When Shelton and Brandi Koskie learned five years ago that they would need fertility treatments to have a baby, they were stunned. After all, the Koskies, who met while working at Old Navy in college, were in their early twenties, not typically an age when couples have to worry about the biological clock. Perhaps equally shocking was how much the procedures would cost: Some $20,000 out of pocket. Even though they were young professionals with good jobs, they had nowhere near that kind of cash lying around.
"There were a lot of nights that we would come home from work and sit quietly in the dark together and just cry," says Brandi, now a 28-year-old senior editor at health and weight loss company DietsInReview.com. "That lasted a few days and then we said 'That's it, we're done crying.'"
When the tears stopped, the brainstorming began. The Koskies were determined to find a way to raise the cash for the in-vitro fertilization they needed. In 2006, they launched BabyorBust.com, a blog where they began chronicling their struggle with infertility and asking for donations.
The pleas for help worked, to the tune of nearly $6,500. Friends, family and total strangers donated the money through PayPal and Amazon.com payments on the site. By 2009, the couple had saved another $13,000 on their own. Now, six years after the couple first embarked on their odyssey, they are expecting a baby girl in April.
"It has been really overwhelming," says Brandi, speaking from the couple's home in Wichita, Kan. "We expected some friends and family might help, but people from all over the country and the world have donated. We've been so touched."
Bringing Infertility to Center Stage
While BabyorBust.com is believed to have been the first IVF fundraising blog of its kind, it is hardly the last. Infertility has long been considered a "silent" disease because many couples have been reluctant to discuss the problem outside their circle of close family and friends. But as a younger generation -- more comfortable pouring their hearts out to complete strangers on the Web -- confronts the disease, it is slowly emerging from the shadows.
The Koskie's issue with conceiving had to do with the fact that Shelton's Vas Deferens duct, which carried the sperm out of the testicles, had never developed into an open tube. To collect his sperm, it would require surgery.
"It was difficult for me to come forward with my story at first," says Shelton, who now works in interactive marketing for health-care software company Pulse. "I was working for a big aircraft manufacturer at the time and that is very much a man's world. I eventually realized that I wasn't the only one [with male factor infertility], but that nobody is going to talk about it unless you put it out there."
Indeed, one-third of the 7.3 million people in the United States -- or one-in-eight couples -- affected by infertility have reproductive issues attributed to the male partner, according to Resolve, a McLean, Va.-based non-profit organization focused on reproductive health.
Traditional Financing Options Dry Up
The average IVF treatment costs at least $12,000 -- a low-ball estimate -- and about half of the people who need IVF cannot afford it, says Barbara Collura, executive director of Resolve. Although 15 states require health-insurance companies to cover some fertility treatments, the coverage usually pays for just a fraction of the total cost. In the Koskie's case, for example, their insurer agreed to kick in only about $500, Brandi says.
Making matters worse, many of the traditional sources of funding that couples rely on to pay for treatments are drying up, Collura says. The mortgage crisis has made it tougher for couples to refinance their home or take out home-equity lines, two options financial consultants used to recommend for financing IVF, Collura says. What's more, a major credit-card company that used to offer loans for IVF dropped the program last year, she adds.
"The financial challenges aren't new, but what is new is that a lot of the ways that people used to get cash to pay for the treatments are pretty much non-existent," says Collura. "That is why you are seeing more unique ways of doing things."
Using Facebook, Twitter and eBay to Pay for Treatments
Sommer Cronck, 32, and her husband Skip, 38, decided to get creative in 2006, when they got word they would have to come up with nearly $14,000 for IVF if they wanted to have a second child. The Blaine, Wash. couple launched a blog called Just One More and raised some $200 by holding a photo contest in which they charged entrants $10 apiece. The prizes included an iPod and gift cards they had purchased with credit-card points. Selling Skip's CD collection netted about $2,000. Sommer, meantime, hawked her Barbie collection on eBay.
Soon enough, they had raised more than $8,000, which was enough -- with cash taken from a home equity line -- to begin their treatments in late 2006. After the first attempt failed, they tried again, raising another $5,000 that they supplemented with a big charge on their American Express card.
The Cronck's second round of IVF did the trick. Their twin boys were born in October 2007, Sommer says. "If you are open about what you are going through, you will find so much support in ways you never imagined," she says.
In San Francisco, couple Brian and Molly Walsh used Facebook, Twitter and email to invite their family and friends to a special wine-tasting fundraiser in January that would help pay for the $25,000 cost of their fertility treatments. Nearly 150 people paid $35 each to attend the event, which featured a silent auction of items donated by friends as well as a magician and Jumpy Castle for kids. The couple raised more than $8,000 from the affair.
"It was a really hard decision to be so public with this," says Molly, 38, head of business development at USA Hosts/Key Events. "But so many positive things have happened as a result, and not one of them would have come about if we had kept this to ourselves."
The Ethics of Raising Money for IVF Treatments
Success rates for IVF treatments vary with the mother's age, but average less than 40% for females under 35 and just 11.5% for mothers 41 to 42 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hank Greely, a biomedical ethicist at Stanford University, says couples should be aware of the consequences of fundraising for IVF. People who donate money might take an unwanted interest in the pregnancy and the child. "They might feel entitled to information that I'd rather keep private or to a relationship with a child I wouldn't like," says Greely, who is also a law professor and director of Stanford's Center for Law and Biosciences.
There is also the potential that fraudsters could pose as infertile couples. Couples sometimes go through several rounds of IVF before conceiving or giving up. "It would be a pretty easy scam to claim that 'Oops, it didn't work. We're heartbroken. Will you help us try again?" he says.
Couples who've received donations say they try to address these concerns by revealing the most intimate details of their lives and keeping donors informed of their every move. The Koskies say they posted on their blog each bill they received for their various fertility procedures, along with the progress they were making toward starting a family. "We did our best to be as transparent as possible," Brandi says.
Looking back on their long road to parenthood, the Koskies say the experience has taught them to be more patient, a trait they believe will come in handy once their little girl is born. "I don't think I can imagine taking for granted a single moment with her," Brandi says. Before that happens, the Koskies are keeping plenty busy with baby showers and birthing classes, BabyorBust.com reports.
Baby or Bust: Infertile Couples Turn to the Web to Raise Funds for IVF