The Financial & Emotional Costs Of Infertility

I consider myself pretty carefree when it comes to budgeting. My husband and I share a joint bank account and bill-paying duties. We live within our means, with a solid nest-egg of savings that we started together after our wedding almost two years ago. We have a great income. We have great jobs, with great insurance, and to date, we’ve been doing pretty okay with just kind of winging it in the money department.

And then we found out we couldn’t get pregnant.

Infertility, like any illness, is not something you intentionally save up and prepare for. Certainly, no one ear-marks their emergency fund saying “well, I may get sick someday!” You know it’s a possibility, but you’re more hopeful that your savings will be used to fund home renovations, a big vacation, or a future child’s college fund.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that a child born in 2015 will cost on average over $230,000 to raise. What the USDA doesn’t factor in, of course, is the cost to have that child.

To date, my husband and I are really just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this infertility stuff. We got married almost two years ago, and have been trying on our own to conceive. About six months in, at my annual gynecological visit, I expressed concern.

“Don’t worry,” my doctor told me. “Give it at least a year.”

It was after a year that we started to consider other options. We knew nearly nothing about infertility, really, except that we’d heard treatment was expensive. To be completely honest, we were naive. I think most people are. You grow up thinking if you have unprotected sex, you’ll automatically get pregnant. So you spend your adult years trying NOT to do that. You never realize the very, very small window of time there is for a pregnancy to happen. I certainly didn’t even consider the possibility that a pregnancy WOULDN’T happen.

And then you start to think about the costs. If raising a child costs over $200,000, what does it cost to have a child? On paper, fertility treatments can run you up to $20,000.

Off the bat, my husband and I ruled out in vitro fertilization (IVF). The little that we knew about it was that it cost a lot (upwards of $12,000) and it would take a toll on my body. Maybe that’s selfish of us, maybe that makes it seem like “how badly could you want a baby,” but for us, it was our limit. We are, however, extremely fortunate that our insurance covers three IVF cycles, should we decide to go that route.

But that’s us. There are people in the same position as us who have insurance that doesn’t cover any fertility treatments. These people pay out of pocket for a chance at being pregnant…not even a guaranteed baby.

That’s the thing about infertility. At this point, my husband and I have spent well over $1,000 out of pocket on tests, medicine, and a surgery just to determine what might be causing our “issues.” And we’re the patients our doctors have called “lucky,” because our insurance reduces the high costs of medications that most families pay hundreds of dollars for. Imagine that. Infertile, but lucky. And yet, we still have no clue if or when we’ll ever get pregnant.

Which brings in a whole other cost. Yes, fertility treatments may put a strain on your wallet. But they can also put a strain on your marriage, your friendships, and your mental health.

Very early on, I cried a lot, wondering if my years pre-marriage (and predating my husband) extolling the virtues of a child-free existence had somehow jinxed me. Like as if the universe gave me one chance to decide, kids or no kids, and now I had to forever live with my choice. I cried because I knew my husband wanted a house full of kids, and it was my fault that it wasn’t happening. I would blame myself for having a glass too many of wine or eating something unhealthy…that’s why my body wasn’t “working.”

After meeting our fertility doctors, doing some very thorough testing, and eventually laparoscopic procedure, I learned that I had endometriosis, a condition that causes the tissue of your uterus to grow in other places. In my case, it was mostly in my left fallopian tube. My doctor used a laser to “vaporize” the scar tissue. This procedure cost us a few hundred dollars out of pocket, but it bankrupted my morality.

I felt like it was all my fault. My body was the reason we couldn’t have a baby. The worst part of it all was that until the surgery, I had told virtually no one about our issues. When people would ask us (and oh, would they ask us) when we would have children, we’d say we were trying and leave it at that. We’d joke that our beloved English bulldog, Rudy, was our baby for now. But it killed me. I felt like no one, not even my husband, understood what it felt like to have one single job in this world that you couldn’t complete.

My husband has been completely supportive, helpful, and understanding. But this whole process has taken a toll on us. It’s draining to be constantly thinking about, worried about, talking about what we could’ve done differently. Is there a special diet I should try? Should we not have alcohol in the house? It certainly takes the “fun” part of making a baby and makes it less fun. My husband has dealt with my numerous breakdowns, largely in part because I told no one else about our issues. I felt it was our problem to deal with, and I didn’t need to burden other people with it. There is such a negative stigma that goes along with infertility that I didn’t want people to consider us as “struggling.” I realize it’s a double-edged sword; maybe if more people talked about infertility, they wouldn’t be seen as struggling.

For us, the biggest expense hasn’t been the cost of surgery, medication or our impending IUI procedure(s), it’s been the hidden costs — the stress, the anxiety, the dread each month we feel when we still aren’t pregnant. Our withdrawals from our bank account are parallel to our withdrawal from our potential support systems. We are lucky to have very dear friends and family, and shouldn’t hesitate to lean on them if needed.

As for the financial part, unfortunately, many states do not mandate fertility treatment coverage in insurance packages — in fact, only 15 require coverage, and the laws vary state by state. If you are covered by employer-provided insurance, ask your benefits representative to go over what is specifically covered and what’s not. Ask your doctor about affordable care plans. Many clinics offer financing and can also direct you to grant or loan programs. Resolve.org is chock full of resources about insurance coverage and mandates, grant options, and affordable care.

Laurie Clark works in healthcare PR and lives in Syracuse, NY with her husband, Matt, and Rudy the bulldog. 

Image via Unsplash

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  • Alexis

    I read this with my heart in my throat. Laurie, I am so sorry for what you and your husband have dealt with so far. This is such a difficult, isolating topic to discuss, and yet, like you mentioned, talking about it more might make it less taboo. Thank you for being so candid- sending good thoughts to y’all <3

  • Tara

    I’m really sorry you have been going through this, and I truly applaud your willingness to write about it. I am very much in favor of talking about financial issues that have traditionally been taboo. However, I have to push back on the idea that infertility costs should be part of mandated insurance coverage. Health insurance coverage is a mess in this country, and I believe that everyone deserves basic healthcare. Fertility treatments are not basic healthcare, and frankly, I don’t want to pay for other people to spend tons of money trying to get pregnant. I want to pay for cancer treatment and neonatal care, but we have SO MANY BABIES in this country and around the world who get NOTHING as it is. I just don’t think fertility coverage should be mandated the same way that other coverage is mandated. Unfortunately, not everyone gets everything in life.

    • Jaimie Medina

      While you are 100% allowed your opinion, these words are incredibly unkind. And please dont try to package this as an “I’m being a realist” comment. I hope you never have a friend or yourself in this situation. You would be a terrible support. Never speak those words to someone who is going through this. How incredibly cruel of you.

      • chelseafagan

        I agree with Tara in that I don’t believe that fertility treatments should be part of mandated coverage, but support universal coverage 100% for non-elective care. I don’t think that there is anything particularly cruel about that, and just because I don’t personally agree with the author on insurance issues doesn’t mean we wouldn’t publish her story as she told it, or that we would shame someone for politely disagreeing.

      • Tara

        Uh, my sister went through this. I know all about it. You clearly have your own set of issues. I don’t think I’m at all cruel for disagreeing with empathy. I said she was brave for writing it. If Chelsea disagrees with my comment she is free to delete it. This is a blog about financial and policy issues. My comment fits within that space.

    • Laurie Clark

      I appreciate your comments and opinions. I’m know there are many people who the same as you, and many who feel the way I do. The bottom line is either way, it’s a very expensive process. Even with insurance coverage, many people pay thousands out of pocket. This is just my story; I can’t speak for everyone going through it!

    • Gary Ridgway

      Spot on. Fertility treatment is a privilege of modern technology, not a right.

  • Cynthia

    Laurie, thank you for sharing your story! I think it’s so important for people to hear about this issue. I highly encourage you to look into NaProTechnology. They identify themselves as “a fertility-care based medical approach, rather than a fertility-control approah that provides medical and surgical treatments.” It looks like they have a facility in your area:

    http://www.fertilitycare.org/what-is-naprotechnology

    https://verilymag.com/2015/08/menstruation-charting-cycles-ovulation-fertility-awareness-creighton-model-reproductive-health-infertility-hormones

    Wishing you and your husband luck and happiness!

  • Summer

    I’m sorry you are going through this and I’m sure this piece was difficult to write. Thank you for sharing your story. I do have an honest question for you and I want to be clear that I’m asking this with absolutely no snark, no judgment, no condescension—just pure curiosity: Is there a reason why you and your husband aren’t considering adoption? (Forgive me if you are; it wasn’t mentioned in the article.) I fully acknowledge that I am speaking as a person who does not want children and thus am rather distanced from the topic, but I do often struggle to understand why some folks insist they want to be parents, yet scoff at the idea of adoption. It seems to me that if one wants the experience of raising a human, forming a familial bond, watching a child grow into a [hopefully] functional adult, it shouldn’t be mandatory that the person be genetically linked to you. Again, I 100% admit that I cannot relate to how you feel and I want to reiterate that I’m not asking this from a judgmental standpoint, I’m only seeking to open a dialog so that I can try to understand.

    • Laurie Clark

      Thanks for your comment, Summer. We haven’t at all ruled out adoption. I didn’t include it in this piece because we haven’t gotten so far as to know anything about process or costs but we are definitely open to it.

  • Clare Baxter Barbara

    So brave of you to write this article ! I have stage 3 endometriosis. I was put on estrogen and progesterone to start. We had the paperwork put through to start IUI. I also tried “homeopathic” remedies. I was able to get pregnant the same month I was supposed to have my IUI It’s hard to stay possitive but try to !