Some Couples Try Crowdfunding To Pay For Infertility Treatments

By Stephanie O'Neill Kaiser Health News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Asking for IVF assistance is becoming one of the fastest-growing crowdfunding categories. In 2016, it outpaced all categories except for adoption.

Kaiser Health News

Crowdfunding is a popular way to raise money for such disparate things as birthday parties and political protests. But on some of the big online fundraising sites are found public pleas for something far more personal, infertility treatments.

Greg and Julia Fry of Ithaca, N.Y., were in their early 30s when they got married three years ago and set out to start a family. But a year passed, and Julia didn't get pregnant. Six more months went by and, still, no baby.

Greg said they went to a specialist. "We started to do some tests to try and find out what was happening with both of us," he said. "And we wound up realizing that fertility treatments were what we would need."

They began with IUI, or intrauterine insemination, in which sperm is inserted with a catheter directly into the woman's uterus at the time of ovulation. The procedure costs, on average, just under $1,000 a try. The Frys tried four times in the past year, with no luck.

"This, by far, is the hardest thing that we've ever been through together," Greg said. "There is always hope going into every cycle. And that hope, sort of, gets dashed at the end of the cycle, and then we start again."

The next step they took was to try in vitro fertilization, or IVF, a more costly and invasive option. IVF involves retrieving eggs from the ovaries, and then fertilizing them with sperm in a laboratory dish. The embryo is then transferred into the woman's uterus. Each try can cost $15,000 to $20,000.

At first, Greg said, they thought about going overseas for more affordable treatments, but travel costs would have eaten up any savings. They went online instead, to the crowdfunding site GiveForward. They posted a video in which they talk about their decision to ask for financial help.

"You know us as Julia and Greg," Greg begins. "The couple with so much love to give," Julia continues, and they alternate telling their story.

Asking for IVF assistance is becoming one of the fastest-growing crowdfunding categories, according to Josh Chapman, CEO of GiveForward. It has outpaced all categories except adoption in 2016. "We believe this trend will continue into 2017," Chapman said.

Most health insurance doesn't cover infertility treatments. That was the case for Janet Carter and her wife, Jackie. They live in Charleston, S.C., and both have job-based health insurance.

Janet said that was helpful for the diagnostic part of their process. The insurance " will cover anything that is testing beforehand, like any underlying issues that are leading to the need for fertility treatment. They do not cover any of the actual procedures at all," she said.

As their August 2015 wedding approached, Janet said they asked their guests to consider giving them cash for fertility treatments.

"We not only had a regular registry for Target, but we also decided to have it be an option for our friends and family that wanted to be a part of us starting our little new family," she said.

The wedding guests gave them about $3,000, which they used to help pay for nine failed IUI attempts. Then Janet wanted to try asking friends again for money, this time for help with IVF. But Jackie wasn't so sure at the time.

"Does it seem like we're begging, or asking people for money, you know? Am I ready to do that? Am I ready for people to be that involved?" Jackie said.

So they asked friends for their opinions about crowdfunding, and the support was resounding, except for some hesitation from Janet's mother.

"She just doesn't really agree with it necessarily, and I think that's just a generational difference in opinion," Janet said. But Jackie was convinced.

"I realized, 'Hey you know what? There are thousands of people out there using these crowdfunding sources for honeymoons and, you know, maybe things that aren't as impactful as having a child,' " she said.

The couple went forward with the YouCaring site, which has helped them raise about $5,000 so far.

Still, crowdfunding is hard for a lot of people, said Rachel Gurevich, who writes about fertility issues.

"I wouldn't do it unless you have a lot of social connections," she said. "A lot of people think that it's automatic, they're going to put it up and raise a bunch of money. And they're not, and that can be really disappointing."

Dozens of IVF campaigns on crowdfunding sites show no money raised. The Frys and the Carters both received money from friends, family and some acquaintances, which is more typical, Gurevich said. Most donations are $20 to $100.

"It's been very positive, everybody that I've worked with," Julia Fry said. "People come up to me. And they've come into my office and they hand me $20," she said. "They say, 'We love you guys. We think you will be such great parents, please take it.' "

The Frys' friend Jordanna Larish gave $50, even though she's unemployed. "Julia and Greg are incredibly generous people, always helping others," she wrote in an email. "They've been trying for so long to have a baby, and they'll be excellent parents."

Jessie Simpson, who is a friend of Jackie and Janet Carter, said she gave them $500, "and a whole lot of prayers." Simpson was moved by how easy it had been for her to conceive her son and how difficult it has been for her friends.

"Watching their struggle for over a year, all while the medical bills rack up each month, it was heartbreaking," Simpson wrote in an email. "That is the power of crowdfunding though, connect their story to your experiences and you want to melt in a puddle of tears and give them the shirt off your back."

Jackie and Janet Carter are using their fundraising to pay down a credit card bill for their IVF. And Janet is now pregnant, their baby is due in June 2017.

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