017

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) - Two-year-old Emanuel “Manny” Binici throws himself into spurts of toddler energy, zooming around the family’s Worcester living room with a toy truck, diving into a pile of dinosaurs and then shyly burrowing his head into his mother’s embrace before launching himself onto another plaything.

Like children everywhere, he is the apple of his parents’ and doting grandparents’ eyes.

But unlike the majority of babies, Manny was conceived with the help of in vitro fertilization, or IVF.

His parents, Amber and Antony Binici, shared a picture after Manny was born, in which he wore a “Made with love (and science)” onesie.

The Binicis are among some 3,000 parents, children and family members who will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Boston IVF, a fertility clinic with locations throughout New England, including Worcester, Milford and Westboro, at the first Baby Bowl, to be held at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.

The event, which organizers said would be the largest gathering of IVF babies and families in the world, was scheduled to be held Sept. 16. But maintenance work to the stadium’s field caused the Baby Bowl to be postponed until Oct. 21, from noon to 3 p.m.

It’s been 39 years since Louise Joy Brown of England, the world’s first “test-tube baby,” was born. Nearly 90,000 babies have been born since 1986 with Boston IVF’s assistance, according to Dr. Michael Alper, medical director and co-founder. Approximately 7 million IVF babies have been born worldwide.

“This is about being fortunate enough to be able to help people like this,” Dr. Alper said of the upcoming celebration.

“Ours is not the normal story,” Ms. Binici said about her and her husband’s path to parenthood. “You think it’s for older people; you think it’s for people who meet later in life. But it’s not.”

The Binicis are young. Ms. Binici, who works at The Hanover Insurance Group, is 28 and her husband, the Ciao Bella restaurateur, is 40. They started trying to have a baby shortly before they got married four years ago.

“We wanted to have kids right away,” Ms. Binici said. They realized within a year that it was not working.

They were referred by their Reliant Medical Group obstetrician-gynecologist to a Boston IVF fertility specialist.

The conclusion, Ms. Binici said: “There’s no way we could have kids naturally.”

They sat down with Dr. Samuel A. Pauli at Boston IVF, who told them they were going straight to “ICSI,” or intracytoplasmic sperm injection, which helps the sperm fertilize an egg during IVF.

Thus began a frenetic schedule for Ms. Binici of manipulating her body’s hormones with drugs and injecting herself at specific times each day, interspersed with frequent medical appointments. She set her phone’s alarm to ring at the precise moment - even during a Labor Day weekend gathering - when she was to inject her “trigger shot,” a hormone boost that ripens the developing eggs and initiates ovulation.

The fertility clinic retrieved 17 eggs from Ms. Binici. Of those, 13 were fertilized. Nine embryos survived to be frozen and one was transferred into Ms. Binici.

Timing of each sequence in IVF is precise. The Binicis drove 10 hours to a long-planned family wedding in West Virginia only to make the return trip the next day for the embryo transfer.

The two-week wait, with more medical visits for blood tests, followed.

Then the Binicis received a voicemail message from Boston IVF.

“I got it in the middle of the day but waited till Tony came home (to listen),” Ms. Binici said. “I didn’t really think it would work, but it did.”

Manny was born on May 23, 2015. “That was almost exactly one year after the doctor told us we can’t have kids,” Ms. Binici said.

Approximately 15 percent of all couples experience infertility, according to Dr. Alper. Around 40 percent of those are caused by problems with the man’s sperm, 30 percent are because of ovulation problems, 20 percent are related to problems with the Fallopian tubes or uterus, and the rest is unexplained.

In the early years of IVF technology, typically three to five embryos would be transferred into a woman to increase the odds of a pregnancy. Triplets occurred in 10 percent of IVF births.

“We almost never see a triplet pregnancy anymore,” Dr. Alper said. “We can transfer one embryo now.”

For a healthy woman younger than 35, there’s a 50 percent chance of having a live birth from one embryo transfer, he said.

The remaining fertilized eggs also have a much higher survival rate now, with 95 percent making it through freezing and thawing, for families that want to have more children.

“In the old days, if half survived freezing, that was good,” Dr. Alper said.

IVF and related technology have also stretched the age limits for reproduction, Dr. Alper explained. If a woman is using her own eggs to conceive, usually by age 45, “the odds of success are very low.”

But with donor eggs, Boston IVF works with women up to age 50. Dr. Alper said, “Today’s 50 was yesterday’s whatever. As people live longer, they may want to have babies later.”

While technology has opened new possibilities for people wanting to bear children, including the approximately 5 percent of Boston IVF’s patients who are LGBT, it can also be an emotional and physical roller coaster.

Jillian and Eric O’Connell of Shrewsbury plan to attend the Baby Bowl with their IVF-conceived sons Cullen, age 4, and Michael, 1½.

Ms. O’Connell, 35, a former activity director at a skilled nursing facility, said she and her husband, a schoolteacher, were treated at Boston IVF after she wasn’t getting pregnant because of a tubal obstruction. “My eggs wouldn’t drop,” Ms. O’Connell said.

She went through the hormones and injections to prepare for IVF, including asking managers at TD Garden in Boston, where she was attending a concert, if she could bring in hypodermic needles to give herself the trigger shot at the appointed time.

“I got pregnant right away with my first (embryo), which was awesome,” she said.

Five embryos were frozen for future sibling attempts.

But when trying for a second child, the O’Connells weren’t so lucky. They had four losses before Michael.

“The hormones make you crazy and emotional,” Ms. O’Connell said.

Over the multiple attempts for a second child, she gained weight. She got rashes. She’d go from the high of hearing her blood hormone numbers looked like a pregnancy started, and then she’d crash when she got her period.

“We were on the last frozen embryo with our second,” Ms. O’Connell said. As they were thinking about the ‘what ifs,’ if that embryo didn’t work, “we had to decide if we wanted to go through it again. It was a lot.”

Ms. O’Connell said that as common as it is now to have children through IVF, it’s still taboo to talk about in some circles. Some on social media call IVF babies “demon children” or say that freezing embryos amounts to child abuse.

“I think my kids are a blessing,” she said. “There are a lot of people out there who think our kids shouldn’t be around.”

Maria Farese, 29, of Auburn also went through the highs and lows of fertility attempts.

Ms. Farese, a credentialing specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center, and her husband, Dan, a retail manager at Total Wine in Natick, got married in 2013 and tried to start a family.

The Fareses were referred to Dr. Pauli when Ms. Farese didn’t get pregnant after months of trying.

They started with four IUI, or intrauterine insemination, attempts. None succeeded.

In IUI, sperm are pushed into the uterus through a long plastic catheter. The procedure, one of the first-line treatments in assisted reproductive technology, gives sperm a head start into the Fallopian tube, where they can fertilize an egg.

A year after starting fertility treatments, the Fareses went through their first IVF cycle in June 2015, which also didn’t succeed.

They took a break “to clear our heads,” Ms. Farese said.

In November, after a second IVF cycle, Ms. Farese got pregnant.

The couple’s joy didn’t last, however, as Ms. Farese miscarried in February 2016, at 16 weeks’ gestation.

Last February, after treating lingering medical issues, the Fareses made an appointment with Dr. Pauli in May to start trying again.

But in March, Ms. Farese got a surprise: “After three-and-a-half years I was magically pregnant on my own.”

Baby Vivienne is scheduled to be delivered by cesarean section on Nov. 7.

Ms. Farese is still apprehensive, after all she and her husband have been through. “If I don’t feel her move for an hour, I freak out,” she said.

Emotional support from medical personnel, especially nurses who interact daily with patients and doctors who deliver sometimes heartbreaking news, needs to be paramount, according to Ms. Farese.

Going through treatment for infertility is stressful enough on its own, but most patients in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island who carry private group insurance don’t have to worry about being saddled with enormous debt to pay for it. Insurance laws mandate at least some coverage.

According to Dr. Alper, a cycle of IVF, not including drugs, costs around $8,000.

Ms. Binici said with the drugs, her IVF cycle would have totaled $10,000, but the couple only paid around $500 out of pocket. A relative in West Virginia, who is facing similar infertility issues but doesn’t have the insurance mandate, isn’t so lucky.


Online: https://bit.ly/2y2RJ7Z


For more information: The (Worcester) Telegram, www.telegram.com

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