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Experiencing male factor infertility and IVF taught me to stop being silent about reproductive health

Experiencing male factor infertility and IVF taught me to stop being silent about reproductive health

5 min read

Fertility could be top of mind or on the back burner for now — but it has the power to impact everything. We’re sharing your stories to both celebrate and create space for the many ways we navigate our careers, relationships, and finances in relation to our reproductive health. If you have a story to share, get in touch.

35-year-old personal finance blogger and management consultant Shang Saavedra and her husband spent years structuring their lives to prepare for having kids, but infertility was never part of their plan. By communicating with friends, advocating for herself, and accepting her options, Shang sought IVF treatments and got the family she always wanted.

I’ve always wanted to be a mom. To prepare for a child, my husband and I spent our first two years of marriage growing our careers in New York City, budgeting our finances, and learning how to survive off of just one of our incomes with a goal of retiring early. I was born in China, where it’s very common to discuss money in this way. Here in the United States, however, it’s very taboo. That can make it difficult to navigate the financial aspects of pregnancy and childcare.

When we started trying to conceive, I had the privilege of employer-provided health insurance. My husband and I felt we could comfortably take care of a growing family and I got off of my birth control. After unsuccessfully trying to conceive for a year and a half, it never occurred to me that my husband and I could be experiencing infertility.

Before my husband and I sought out professional help, one of our close friends told us that she conceived her child through IVF after experiencing PCOS-related infertility. She advised going straight to a reproductive endocrinologist, but I soon realized the clinic she recommended was not covered by my insurance. I kept my consultation anyway, but quickly realized how costs were going to rack up — so I went back to the drawing board. I called up my insurance company to ask which New York City fertility clinics were covered, and that’s how I ended up as a patient at Weill Cornell.

My husband and I both just assumed that any diagnosis would be due to my reproductive system. When people usually talk about infertility, they talk about the female body, so I figured the “problem” would be me. When I first visited Cornell, my husband was traveling and couldn’t take his own diagnostic test for two months, so I underwent blood tests first and one round of estradiol injections to stimulate ovulation before attempting IUI, or intrauterine insemination. When that didn’t work, the doctor suggested my husband get a diagnostic test, so he did.

I was at work when I got the phone call from the clinic. The news landed on my desk like a bomb: “Low sperm count, low sperm morphology range.” The kicker? Male infertility issues can rarely be treated by drugs, the doctor said. The best option to conceive that was presented was to start IVF treatments. I cried at work, feeling distraught, helpless, and hopeless. I mourned never experiencing the pregnancy I’d always imagined for myself. Yet, through my tears, I also felt a relief that others don’t get to experience — I knew why we weren’t getting pregnant, and I knew there was something we could do about it.

The cost of our three rounds of IVF were covered by my employer — a privilege that, again, is not experienced by all who struggle with infertility. The first round included egg harvesting and fresh embryo transfer; we didn’t get pregnant. The second round included a frozen embryo transfer from the remaining batch; we didn’t get pregnant. The third round included another egg harvest and fresh embryo transfer. After round three, we finally got pregnant! Now, I have an 8-month-old baby.

If I had paid out of pocket, my three IVF treatments would have totaled up to $60,000. While I always dreamed of having two kids and my husband dreams of having three, the only reason we can hope to one day try for another child through IVF is because I still work for a company that will cover IVF treatments. When I wonder how we’d afford fertility treatments without my company’s insurance plan, I’m overwhelmed: How can we expect someone to assess financial value when we’re talking about a child and our hopes of parenthood? It feels like we’re being asked to put a price on life; how do we grapple with that? Is there a limit to what we spend? I don’t have an answer, other than to say I support prospective parents doing what feels comfortable for them and their families. I know how emotionally difficult it is to not have the child of your dreams, and I know how difficult IVF would have been without insurance. I was insured and still had co-pays for everything, including a $20 fee for every office visit and drugs that could cost me up to $100 per script. That alone is more than what some people are able to afford.

In fact, even with my insurance, I had to do a lot of self-advocacy work to make sure care was actually covered and inaccurate bills were corrected. I spent lots of time taking notes and making phone calls. I constantly checked my explanation of benefits (EOB) statements and called billing offices to get incorrectly coded treatments switched to the right code. One time, the clinic thought I owed them $10,000 dollars, but it was an error caused within the billing department that I had to research and handle on my own.

My husband and I spent years controlling every aspect of our budget so that we could afford a family. But when we couldn’t conceive on our own and then two rounds of IVF failed, I had no sense of control anymore. Eventually I understood that, even if I can’t control every part of my life, I can control what I choose to do every day. As my husband and I waited for our IVF miracle, we continued working hard at our jobs and living below our means to save money for the child we longed to have. We didn’t actually know if or when our child would arrive, but we refused to let sadness put our lives on pause — even if some days were a lot harder than others.

When I remember getting that first phone call at work, I want to go back to that devastated woman. I want to hug her and tell her it’s okay to feel whatever she feels. I want to remind her to be kind to herself and her body, to remember that her body is capable of so much. When our pregnancy journey started it never occurred to me that we could experience male factor infertility. Neither my parents nor my high school sex ed teacher ever taught me about infertility or the fact that it occurs pretty evenly between men and women, so how would I have known? After three expensive rounds of IVF before finally giving birth to our beautiful baby, I wish I’d been educated sooner. I wish that people would start talking about infertility like they talk about catching a cold — just another naturally occurring part of having a body.

Edited by Rachel Sanoff

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