SPECIAL REPORT: A look inside the financial and emotional stress of IVF

Published: Feb. 18, 2020 at 10:27 PM CST
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SULPHUR, La. (KPLC) - One in eight American couples struggle to start a family, according to RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Many of those couples require some sort of fertility treatment.

So, more couples than ever are turning to in vitro fertilization to help build their families. Just like couple Derrick and Brittany Green.

“It’s just crazy to think about that some people go through what we went through and have nothing to show for it," Brittany Green said.

After several years of trying to get pregnant, multiple tests, a surgery, and a consultation with a fertility specialist, the couple turned to the IVF process.

Vitro fertilization breaks down to four steps- ovarian stimulation, egg retrieval, fertilization, and embryo transfer.

“They decide what medications you’re going to be on and how much," Green said. "Then each time you go for another appointment, they determine with your lab work and your ultrasound if they need to change up your medication for the next day.”

The medication stimulates the ovaries to help form multiple eggs. Brittany’s treatment included pills and injections.

Depending on the patient, one to four shots may be prescribed every day for about a week to ten days.

“From my first shot to my last shot, I think it was 95 shots that I had to take," she said. "It was a lot.”

Many of which Brittany said were painful.

In the next two steps of the process, multiple eggs were retrieved, then fertilized and tested.

“It turns out we had one viable embryo," she said.

One embryo - one shot at finally getting what they always wanted.

“So, I’m very thankful that it took, cause that was our one chance," she said.

The Greens aren’t alone. The CDC reports about twelve percent of U.S. women up to age 44 have difficulty getting pregnant.

“IVF can be the first choice or the last choice and the big reason why it’s often the last choice is because of the expense," reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. John Storment said.

Dr. John Storment is a reproductive endocrinologist with fertility answers. He said one cycle of IVF can cost from $7,000 to $20,000. On average, a couple has to go through at least two cycles of IVF for it to be successful.

For the Green’s, their expense was on the high end.

“We did have to get a loan to do it, also, credit cards," Derrick Green said.

Between one cycle of IVF, extra genetic testing, driving back and forth from Sulphur to the clinic in Lafayette, and time missed from work, the couple estimates their expenses at about $24,000.

“I just remember tearing up, thinking, I’m not sure how we’re going to do this," she said.

“Yeah, we can’t afford, like how are we going to do this," Derrick Green said.

Dr. Storment said his clinic sees around 100 to 150 new patients a month.

“Of those, if you took the cost out of it, probably a third of those would benefit from IVF as their first choice but that’s not realistic because of the cost,” he said.

Insurance doesn’t help much. Only thirty percent of Dr. Storment’s patients have some sort of infertility coverage. Leaving the majority of people to pay all of the expenses out of pocket.

“Fifteen states in the United States mandate IVF to be covered," he said. "When patients in those states go to the doctor oftentimes they’re going straight to IVF.”

Louisiana is not one of those states. Dr. Storment breaks down the cost of treatment without insurance.

“If you have a $15,000 cycle, $5,000 of it is for the ultrasounds and the blood work and the actual egg retrieval," he said. "Probably about $5,000 is due to what happens in the lab and the other $5,000 is from the medication."

A cost that can leave a huge financial burden on the couple’s relationship.

“In my experience, I’ve seen couples struggle just on a more intense level than other couples typically do with the IVF process," counselor Brent Woods said. "So it does put a financial strain on couples, which typically is one of the most struggling areas to deal with.”

Woods has seen first-hand how the IVF process can impact patients financially, physically, and psychologically as well.

“I’ve seen it just be related to extreme self-doubt, low self-esteem," he said. "Having the mindset of I’m not good enough, I’m broken, I’m messed up."

During their journey, the Greens did not seek therapy. Instead, they leaned on each other. Woods said regardless of which route you take, it’s important to have a strong support system.

“Specifically, with this process, because it’s so big of a financial strain and there’s a lot of tension and emotions and a lot of this negative self-talk in your head," he said. “It’s really important when you’re going through this process to have someone to talk to about it.”

The Greens said their IVF experience can be summed up into two words: emotional and overwhelming. But as hard as it was, they said they would do it all over again.

“Every little first thing that happens, like the first time that I heard his little giggle," Brittany Green said. "We waited so long for that, that every little thing that happens, I’m like, ‘This is the best thing ever.’ ”

In the state of Louisiana, there are less than ten reproductive endocrinologists. Dr. Storment attributes that to the only 20 to 30 doctors in the nation who finish training each year.

At fertility answers, the pregnancy rate has doubled from thirty percent to sixty percent since the year 2000.

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