Crowdfunding And Fertility: More People Are Turning To The Web For Help Building Their Families

By Anna Webb The Idaho Statesman.

Some of the suggestions people have given Lauren Harms about getting pregnant have verged on the folkloric: drinking protein shakes, taking a certain cough medicine. Others have been insensitive: Friends have suggested that she lose weight, or that she and her husband, Stephen, learn to "live with God's will" that they're not meant to be parents.

After trying for a decade to have a child and enduring fertility drug treatments that didn't work, the Harmses, both 39, are trying a new approach.

They created a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for in vitro fertilization. The Harmses are telling their very private story as they try to raise $25,000 for the procedure in which a woman's eggs are harvested and implanted after fertilization in a lab.

They've raised around $1,800 from 40 donors.

"My mom gives $25 each month," said Harms. "We've gotten donations from people I haven't heard from since elementary school."

While crowdfunding for family planning might seem unusual, or overly public for what many would see as a private matter, the number of GoFundMe campaigns for in vitro fertilization are increasing. GoFundMe had 80 campaigns in 2012. In 2015, it has 516. Unlike programs such as Kickstarter, which focuses on creative projects and business startups, the largest share of GoFundMe campaigns are for medical expenses, according to the company.

HARD TIMES,HARD WORK The Harmses, born a week apart, have been married for nine years.

"We didn't have a lot of other relationships. We were both waiting for the right person," said Lauren Harms. "We're similar. We have a drive to do what we want to do, not what others want us to do."

They had planned their wedding. It was two months away when they found out Harms was pregnant -- a happy surprise.

"But a month before the wedding, we had this horrible miscarriage. We tried to put it behind us," said Harms.

She got pregnant again easily, but suffered a miscarriage at three months. The couple decided to try fertility drug treatments.

Lauren is a self-employed photographer. Her specialty is photographing babies. She loves children, but being around babies all day is hard sometimes.

"I detach. I don't get upset because I have to work. And it's work. This is what I do. I've got too much invested," she said.

Lauren planned to become a teacher before deciding on photography. She's always been the "auntie" to all of her friends' children, she said. Stephen works as a janitor and is starting a math tutoring business.

They've both had health care insurance, but it didn't pay for fertility drugs, said Harms. She estimates they spent around $10,000 on three rounds of treatments. She didn't get pregnant despite the rigors of the treatments, something she equates to "someone repeatedly stabbing you with a hot knife." Her doctor wrote her a note in the form of a prescription to share with people when the pain was the worst.

"It said I could be as horrible as I wanted," said Harms, "and that people shouldn't deny me anything I wanted to have."

COURTING FRIENDS During the years of fertility treatments and disappointment, friends and family continued to ask the Harmses when they were going to have a baby. Stephen Harms has a son from a previous marriage.

"People would think he was mine because they remembered that I'd been pregnant years ago," said Harms.

When the Harmses were deciding whether to spend more money on fertility drugs, a friend suggested GoFundMe. Harms said she was doubtful at first. She knew the site from having donated for a friend's funeral expenses.

"I thought, I have 200 friends on Facebook, and they have 200 friends. If everyone could just share our GoFundMe page once ..." said Harms.

Reactions to the campaign have been mixed.

"A few people said, 'Oh, cool.' A lot of people didn't know what we were going through and just thought we didn't want kids," said Harms.

'THE SENSE OF DOING RIGHT' Scott Draper, an assistant professor of sociology at The College of Idaho, said crowdsourcing to pay for something as personal as medical treatments is a trend that makes sense in a social climate characterized by rapid growth of technology.

"We're all working through it. There's a sense of 'Who am I and what's my place?' " said Draper. Crowdfunding and family planning are strange, but predictable, hybrids of old and new. Indeed, in a nod to the old, Lauren has an offer posted on her GoFundMe page to bake a pie for anyone who donates $20.

"People are now using technology more efficiently to do something that would be much harder to do by word of mouth," said Draper.

"I'd be interested to know what inspires people to donate to a GoFundMe campaign," he continued. "I would predict that strangers would donate if they've been similarly affected. They can identify with the personal story, be motivated by the sense of doing right."

In the Harmses' case, most of their donors are family and friends. Some friends, such as Tausha Adams, have adopted the couple's cause as their own.

Adams has been close with Lauren Harms, whom friends call "Lala," for two years. They met when she hired Harms to photograph her son. "We clicked right away," said Adams.

"She talks about it a lot, wanting to be a mom, and everything she's been through," said Adams.

The anniversaries of Harms' miscarriages are painful. "Certain times of the year it hits Lala so hard, she just walks away," said Adams.

Adams tells her friends about the Harmses' GoFundMe campaign. She shares the link on Facebook. She defends her friend when she hears criticism.

"A lot of people are very judgmental, about not being able to afford this and reaching out to other people. But Lala deserves to have the chance to have a child," Adams said.

'NOW OR NEVER' The Harmses are not alone in the Treasure Valley in turning to GoFundMe to support in vitro treatments. Another family met its goal of raising $17,000. That family's last posting, 22 months ago, shared the news that they had not had a baby. Another Boise family has a campaign to raise money for in vitro fertilization for a pregnancy surrogate.

The Harmses' campaign continues. It's been open for nearly two years. They are far from their goal.

"Do we have an end date in mind? Not really," said Harms. "We both just turned 39. It's now or never."

Friends, trying to be comforting, have told her about women who have had babies at 46. Most of those stories involve celebrities with deep pockets, she said.

The Harmses are open to adoption, but that, too, can cost tens of thousands of dollars with legal and other fees, according to the National Adoption Center. Ultimately, if the Harmses are unable to have a child through in vitro fertilization, they say they will consider using the GoFundMe support for adoption or fostering.

Adams knows what it's like to face the prospect of not having children. Doctors told her she wouldn't be able to conceive.

"But I got pregnant with my son. He's a miracle baby," she said. "Everyone deserves that feeling."

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