By Paige Cornwell
The Seattle Times.
Nick and Stephanie Fattal desperately want to have a baby.
They talked about having children on their very first date — not immediately, the Port Orchard couple told each other on that date almost four years ago — but in the future.
They married in 2012 and hoped that Stephanie would become pregnant. They gave it a “good solid year of trying,” but to no avail.
Doctors evaluated the couple and they were given a 3 to 5 percent chance of conceiving naturally. Their best option for having a baby of their own: in vitro fertilization (IVF). Their price tag, even with Nick’s military discount: just under $10,000 — about half what a civilian pair would pay.
“We do well, we make ends meet, and we can provide for a baby,” said Stephanie, 25. “But providing $10,000 just to get pregnant was not attainable.”
So Nick and Stephanie joined countless other modern couples unable to have a child naturally who have turned to the Internet in hopes of raising money to help cover the costs.
Thirty-six years ago, before the first “test-tube baby” was born in England, there were few fertility options. Today, there is adoption, IVF or surrogacy — all of which can run into tens of thousands of dollars.
Couples in the region have taken notice. On the popular crowdfunding site GoFundMe, there are at least 50 pages created by Seattle-area residents trying to raise money to help with the creation or adoption of a child.
A Mountlake Terrace pair have raised $13,000 for what they say will go toward IVF treatments, surgery and six months of missed work.
Twenty-nine donors have contributed $2,785 to an Issaquah couple who hope to adopt a little boy from South Korea.
And the Fattals’ site has netted $1,740.
One in eight couples in the United States have difficulties getting pregnant, according to a family growth survey by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It isn’t clear from statistics that infertility is an increasing problem, but one thing is certain: More people are open not only to talking about it but to sharing their struggles online and asking for help.
Since the GoFundMe website launched in 2010, more than $1million has been raised in its “Babies, Kids and Family” category, where many pages are dedicated to fertility and adoption, according to the website.
Online crowdfunding, where there is no guarantee the money will go toward its intended person or cause, is not without criticism.
In addition to its potential for fraud, there are ethical questions.
Jennifer Lahl is president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, a California nonprofit that explores the intersection of ethics with health, medicine and technology. She says crowdfunding pages, which portray couples very much in love and desperate to have a baby, don’t always tell the entire story.
She cited the potential for premature or multiple births with IVF treatment and the notion that the sites are asking people to fund creation of a baby.
“Some raise six figures in hopes to get a baby. And when you’re so desperate for a child, sometimes it’s hard to put the brakes on,” she said.
“What if the baby is born premature and has all these bills? Are you going to crowdfund that?” Lahl asks.
“Now the baby is going to college; are you going to crowdfund that?
“If there is no bottom to it, then, will people want to crowdfund the entire life of a baby?”
Some couples go to extremes.
For example, a Monroe pair put up a page raising funds for IVF that included reward levels. A $100 donation receives a homemade batch of cookies. For $10,000, the donor gets to be in the delivery room.
In the end, no matter how much money is raised, there’s always the chance there won’t be a baby. Of the women who seek medical intervention for infertility, 35 percent don’t give birth, according to Resolve: The National Infertility Association, a Virginia-based nonprofit that promotes reproductive health.
Barbara Collura, president and CEO of Resolve, doesn’t share Lahl’s concerns. She said crowdfunding for fertility treatments should be considered a way to address a medical issue, rather than a tool for creating life, as some critics contend.
“For them to say it’s creating a baby is going a little too far,” she says.
A modern plea for help
Some states require health-insurance policies to cover some level of infertility treatment; Washington is not one of them.
IVF costs an estimated $20,000. But because Nick Fattal is a military veteran, some of the treatments will be done at a military clinic, where there will be a discount.
Still, they’ll be paying about $10,000. The Fattals have civilian insurance, but it doesn’t cover infertility treatments.
“The insurance company will pay for you to not become a parent, but they won’t help you become a parent when it’s something you so desperately want,” Stephanie Fattal said.
“Once they diagnose you, they say, ‘Sorry, you’re on your own.'”
Infertility historically hasn’t been treated as a disease, so many of the costs have remained out-of-pocket, Collura said. Before Internet crowdfunding existed, couples would find other creative ways to come up with enough money, like refinancing their homes or selling family heirlooms, she said.
“People used to send a letter out (to friends and family), saying ‘here is a self-addressed stamped envelope, send it back if you can help,'” Collura said. “This is just a modern take on doing that. I didn’t hear the critics back when people used the other creative ways to pay.”
The Fattals saved and put down a deposit for IVF treatment during September. But “life events,” like their car breaking down, meant they weren’t able to save as much as they’d hoped. Not wanting to lose their deposit, they created a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $2,000.
“We feel like we should give it our most valiant effort, because it’s our child,” Stephanie Fattal said. “… At the end of the day, I felt like pride couldn’t really get in the way. It was OK to ask for help.”
“At our rope’s end”
Unexpected events also led Leah and Kevin Masseth, the Issaquah couple, to create a GoFundMe page to help with the costs of adopting a boy from South Korea. They thought they would have to fly to Korea only once, and that the entire process would take about 18 months.
But it has now been three years, and the Masseths recently learned they will have to fly to Korea twice, once to get court approval and the second time to bring home their son, whom they have named Noah.
The Masseths have a 7-year-old biological daughter. After she was born they tried to have another child. Leah had six miscarriages and two ectopic pregnancies before they decided to adopt. They wanted a child from Korea because Kevin had visited the country, and they have friends who were adopted from there as children.
Their initial estimated costs for an overseas adoption were about $25,000, but the delays are costing an additional $10,000, according to the Masseths. Their crowdfunding page — which has raised $2,785 — has eliminated some of the financial stress, they said.
The pair post updates on the page saying where they are in the adoption process and breaking down their expenses: $8,334 for airfare to Korea, for example, or $1,500 to $1,800 for a required psychiatric evaluation.
“We haven’t wanted to bring up the financial cost of our adoption … but we feel like we are at our rope’s end — not just emotionally, but financially as well,” they wrote on their page.
The family is waiting for the next steps to bring Noah home — he is in foster care now in Korea — but they see photos every month.
In Issaquah, a furnished room, with stuffed bears on a tiny bed and his name spelled out on the wall, awaits Noah’s arrival.
“So many opportunities”
The Fattals and the Masseths both say they have received support from GoFundMe donors — most of them family and friends. But one man posted harassing comments on the Fattals’ page; they think he found the site after they posted the link in a community Facebook group.
Leah Masseth said being so open about the process has worked in their favor. Donors read her stories about the journey from multiple miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies, to starting the adoption process, to waiting for Noah to come home. Readers identify with the stories and share them with others who then visit their webpage, some of whom write supportive messages.
“It’s been very humbling,” Leah Masseth said.
The Masseths say they understand some of the criticism about crowdfunding, but they also know there are a growing number of children in the world without parents.
“So many babies and children are in need of adoption,” Leah Masseth said. “At first we wanted to adopt, and the costs scared us. But we found there are so many opportunities for us to raise money.”
For the Fattals, questions of pride or ethics don’t matter any more. Stephanie is 8 1/2 weeks pregnant.