A little more than two years into her marriage, Kate Lee – described by herself and others as happy, even carefree – found herself in emotional ruin.
“I completely changed, I was overwhelmed by sadness.” said Lee, a Pierce County woman who works as a health-care administrator. “Our friends were having their second, third child, and I’m waiting for our first.
“There was never a darker period in my life. I was rolled up in a ball, sobbing. Not being able to have a child shreds you of any confidence. You can’t do what everyone around you can do …”
Today, Lee is 37 and pregnant, due in January. It’s what she always dreamed of. She and her husband had been trying for three years.
And it cost them $40,000.
They went with in vitro fertilization, handled by a Seattle infertility clinic.
“Was it worth it? Absolutely,” the Lake Tapps woman said. “There was no other option for my husband and me.”
It is the same option faced by hundreds of Northwest couples trying to have biological children each year, thousands nationwide. And for most, the expense is both overwhelming and uninsured.
“Only seven states have mandated infertility coverage,” said Gretchen Sewall, a counselor with Seattle Reproductive Medicine. Washington is “not one of those. Insurers think infertility is elective treatment. Those going through it would be offended by that.
“A lot of women we deal with married later in life, in their 30s. They’re finally in the right situation, ready for baby, and cannot conceive.”
Sixteen states are considering legislation mandating fertility coverage in insurance. Washington is not among them.
There are options. They all cost money.
“We did a survey and found 20 percent of the women who sought infertility treatment spent less than $10,000, and 40 percent spent between $10,000 to $25,000,” said Barb Collura, president of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. “Another 20 percent spent between $25,000 and 40,000.
“Most are not insured, so these are out-of-pocket expenses. It’s not like saving for college or a home. This comes without warning, and most people can’t go beyond consultation.”
Shirley Cruz fits the profile of the older, would-be mother.
“I met my husband later in life,” said Cruz, an Army veteran who married in her mid-30s. “I had a history of endometriosis, and our fertility treatment began with dealing with that.
“We’ve been dealing with treatment for five years. It hasn’t worked.”
Even so, those efforts have cost the couple close to $30,000. She and her husband are now considering using a donor egg with in vitro fertilization “ – a series of three attempts, if necessary,” Cruz said. “That would cost $38,000, and wouldn’t include the cost of blood tests and medications.
“None of it is covered by insurance. If we lived in Massachusetts, much of it would be.”
An environmental planner, Cruz and her husband are now trying to recover – “financially and emotionally,” she said – while considering options. They could use the equity in the Tacoma house she bought 12 years ago, or take out a personal loan.
“We’d like to do (donor egg in vitro fertilization) maybe next year,” Cruz said, who is 41.
“If I don’t get pregnant by the time I’m 45, it’s over.”
Shelley Sleeper, a children’s book author and Seattle school teacher, began trying to have a baby with her husband after they married four years ago. When it didn’t happen, she experimented with fertility massage, tried herbal supplements.
“I began wondering if God didn’t want me to have a child,” Sleeper said. “I wondered what my purpose was.”
There is help, in the form of support groups, and the National Infertility Association has a website with plenty of links. But the website includes a “Finding Resolution” section that’s hardly encouraging.
One of the first sections: “How do you know when enough is enough?”
There is also a bill, introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate, that would create a tax credit for some out-of-pocket expenses for infertility treatment. What are its chances of passage? It has 56 co-sponsors in the Senate, two in the House, all Democrats.
Sleeper sees inequity in the fact that her insurance wouldn’t cover infertility treatments.
“If you have diabetes, insurance pays for treatment,” she said. “But if my body doesn’t make what I need to have a baby, it’s all out of pocket.”
For Sleeper and her husband, money wasn’t the main issue, even though they determined their in vitro procedure with a donor egg would cost about $38,000.
“If you’re creating a life, we thought it was worth it,” Sleeper said.
Unexpectedly, they did better than that. Last May, Sleeper gave birth to twin daughters, Zoe and Mia.
“This is why I’m on the planet,” Sleeper said. “Thinking about not being able to be a mom because of money breaks my heart. For couples that cannot afford treatment, it’s not fair.”