How I Bought That takes a peek inside the process of making a major purchase, whether your budget is big, small, all your own, or supplemented by family and/or financial institutions. In this series, we look at many different spending situations, from how people afforded big purchases like first homes to electric vehicles to splurge-worthy bags.
The title of “wife” was never a high priority on my bucket list, but “mother” was one I didn’t want to miss out on. In my early 30s, I started thinking about becoming a single parent by choice, but I thought I could put it off, assuming time was on my side. I also knew that when I became a parent, my priorities would shift from my needs to the needs of my child, and I wanted to max out the time I had left to just myself. But when I hit 38, I realized I was what the medical world called “of advanced maternal age,” so I spoke with my OB-GYN. She said that if I was serious about a family, I needed to get moving.
My doctor referred me to a fertility specialist so I could start considering my options. Following my initial consultation and a barrage of tests, the specialist recommended kicking things off with the least intrusive conception method, intrauterine insemination (IUI). Barring any major known fertility issues, most doctors recommend patients looking to become pregnant through medical help start with IUI.
In order to become a mother, I was going to have to become intimate with science and also shell out some serious cash—it costs a lot of money to get knocked up this way. According to Resolve: The National Infertility Association, the average cost of an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle is $23,000, while IUI averages about $895 per attempt. Attain Fertility says that it generally takes between three to six attempts of IUI before a woman becomes pregnant. And, unfortunately, insurance is often as useful as a diaphragm in this situation. Only 18 states require healthcare companies to cover fertility issues, and Indiana, where I live, is not one of them.
Every test, every blood draw, and every specimen of donor sperm was to be paid for out of pocket. And they needed to happen often; blood tests, which cost about $100 each, and ultrasounds, which total about $400, are given pretty regularly to test your hormone levels and make sure things look good before IUI begins. And these fees were just the beginning.
For my first IUI, which cost about $1,000 and didn’t involve medication, I peed on ovulation sticks, then went to the fertility clinic to get turkey basted, and then waited two weeks to take a home pregnancy test. When that didn’t work, my doctor suggested to get more aggressive and try a medicated round of IUI, featuring a smidge of drugs and a bunch of transvaginal ultrasounds to ensure that egg-carrying follicles were developing. That ran me $2,000 per attempt.
I ended up tallying three unmedicated rounds of IUI and four medicated cycles, but I went home with zero babies, little money in my savings account, and a recommendation to pursue IVF next. IVF is about as aggressive as you can get in the fertility world; it requires frequent hormone injections, and you’re sedated when your eggs are retrieved from your body to be fertilized and transferred back into your body. It’s a grueling, taxing, and expensive process that has zero guarantee. With the fees for the procedure and medications included, just one try at IVF in Indiana could cost upwards of $30K per cycle.
When I learned I had to do IVF, I was crushed. The whole process was so daunting, and from the physical toll to the financial one, I just didn’t know if it was possible.
At that point, I was 39, hemorrhaging hope and money at remarkable speed. Still, I knew I had to keep trying, or I would regret it for the rest of my life.
Suddenly, between crying jags and cartons of ice cream, a lifeline presented itself. I came across a local news story about a woman who also wanted to become a single mother by choice but couldn’t afford treatment in Indianapolis. However, she discovered the CNY Fertility clinic in Syracuse, New York, which offers IVF at $3,900 per cycle and strives to make fertility treatments less expensive. Over the next few days, I spoke with CNY doctors and past patients, googled the facility, and dug through its success records. I found that CNY checked all of the boxes for me, and so I signed on to become a patient.
While $3,900 is far less than $30K, it wasn’t money I just had laying around. My savings account (which I’d used to pay for my previous treatments) wasn’t depleted quite yet, but it was getting low and would need an infusion in order to take this next big step. I had also told myself that I’d take on no credit card debt, and I was dedicated to keeping that promise.
To get reproductive, I had to get inventive. So I decided to put on my cabbie hat and start driving for Uber. This way, I could still have the flexibility to continue my work in fundraising at a not-for-profit while benefiting from the extra paychecks. On average, I could make over $250 a week without pushing myself too hard. I told some passengers why I had taken the part-time job, and it was heartwarming to get an extra little tip from these generous folks after I shared my story.
Another fundraising tactic I took a whack at was applying for fertility grants. Through research, I discovered numerous fertility-focused organizations that provide financial assistance to individuals and families going through treatment. The criteria to qualify ranges, from financial need to sometimes what your particular fertility diagnosis is. I fell in the financial need category and was mercifully awarded a $1,000 grant from the Family Formation Charitable Trust.
I also started mystery shopping, which basically involved eating countless free breadsticks and reporting back to restaurant owners on my dining experience. Not only were my dinners complimentary, but oftentimes I received a paycheck for my time and opinion.
Once my fertility fund started to rebuild itself, I began looking for additional cost-saving measures. I price-shopped everything from ultrasounds to blood draws to the drugs. IVF medications in the U.S. are crazy expensive—one of them would have cost me $8,000 here, but in Europe, half that price. It was not an easy decision to step away from the FDA-regulated medications, but sending my prescriptions to a reputable pharmacy out of the country saved me thousands of dollars.
Last but not least, I worked with my lender and arranged for a cash-out refinance on my house, as it was my biggest asset with the most equity. This meant I could refinance my house at a lower rate and receive a cash payout for the equity. It meant a bit of extra debt, but overall it only tacked on a couple of extra years to my mortgage, and it allowed me to fill the majority of my IVF fundraising gap.
Roughly five months after receiving my IVF recommendation, I had squirreled away the majority of the money needed to move ahead. In the months that followed, I underwent three rounds of IVF, injecting myself with needle upon needle of fertility drugs and spending almost every dollar I raised from my side hustles. On what would have been my third and final IVF, the stick finally turned from a sad minus sign to a happy plus sign. I had paid a hefty price in money and in tears, but it took only two seconds of looking into my son’s eyes later on to not care about a single cent of what I’d spent.
When I was 38, I had thought I was just one insemination away from becoming a mother. I had known nothing about the hard road of infertility, how long it would take, and all that I would have to do to make that happen. I didn’t have much, but I did have a running Honda Accord, a few stamps, a healthy appetite, access to Google, a little house on the busiest street in the city, and a road map to Syracuse. Separately, these things didn’t amount to much, but together, they amounted to everything. Today, my son is all I had hoped for and more. He can fill my heart with so much love and push me towards the brink of insanity, but hey, that’s motherhood. We count on each other, and we get through each day with laughs, an occasional eye roll, and a whole lotta love.