The Harmers are one of thousands of Australia families built through medical technology.
Five of their six children – Winter, 7, Beau, 5, Violet, 3, and twins Banjo and Felix, 2 – were conceived using IVF technology. Eldest daughter Lily, 13, was also the result of fertility treatment.
Banjo and Felix are among a record-breaking group of births, as two of 15,190 IVF babies born in Australia and New Zealand in 2016/17 – the highest number ever in IVF’s 40-year history in Australia.
“We always wanted four kids, and since we finally had IVF working for us we decided to go for one more and got two more – a bonus baby,” said mum Kristin Harmer.
A report from the Fertility Society of Australia found couples have a one in four chance of having a baby when an embryo is is transferred, with almost 60 per cent of babies born through IVF treatment in 2016 resulting from frozen embryos.
Unlike many couples, the Harmers preferred to use fresh embryos and not freeze excess embryos for future use.
Ballarat IVF medical director Dr Russell Dalton said demand for IVF was increasing in the region, with about 200 to 220 babies a year born directly from IVF services in Ballarat.
“We see the need for IVF increasing because of lifestyle factors which contribute to infertility, and advanced age, alongside Ballarat’s population growth,” Dr Dalton said.
“We see an increase of about 7 per cent a year in the numbers of people we treat.”
The average age of Ballarat women having IVF is 34.7, but at a recent ante-natal clinic Dr Dalton found half the patients were over 40 and about 80 per cent of those had conceived through IVF.
Dr Dalton said increasing numbers of men were suffering significant fertility problems.
“In our regional centre the exposure of guys to various toxins in the workplace, farmers who are handling various insecticides and herbicides anecdotally … I think this is increasing the rate of male infertility,” he said.
“I see guys who are otherwise fit and well, who you’d never pick as having a decreased sperm count, who tend to come from regional rural areas with exposure to chemicals and although there isn’t solid data I have a gut feeling that’s a contributor.”
There is also a global decrease in male fertility.
“If you look globally there’s a well-documented decrease in sperm function which probably has an environmental cause. Because it’s happened so quickly it can’t be entirely genetic.
“There’s a possibility it’s endocrine disruptors – plastics and BPS – that permeate our diet and environment that potentially adversely affects sperm function.”
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