IVF treatment in outback Queensland requires the couple to travel 12 hours for appointments

The sprawling cattle station on which Emma and Chris Thiedeke live is the ideal playground for children.

With red soil and endless sky, their property near Blackall in the Queensland interior stretches to the horizon.

But the couple’s journey to parenthood was fraught with difficulties.

“It means everything to me,” Ms. Thiedeke, 41, said.

“I just want to be a mom and I just want to see him be a dad.”

After suffering a miscarriage, the couple received news that a medical condition could affect their chances of conceiving.

So they turned to IVF.

But two years and $50,000 later, the Thiedekes are still childless.

“It’s a pretty expensive process to go that route,” Thiedeke said.

“Everyone would have heard stories of people who practically invested the farm in having children, it’s not for the faint of heart.”

The tyranny of distance

Long distances and lack of support can make the emotional journey of IVF even more difficult for people living in the bush.

Many spend thousands on accommodation and travel and take time off work so they can access treatment in the city.

Woman in blue shirt and man in green shirt looking into the distance
Emma and Chris Thiedeke spent more than $50,000 accessing treatment.(ABC Western Qld: Victoria Pengilley)

The nearest fertility clinic is often a day’s drive away.

A lack of local specialists means it takes up to 12 months to get an appointment with a ‘flying’ gynecologist in western Queensland.

“You see a specialist or make an appointment and they say, ‘You’re in the bush, so we’ll do it over Skype or Zoom,'” Mr. Thiedeke said.

He said his property had no cell phone service and the internet wasn’t strong enough to support a video call.

“It’s no use living in the middle of nowhere. Everything is easier on the coast.

“For Emma, ​​it’s an hour’s drive into the city just to talk to someone. You can’t hang out with your friends or anything like that.”

In their final bid to become parents, the Thiedeks sold their Rockhampton home and tapped into their pension to buy donor eggs.

Aerial shot of car driving on road
The Thiedekes travel 12 hours for their latest IVF cycle.(ABC Western Qld: Craig Fitzsimmons)

This week, they pack their bags and travel 12 hours to Brisbane to fertilize and transfer them.

The couple isn’t ready to give up on their dream of becoming parents, but the trip is their last hope.

“It’s probably close to make or break,” Mr. Thiedeke said.

“If you don’t have much success this time, then there’s no other option. We’re throwing everything at it.”

1,600 km round trip for a scan

At least one in six Australians will experience infertility in their lifetime.

Experts say the number of patients accessing IVF from the bush is also on the rise.

Monash IVF fertility specialist Ashish Das said about 50 per cent of his patients traveled from remote areas to his clinic in Townsville.

Man in checkered shirt looking at camera
Ashish Das says patients travel long distances to access fertility services.(ABC News: Lucas Hill)

“Fertility is not a one-step treatment,” said Dr. Das.

“It takes multiple visits and multiple investigations throughout the entire journey before we get to the treatment stage.”

Telehealth options are available, but a lack of regional clinics means that 1,600km round trips to undergo a scan are a common occurrence.

“Much of fertility treatment requires [patients] to come to cities and we are trying to minimize that as much as possible,” said Dr Das.

He said the stress and pressure of traveling long distances and being away from support networks for weeks at a time is too much for some.

Woman holding a scan
Rebecca Fleming says IVF isolation has taken a toll.(ABC Western Qld: Victoria Pengilley)

“Patients abandon IVF for a multitude of reasons; the distance, the logistics of doing things is a cause,” he said.

“The dropouts are the ones who probably had a failed cycle and found the journey difficult.”

The costs add up

Although a small portion of IVF is covered by Medicare, the financial costs of treatment can add up.

Victoria and New South Wales offer subsidies to those undergoing fertility treatment.

But in Queensland, the cost of treatment and travel leaves many out of pocket.

Longreach mother-of-two Rebecca Fleming said she spent nearly $50,000 and was able to get about $17,000 back from Medicare.

Woman holding a child
Rebecca Fleming had IVF before she got pregnant.(ABC Western Qld: Victoria Pengilley)

The 38-year-old underwent two IVF cycles eight hours apart in Rockhampton before falling pregnant with her first child.

“You’ve got fuel, you’ve got accommodation because you can’t just drive eight hours, see a doctor, drive eight hours home,” Ms Fleming said.

“You have to spend the night at least.

“Then there’s still time off from work.”

Ms Fleming said that while the isolation and stigma of IVF had a negative impact, holding her baby was the greatest ending.

“There are so many things that can go wrong with IVF… I don’t think I felt comfortable with all of that until I held my baby,” she said.

“It’s actually been two years to the day I had a transfer and to think that two years ago it was a bunch of cells that now it’s a little kid running around destroying things.”

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