When Facing Infertility, Be Your Own Advocate
By Kate Kimble-Tuszynski an executive assistant in Capital Blue Cross’ Project Management Office.
I always dreamed of being a mother, but I never imagined my husband and I would be among the 1 in 4 couples worldwide who struggle with infertility. With June being World Infertility Awareness Month, I want to share my story in the hopes it might help others struggling to conceive.
After marrying in 2015, I knew something was wrong after eight months with no pregnancy. If you are younger than 35, doctors will not generally do any fertility testing until you’ve tried to get pregnant for one year. I was 34, so I had to strongly advocate to get diagnostic testing. I remember nagging my doctor for a referral and, when that didn’t work, I reached out to our hospital’s reproductive endocrinology department to schedule the testing myself.
A few tests were covered under insurance until the results determined that in-vitro fertilization (IVF) would be my only option. Once those three letters were spoken, all insurance benefits ceased and my husband and I faced out-of-pocket expenses. We took out a loan and did a GoFundMe fundraiser to amass the $20,000 needed before doctors would start any IVF-specific pre-tests and procedures.
Then came the testing: ovarian reserve blood tests; Hysterosalpingo Contrast Sonogram, or HyCoSy, (an extremely painful procedure where a contrast agent is inserted into fallopian tubes to check whether fallopian tubes are blocked or operational); a semen evaluation; infectious disease screenings; and a mock embryo transfer. The tests and appointments took months, and each had additional costs associated.
In a typical menstrual cycle, a woman releases one egg. For my IVF, medication was injected several times daily to stimulate multiple egg production in one cycle. In all, 26 of my eggs were retrieved, 18 fertilized, and six successfully became blastocysts – an early-stage embryo.
Once fertilized, my eggs were graded using a system of a number and two letters: 1-6, with 6 being the highest representing the expansion of the embryo cavity, and A-C, with As meaning cells tightly packed and cohesive. For example, a 5AA is the best grade.
In a typical process for my IVF, if a good amount of eggs are retrieved and a fair amount are fertilized, a fresh Embryo Transfer (ET) is performed between three and five days after retrieval. My remaining embryos were frozen for potential use later.
Our first cycle was a fresh transfer with a 4AA embryo. We watched the implantation on a screen and saw the flash of light that indicates when the embryo leaves the catheter and enters the uterus. Unfortunately, our 4AA did not implant. I had to wait for my cycle to naturally reset and then start the shots and medication all over again for another attempt. Our next effort, a 3AA egg, resulted in a viable pregnancy.
Nine months later, our daughter Sutton was born.
Fortunately, I now have an employer that offers a lifetime health insurance benefit of $2,500 toward IVF. As a result, we have ended up paying $3,000 out-of-pocket instead of the full $5,500 cost, which was extremely helpful in lessening the financial hurdles of IVF.
I strongly advocate for more employers to offer fertility benefits like the ones that have helped my family. Average tests alone cost between $500 and $2,000 each. IVF is not a cheap procedure, and for some, it is the only way to have a biological child.
My best advice for those dealing with infertility issues: advocate for yourself fiercely and find a community with whom you can talk about everything going on with your body, your emotions, and your relationships. Find out more at worldfertilityday.com or infertilityawareness.org.
Today, my husband and I are blessed to have a boisterous and perfectly sassy 4-year-old who has made every blood draw, test, and needle worth it.
Kate Kimble-Tuszynski is an executive assistant in Capital Blue Cross’ Project Management Office.