The controversial fertility specialist putting the va-va-voom into IVF03/06/2020
Lynn Burmeister’s face is inscrutable. It’s not just the perfect make-up. It’s those blue, doll-like eyes that give nothing away. Her son calls it her “game face”. Some of her patients see her as “cold”. And for most of my first interview with Burmeister – one of Australia’s top IVF doctors – this is the mask I see. But then, 97 minutes in, the mask suddenly slips. She’s talking about Monash IVF, her employer for 17 years. When she left in 2017, the company took Burmeister, its star doctor, to court to stop her from setting up in competition with it. Former colleagues turned against her.
“The legal case was horrific,” Burmeister says, her pink-tipped fingers dabbing at wet eyes. Her voice breaks. “I might get a bit emotional.”
We’re sitting in her main consulting rooms in the posh part of Collins Street, Melbourne. Since this clinic – she refers to it as the “pink palace” – opened two years ago, Burmeister, 54, has single-handedly taken on the big, publicly listed IVF clinics, pursued plans to expand into Sydney and plotted her ultimate goal: changing how IVF is delivered in Australia.
The pink palace is just one part of her burgeoning baby-making empire, called No 1 Fertility. A 15-minute walk away, in Jolimont just near the Melbourne Cricket Ground, is her green-themed “Emerald City”, where embryos are transferred into patients. She also has robin’s-egg blue rooms at the nearby Epworth Richmond hospital; a full IVF service in the regional city of Geelong; and a cheap egg-freezing business run out of Epworth Freemasons hospital in East Melbourne, where she also performs egg collections.
But it’s here, at the pink palace, that you can see both the unabashed, one-woman marketing force of nature who has ruffled feathers across the industry, and the female-friendly focus, which she says sets her clinics apart.
Burmeister’s Melbourne clinic, known as the "pink palace", features George Clooney in life-size cardboard. Credit:
On one wall, the words “Fertility Queen” glow in candy-pink neon light. In 2013, The Australian Women’s Weekly crowned Burmeister “Melbourne’s fertility queen” when she became the first Australian doctor to get a woman pregnant using an ovarian tissue transplant (a year later, she helped 48-year-old TV personality Sonia Kruger become pregnant using a donor egg, which further turbo-boosted Burmeister’s rock-star status in the fertility world).
Other walls bear female empowerment quotes: “If at first you don’t succeed, fix your ponytail and try again.” And pink. So much pink: pink poodle figurines, pink pigs, pink pineapples. Tiny pink flamingos lurk on coffee tables. There’s also George Clooney, standing over near the coffee bar, in life-size cardboard, eyes a-twinkle. “When I come out my door,” says Burmeister, “I can stare at handsome George!”
The reason for all this hyper-femme interior decorating, says Burmeister – who, under her desk, is sporting a pair of $950 pink Christian Louboutin pumps – is to help women ease the stress of infertility and forget, for a second, their situation.
“The IVF industry is making patients feel like they are sick, when they are not sick women.”
“What I want them to think is, ‘Why is that flamingo there?’, or ‘Why is that pineapple there?’ ” she says. “When people look at pretty things it does actually relax them, in my view. I always say to patients, ‘Don’t stress about the fact you’re not getting pregnant. That is not going to help your mindfulness.’ ”
But most importantly, she doesn’t want to treat her patients in a hospitalised environment. “The IVF industry is making patients feel like they are sick, when they are not sick women.”
This is part of the reason she left Monash: she thought its IVF approach too impersonal, and that, because of its system of sharing patients between doctors, she didn’t get to see her patients through to the end of their treatment. She also felt disrespected, bullied and ridiculed.
When she declared that she would keep practising IVF in 2017 despite a 12-month non-compete clause in her contract, Monash sued, demanding her emails and texts, while some fellow doctors signed up to write affidavits saying she really wasn’t the baby whisperer she thinks she is.
After a three-day mediation, the case reached a confidential, out-of-court settlement in which, instead of practising nowhere for 12 months, Burmeister was only banned from practising within a 50-kilometre radius of Melbourne. The doctor looked at a map, set up a clinic in Geelong, and recruited a high-end taxi company to drive her patients an hour down the Princes Freeway for treatment, then back again.
Burmeister says her clinics are designed to ease the stress of fertility issues: “When people look at pretty things, it does actually relax them."Credit:
I ask if she felt scared to break her contract with Monash – today a $225 million company, with pockets deep enough to pay corporate lawyers – and to then set herself up in competition with it and other big players such as Melbourne IVF, owned by the $340 million Virtus Health.
“No,” she says bluntly. “I plan to take them over.” I look at her, confused. Is she serious? How could she possibly out-compete these well-established clinics, one of which – Monash – has the heritage of creating the world’s first IVF pregnancy in 1973?
“I’m at 12 per cent [of Victorian egg retrievals], Monash is 26 per cent and Melbourne IVF is 41 per cent,” she says, quoting the latest figures from the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority. “I’m the fastest-growing clinic in Victoria, so I’m on my way. And I’m here to teach them a lesson.”
On June 9, 2017, Monash IVF made an announcement to the Australian Stock Exchange. Headlined “Departure of Dr Lynn Burmeister”, the four-paragraph statement advised that the specialist was leaving in September. This meant a potential profit decline, it said, of “high single digits” in financial year 2019 (so far, it has told the ASX, Burmeister’s departure has cost it $12.3 million in lost revenue).
For anyone not familiar with the $550-million-a-year fertility industry, this statement might have seemed bizarre. At the time, Monash IVF had more 29 specialists in Victoria – how could the departure of just one make even a slight dint in its bottom line?
But those who knew the industry understood what a blow Burmeister’s departure was.
She was not just any doctor. She was Monash IVF’s busiest specialist, overseeing 1200 IVF cycles annually, a quarter of the company’s Victorian business. And not only was Burmeister leaving, she was hell-bent on breaking the non-compete clauses in her contract. It was a corporate crisis for Monash – albeit one that had been a long time coming.
In 1995, when Burmeister was a second-year registrar at Monash Medical Centre, she met Carl Wood, one of the pioneers of IVF. He took her for coffee and invited her to learn IVF. She fell in love with it: the science, the mathematics, creating “recipes” of hormones to stimulate a woman’s ovaries to produce eggs, which are “harvested” and paired with sperm in a laboratory to make embryos.
In 1997 there was an opening in Monash’s specialist infertility training, a spot that became available only every three years. Burmeister was confident she would get it. “Carl Wood,” she says, “loved me.” But the other Monash professors had different plans: they gave the position to another doctor, who’d trained in Europe.
It’s possible, of course, that the other doctor was genuinely the better candidate. But it wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last, that the male-dominated IVF establishment sidelined the hyper-feminine Burmeister, the likes of which they’d never seen before.
A few years earlier, she’d turned up to an all-male panel for her interview for the training program with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. She wore a full pink Moschino suit, and had taken some time off the previous year to decide whether she wanted to specialise or be a GP.
They told her she didn’t seem serious, to go away and take a diploma. A year later, when the college finally did let her in, she turned up on her first day of obstetrics training in a miniskirt (in a 2019 interview Burmeister declared the shortness of her skirts did not stop her performing a forceps delivery or caesarean “better than all of the male doctors”, a comment she admits put a few medical fraternity noses out of joint).
In 1998 she became a fully qualified obstetrician and gynaecologist, and by 2002 she had completed her certificate in reproductive endocrinology and infertility.
After she was spurned for the training position, Burmeister convinced leading American IVF doctor Zev Rosenwaks to take her on as a clinical fellow in New York, treating clients including singer Celine Dion. When she came home, Monash wanted to send her off to service regional Victoria.
Frustrated, given she had “two young kids and a husband who travelled a lot”, she arranged a meeting with Monash’s arch-rival, Melbourne IVF, news of which leaked to Monash. Burmeister then declared that if she wasn’t made partner, she would leave. Monash agreed to her demand in 2002. This turned out to be an incredibly lucrative gamble: when the company was sold to ABN Amro five years later, Burmeister was paid $3.5 million.
Helping the then-48-year-old TV personality Sonia Kruger (pictured here with daughter Maggie) become pregnant further boosted Burmeister’s rock-star status in the fertility world. Credit:Getty Images
This is where things started to really sour. The problem, she says, was not so much the new private equity overlords squeezing the process for extra profits. It was rising jealousies between the 12 doctor partners who’d shared in a pool of about $70 million but were paid different sums of money, depending on the shares they held in the company. “We were all friends before that,” she says.
The media attention Burmeister received about the ovarian tissue transplant and Kruger’s pregnancy further exacerbated tensions, with some of her colleagues believing the publicity went to her head, not to mention gave her an unfair commercial advantage.
Gab Kovacs, a former mentor of Burmeister and now-retired IVF doctor, says Monash was also “a bit of a boys’ club”. “Some of the long-term doctors didn’t recognise her effort as much as they should have,” says Kovacs. “And they probably weren’t as nice to her as they should have been.”
In 2011, gaffer tape was put over her name on a sign outside one of the Monash centres after other doctors complained that she was one of only two doctors named on the sign. (Burmeister’s husband, hotelier and one-time nightclub owner Fabrizio Ippoliti, drove there and ripped it off.)
“It was pretty degrading. Here am I providing Monash all this work and everyone is laughing about me.”
Then, at the 2013 staff Christmas party, a senior doctor made a speech mocking Burmeister, reportedly saying that if he had red hair and stilettos he might be the fertility king. Burmeister arrived just after the speech, and was quickly informed about it.
“It was pretty degrading. And not very nice. Here am I providing Monash all this work and all the nurses and scientists are there and everyone is laughing about me.”
But it wasn’t just the mantle of “fertility queen” that rankled Burmeister’s colleagues; it was also comments like the one she gave a journalist that same year: “I think I do get women pregnant that maybe other doctors haven’t.” Another Monash IVF doctor, working there at the time, explains: “That really upset people. It’s not one doctor who gets a patient pregnant. It’s a whole team.”
The last straw came in 2016, when Monash IVF instituted a new rule that its nurses could no longer deal with adjuvants (extra treatments, such as blood thinners or low-dose steroids, that may boost pregnancy chances). Burmeister, well known for prescribing them, felt it was targeted at her. Monash denies this. She had to hire two new non-Monash nurses to administer the treatment. Her husband recalls it as an unhappy time, during which his wife was often in her office late at night, calling patients herself.
“I would go in there at 12.30am or 1am to pick her up,” Ippoliti tells me, “and she would be crying at her desk. She would be talking about how unhappy she was at Monash all the time. She even talked about it in her sleep.”
Lynn Burmeister with hotelier husband Fabrizio Ippoliti and their daughter, Tatiana, and son, Fab jnr. Her dedication to her job “hasn’t been easy”, Ippoliti says. “It’s been hard on all of us.” Credit:Courtesy of Lynn Burmeister
On a 43-degree day, I enter the cool foyer of a new luxury apartment building in Melbourne’s CBD, a few doors down from Burmeister’s “pink palace”. Fabrizio Ippoliti is walking towards me, smiling, his egg-shaped bald head bronzed from a recent stint in Jamaica, where he co-owns two hotels.
We take the lift to the 19th floor, where we stand in a dark corridor for some time. Before he takes me into the couple’s mansion-like apartment, he wants to explain how they came to be here: in 2018, a freak storm collapsed the ceilings of their Victorian-era home in South Yarra. The place was rendered unliveable and, later, toxic with black mould. It’s still getting fixed, and will be sold, but in the meantime the bank helped finance the purchase of this $14.7 million apartment.
Ippoliti opens the door. It’s all timber and natural stone, like a modern art gallery, taking up the entire floor. Kobe the large golden groodle nudges hello, but my eye is drawn to the windows framing Melbourne’s best version of herself: the heritage parks, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Dandenongs rising like a dark dune on the horizon.
Indeed, from here you can see across to the leafy outer eastern suburbs where Burmeister’s life began, in slightly more humble circumstances, the third child of a builder and his home-making wife, and younger sister to two boys, Mark and Paul.
She’d loved interning in obstetrics, because it was a “happy area”. That, she decided, would be her path.
Raymond and Judith Burmeister lived a middle-class life in Mitcham, but their daughter wanted for more. New ballet shoes, she remembers, were “an ordeal”. A private-school education, which she coveted, was out of reach. When Burmeister watched her mother ask her father for grocery money, she swore to herself that she’d never ask a man for money. She set her sights on studying medicine at the University of Melbourne.
“I thought to myself: ‘Okay, I’m going to really strive to change my life.’ And I liked the idea of helping people, too.” (Several friends attest to Burmeister’s kind nature: “She’s actually a really, genuine, caring person,” says Aisha Salmon, wife of Ippoliti’s business partner Paul Salmon. “Not a mean bone in her body,” says well-known restaurateur Lisa van Haandel.)
“Whatever Lynn did, she had to do well,” Judith Burmeister tells me, recalling her daughter as a quiet and determined child. As a teenager, she represented Victoria in freestyle, getting up for swimming training at 4.30am every morning. In year 12 at Vermont High School, Burmeister topped the state with full marks in chemistry. She credits the subject’s teacher, Chris Dwyer. “He actually said: ‘You are the smartest kid I’ve ever met.’ ” Dwyer certainly remembers his star pupil. He had five students in 1983 who went on to study medicine, but Burmeister “rose above the rest”, he writes in an email.
Burmeister easily got into medicine at the University of Melbourne, then relaxed a little. She taught aerobics, always in a pink leotard. As an intern, she came to the unsurprising conclusion that being a doctor meant being around sick people. This made her sad. She’d loved interning in obstetrics, because it was a “happy area”. That, she decided, would be her path.
She was an obstetrics registrar at Monash Medical Centre when, at 26, she started going to a South Yarra restaurant called Carmines. The owner, Ippoliti, once owned the popular Inflation and Subterrain nightclubs. He thought this young redheaded doctor was hot, and for months served her free caesar salads. Eventually, after what sounds like an exhausting courtship that involved running around the Tan track and doing uphill sit-ups, they got together, marrying in 1995.
“I just remember we were driving in the car and she said that being with me was just a natural thing for her,” says Ippoliti, sitting opposite me at the banquet-length dining table in one of the apartment’s cavernous rooms. Nearby, framed prints lean against a wall, waiting to be hung.
In 1995, while still a registrar, Burmeister fell pregnant. It was unplanned and maternity leave did not exist. She took three weeks’ holiday for the birth then reluctantly went back to work, leaving Fab jnr with Fab snr, his parents and her mother Judith. “I cried all the way to [work],” she says. She took a year off in Jamaica in 1998 when her second child, Tatiana, was born, while Ippoliti pursued business interests there.
Fab jnr, 23, who is back visiting his parents after interning in property development in New York, joins me at the dining table. Burmeister worked long hours when he was young and he remembers her regularly dashing off to deliver babies. But he and 21-year-old business marketing student Tatiana recall their mother’s presence in childhood – soccer practice, seeing Toy Story, shopping with her for high heels – ahead of her absences.
Later, Ippoliti cautions that Burmeister’s dedication to her job took its toll. “It hasn’t been easy, despite what the kids say,” he says. “It’s been hard on all of us.”
Burmeister: “It’s like Roger Federer found his talent. I feel this is my talent.”Credit:Kristoffer Paulsen
As soon as the lift opens into Emerald City, Burmeister’s art deco-style embryo transfer clinic, I relax. There’s pink here, of course, but so much more green. Gems are a strong theme. “That’s what we do here, we make gems!” declares Burmeister, dressed today in a light-blue Versace ensemble and Saint Laurent metallic-pink sandals. Every Emerald City door bears a sign in sparkly capitals. Behind the “Jewel Maker” door are the embryologists. The toilet is a “Twinkle Room”.
Now we’re standing in front of the “Man Cave”, where men recline in a black armchair, view an iPad with porn on it, and produce a sperm specimen. Yet to decorate the Man Cave, Burmeister muses that she’s considering pictures of cars and speedboats.
I’m not convinced this will help with sperm production, and begin to wonder whether Burmeister’s strong suit is thinking more about women than men. Given that 40 per cent of infertility is attributable to male factors, I wonder how this makes men feel. Is the pink palace too pink, Emerald City too sparkly for them? No, says Burmeister. It’s important for the men to be comfortable, but “It’s the girls who suffer the most on this journey.”
Since starting in IVF, Burmeister has helped bring more than 10,000 humans into the world. In shopping centres, she’s accosted by pram-wielding mothers who fete her like a deity. Her self-belief is absolute, too: “It’s like Roger Federer found his talent,” she tells me. “I feel this is my talent.”
But sometimes she has to deliver bad news. Devastating news. Like this morning, for example, when she had to tell three women they should stop trying and are unlikely to ever have a baby.
“I’m sort of used to it now, I suppose. I probably don’t take it on board so much. I feel sad for them but I feel like if I tell them to keep going, that’s not good medicine, either.”
Particularly with older patients, she says, it’s a fine line between encouraging them to stay positive and being honest about their chances of success (at age 42, for example, she notes your chance of having a baby per IVF cycle is about 10 per cent). It depends on the patient, but she usually won’t let older women do more than four to six cycles.
The best age to start a family, she says, is in your late 20s: “You want to have had all your babies by your 35th birthday.”
Burmeister has backed herself to the hilt, putting her family’s assets on the line to realise her vision of female-friendly IVF. She owns all her clinics, employing 91 staff, including six like-minded doctors who operate “with all of Dr Lynn’s recipes”.
And the infrastructure doesn’t come cheap. We peer through a small window into a white room full of expensive-looking machines. One type of IVF incubator can cost $350,000, and she has six of them. All up, she says she’s spent $3.2 million on her labs in Melbourne and Geelong.
While cheap IVF is becoming more popular, at the premium end of the market, an initial cycle generally costs upwards of $4600.
“This is probably the best lab anywhere in the world. What do you think, Kelli?” That’s Kelli Sorby, her scientific director. “Best in the world,” agrees Sorby. (Later, I mention to Kovacs that Burmeister claims the world’s best IVF laboratory. “You can never say it’s the best because tomorrow someone will buy an updated, better machine,” Kovacs cautions gently, but adds he does believe her innovative, salon-like clinics are world-class.)
Part of Burmeister’s strategy is to offer cheaper prices than Australia’s three major IVF providers, which have, like Burmeister herself, made big money out of people’s fertility issues.
In its 2019 report on the fertility sector, business analysts IbisWorld found the industry, which relies on Medicare rebates, has an average 23 per cent profit margin. Of the big three, two – Monash IVF and Virtus Health – are listed on the stock exchange, while the third, Genea, was bought by Hong Kong investors in 2018.
While cheap IVF is becoming more popular, at the premium end of the market, an initial cycle generally costs upwards of $4600. Burmeister, while still offering a premium service, has set her first cycle rate at just under $3500.
She’s also offering egg-freezing at around $4500 per cycle, about half that of her main competitors. Mostly used by single women in their 30s who want to protect their eggs before they age too much, this treatment makes up about 40 per cent of Burmeister’s business. With high house prices and HECS debts, and most women needing two cycles of egg harvesting, I wonder how young women afford it.
“They walk in with their Gucci handbags,” Burmeister says. “And a lot of them say a cycle is the same as buying a handbag. That’s how they justify it.” I know no one who buys a $4500 handbag, I offer. “Millennials do,” she says, confidently.
We walk into the “Growing Room”, a serene, mint-green space where the patients recline on pink chaise longues, to chat with Michael English, Burmeister’s wellness guy. English has dimples and radiates good vibes – or perhaps it’s just the moldavite crystal hanging around his neck that he says is “really highly vibrational”.
He explains that he gives patients a 20-minute massage before their embryo transfer, and always a pep talk. “I let them know they are warriors, that not many people in the world get to fight for their dreams,” says English. “We try to make them feel as beautiful and as nurtured as possible.”
I ask Burmeister, who is planning on hiring an acupuncturist and a naturopath, if any of this going to increase pregnancy rates. “There is some supporting evidence,” she says, “that if you’re stressed and anxious then the embryo is not going to work.”
Kovacs is more sceptical. “I think Lynn believes that if her patients feel good, they will do better. But no one has any evidence to say that if you do massage or acupuncture it will improve your chances.”
“Mum couldn’t do what she does without Dad. He’s the unsung hero in Mum’s career.”
Burmeister strives to do most transfers herself, other than when she’s at a conference or on holidays. It’s one of the things she didn’t like about Monash, that other doctors often did this procedure for her patients. “It’s the most important part of an IVF cycle, but the most important day for the patient, too,” she says. “So they walk out feeling very special on that day.”
I’m sitting in Monash IVF’s Melbourne boardroom with Michael Knaap, the company’s chief executive officer, who is wearing the corporate uniform of blue shirt and black frames. The stakes are high: since Monash was floated in 2014, anything Knaap says publicly can affect the company’s share price, and therefore his shareholders.
Things haven’t been going well for Monash in Victoria. First there was Burmeister’s departure; then a year later, another five doctors left to set up a boutique practice, citing a desire for more independence. Monash’s share price has fallen from a peak of $2.52 in October 2016 to around $1 today, and the Victorian operation has been put under a “transformation” review.
Knaap says this means assessing its facilities, trying to boost market share and “providing an attractive value proposition for patients and doctors to come into our Victorian environment”.
He’s diplomatic when I ask why Monash didn’t do more to try to keep Burmeister.
“We were endeavouring to come up with a workable solution for Lynn, given her contribution to our organisation. However, that didn’t work out.” He rejects her allegations of bullying, and says the culture is “inclusive, it’s positive, it’s engaged, it’s supportive, it’s caring”.
Knaap won’t talk about the settlement with Burmeister. But he will talk about Monash’s “best-in-class” clinic, soon to open in the Sydney CBD, its growth in places such as Malaysia, and how the company is re-evaluating the aesthetics of its Victorian facilities to ensure services are delivered in a “special, warming, empathetic way”.
Has Burmeister prodded this shift? “No, that was already part of the strategy,” he says, inching his boardroom seat a little further from mine.
Burmeister says: "I think if I looked sloppy maybe people might think that I’m not good at my job."Credit:Kristoffer Paulsen
I’m waiting with Ippoliti at Emerald City – waiting for my final interview with Burmeister – near the glittering chandelier he installed after recessing the ceiling. But he’s much more than a chandelier installer.
“Mum couldn’t do what she does without Dad,” Fab jnr tells me. “He’s the unsung hero in Mum’s career.” Each morning, Ippoliti gets up and makes his wife coffee. He might, for example, rise at 6.15am, have the coffee to Burmeister at 6.25am, then drive her the four minutes to Emerald City for a 6.55am start.
Finances are also his domain; Ippoliti tells me he makes sure his wife is not across the clinic’s running costs, so she can concentrate on patients. That sounds a bit worrying. Does he have a business plan? “No,” he says. Later, as he climbs into his black 2016 BMW X-6 to drive me home, he’s upbeat about this: “We may not have a business plan, but we do have a lot of patients!”
Burmeister, the wizard of Emerald City, is sitting behind her desk – looking smaller somehow than she did in the pink palace, exhausted. Without the heft of the Monash system behind her, she’s working harder than ever: 13-hour days plus Saturday mornings. She’s running a one-woman marketing campaign on Instagram (where she has more than 10,000 followers) and, behind the scenes, fighting Virtus Health, the owner of Melbourne IVF, which has launched legal proceedings for posts it says are designed to confuse the market by using words similar to Ivy, the name of its new artificial intelligence technology.
It’s tricky, this marketing business. IVF Facebook groups are overflowing with praise about Burmeister, particularly as a fertility doctor of last resort who will throw everything at you. And many patients love her blinged-up clinics.
“I found her transfer space relaxing and private,” says one online comment. “It helps being in a beautiful environment when you’re feeling blue,” says another. But expectations are high. If Burmeister sells herself as the “Fertility Queen”, surely, I ask, people are more likely to believe a baby will be bestowed upon them?
“Yes,” she says immediately. “Then when I don’t, they probably get grumpy.” And people do get grumpy. There are two scathing Google reviews, which she shrugs off. “It’s because they didn’t get pregnant. Or they are emotional and grumpy. It’s not because I’ve done anything bad.”
A former patient, who underwent treatment with Burmeister as she left Monash and set up her new clinics, tells me the customer service was “an absolute shambles”. She also had real concerns about the medical treatment she received. “It just felt so transactional and like she had a business to run.” (Burmeister acknowledges prior gaps in her customer service, but says it’s improved and will become like “flying Qantas first-class”.)
Lucy Lines, an embryologist who has worked for Monash IVF and Melbourne IVF as well as overseas clinics, helps patients navigate the mores of IVF via her consulting business Two Lines Fertility. Of the 60 specialists in Melbourne, there are more than 40 that Lines will recommend, with Burmeister regularly in her top five.
“I say. ‘Go and look at her clinic. She’s an excellent clinician, who does a brilliant job, but she may not be your cup of tea’ – some will find her over-the-top,” says Lines. “I’ve got a couple of clients who adore her and will walk over hot coals for her, but I have just as many who would do the same for other specialists who don’t name themselves the ‘Fertility Queen’.”
Lines points out that Burmeister is among a select group of fertility doctors in Australia who test for natural killer cells and use the endometrial receptivity analysis (ERA) test. There is little scientific evidence for these tests, says Lines. Burmeister agrees there is “not great evidence” for either. She offers ERA to women who have “beautiful embryos, nice lining and haven’t implanted after three cycles”, and natural killer cell tests are part of a regular biopsy she does, a sort trial-run for the embryo transfer.
Today, Burmeister has barely any make-up on because she’s been operating. She’s wearing blue scrubs but still maintains some glamour: under her desk are a pair of 15-centimetre-heel platform sandals from Italian label Aquazzura. I tell her I don’t understand the high-heel business. Why have female empowerment quotes across the walls then squeeze your feet into things that make walking inherently risky?
She likes to look good – the nails, the hair, the expensive fashion – because she’s “type A” and needs everything to be perfect.
She thinks for a second. “They give me power because I am taller and I can tower over men. I can look them in the eye. I don’t have to look up to anyone.” She likes to look good – the nails, the hair, the expensive fashion – because she’s “type A” and needs everything to be perfect. “A chipped nail for me is a first-world problem,” she says. “And I think if I looked sloppy maybe people might think that I’m not good at my job.”
I ask her if she’d ever consider a facelift. She does botox and fillers, she says, but she’s not sure about a facelift. She once got a “Fraxel”, she says. A what? “A Fraxel. Where they burn your face off.” But Burmeister was too busy to take time off afterwards, and consulted right through the extreme exfoliation phase, where your face goes nappy-rash red and your skin falls off. The patients, apparently, were a little alarmed. “But I just said to them, Darling!” pitching her voice up to Absolutely Fabulous levels. “I’ve had a Fraxel, okay? So let’s just get on with it.”
Mimicking this moment, she swivels to her computer and does some jaunty mime-typing. “People were looking at me like I was crazy!”
And there’s the enigma of Lynn Burmeister: she’s a woman who topped the state in high-school chemistry, performed trailblazing fertility surgery and rose to be one of Australia’s top IVF doctors, yet once chose to get her face burnt off and regularly teeters in vertiginous heels.
When she stands up to see me to her office door, the stilt-like Italian heels come into their own. We’re probably a similar height, but at the door, I’m actually looking up at her. “See,” she says. “No one’s gonna mess with me.”
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