How we paid for IVF without going into debt

Something we left out of our IVF week 2 post was that on the Friday Desiree got the ultrasound we also paid for our IVF in full. The grand total was around $15,000 – not an easy amount to write across a check, especially for something we’re not sure will actually work.

Like I’ve written before we never thought IVF would be an option for us. Neither of us come from wealthy families, we’re not living on any trust funds, we’ve never received any inheritances or been gifted any extremely large sources of wealth in cash or assets and we’ve both worked steady jobs since we were 15 years old. On top of that, neither of us have completed any college degree or any sort of certified vocational training. Just before we got married we did something really stupid, we both financed brand new cars, not to mention the credit card debt we had each previously racked up. And so we started our life together living in an apartment with a combined debt of nearly $35,000. Dumb, because it was unnecessary unlike wiser debt such as student loans or a mortgage.

Around 2005, through friends and church, we learned about Dave Ramsey‘s book, The Total Money Makeover; a plan for getting out of debt and becoming financially free. After a season of extreme and often painful sacrifice we finally unloaded all our debt in 2008. It’s been one of the best things we’ve ever done. We’re currently on Baby Step 6, but have paused in order to save money to cash-flow infertility treatments. If we do become pregnant we’ll drop back to Baby Step 5, saving for our child’s college education.

In 2007 I started my own business and it created enough income that we were blessed to have Desiree quit her job and become a homemaker. This was a big deal for us, a goal we often talked about. All Desiree ever wanted to do was be a Mom and a homemaker, I love that about her.

Last year, by the grace of God, we had an unusually good year and so because we’re debt-free we were afforded an extra amount of income to put towards our treatments. This first round of IVF has almost completely emptied our savings. The little we have left will be added to each month as we build it back up for a second round (our clinic offers the second at half cost) in case this one doesn’t take and if we decide on it when the time comes. Or God willing we’ll gladly spend it all on the costs of having a baby, or two.

Infertility adds a touch of bitterness to life and our finances are no different. It’s tough not being able to spend our hard-earned money on things like a second car with low gas mileage, painting the house, a couch that’s not broken, repairing walls and a bathroom floor that looks filthy even when you can eat off it. Even though it takes some convincing we know those things are wants and not needs. When we think of all the things we want, and we often do, we remind ourselves that we’re actually in a great place financially for what we’re going through – not everyone has the opportunity to do IVF. Is our situation the best? Are we independently wealthy with endless funds for treatments and adoptions? No, but we’re happy and blessed to be where we are.

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IVF Week 3: Lupron, Repronex and Follistim

Week 3 IVF Drugs

All of our week 3 IVF drugs (Lurpon, Follistim and Repronex from left to right).

This week started off with an ultrasound Monday morning (5/13). Ultrasounds and meetings are a given now. Everything went well. We met with our infertility coordinator to go over our numbers and review how to administer the Repronex and Follistim, the two drugs we add to our regiment this week. She said not to worry about taking it wrong as much as not taking it at all, which apparently she’s had patients do. This blew our minds, to think there are people out there who pay the high cost of IVF and then skip injections because they forgot or were too busy.

So Desiree is now on 3 hormone shots per day – one in the thigh (Lupron in the morning), one in the stomach (Follistim in the afternoon) and one in the rear (Repronex in the afternoon). She’s got a lot of tracks, a good amount of bruising and that tends to make it hard to choose a good spot.

The Repronex nees to be prepared which means I have to mix it together from two vials, one of water and one of powder (the drug). It’s a matter of using a big mixing needle and then switching to a smaller, 1.5 inch needle for injection. Our coordinator said sometimes people forget to change the needle which has got to hurt because that thing is big enough to take a chunk of skin with it! Watch this video for the full process.

The Follistim comes in a pen kit. It’s the most expensive drug we’re taking at $700 per cartridge. The cartridge is loaded into the pen once. Then every time we inject we put a new needle on, dial the dosage at the bottom of the pen which pushes the back of the pen outward like a button to press. When we inject it we press the button all the way down, this pushes the drug out, hold the needle in place for 5 full seconds and we’re done. We have to track the dosages in a diary otherwise it’s easy to lost count. Watch this video for the full process.

Update (5/20): I forgot to mention we both took a 1000mg antibiotic (four 250mg pills each) one night. It’s just to clear our systems out from anything along the way.

Desiree was very tired this week. At night after the drugs she feels twinges and tightness in her ovaries. This always makes me nervous, but I think she’ll be fine. She’s handled everything great. She’d say her mood has been swinging a bit, but I haven’t noticed. Overall I’d say she’s doing far better than we expected.

She was scheduled for another ultrasound on Friday (5/17) which went well too. That afternoon they called and said everything looked good to the doctor so we can continue with the same dosages we’d already been using. We have another ultrasound and meeting scheduled for Monday (5/20, week 4 day 1).

We’re back and forth to the clinic about twice a week now, but week 4 might be three or more times because we’re fast approaching her egg retrieval.

IVF Week 2: More Lupron, ultrasound and genetic testing

Sharps container

This is mostly weeks 1 and 2 Lupron syringes with some week 3 stuff mixed in.

This update comes a little behind schedule as we’re now well into week 3, but do stay tuned because I hope to post another update by Monday.

Week 2 was the same as week 1 as far as drugs are concerned, we continued with 0.2 cc of Lupron in the leg. Desiree’s thighs are starting to track and become lightly bruised, she welted up a couple times, but that’s normal; well, as normal as shooting infertility drugs into your thigh can be. Apparently it happens when the drug irritates the muscles. One of the side-effects is weight gain, but she consistently exercised and watched her calorie intake so she’s actually down 2 pounds, a small victory.

On Friday we went in for another ultrasound. The goal was to make sure her ovaries and any follicles were sized the way they should be for the time of the month before they had her start the Follistim treatments (i.e. follicle stimulating hormone). It was probably the fastest ultrasound she’s ever done; she passed with flying colors. I’ve been in the room for every one she’s had so I’m getting pretty good at looking at the screen and identifying what I’m seeing. They typically start with the right ovary, measure, count the follicles, move to the uterus, measure, and move to the left ovary and so on.

After the ultrasound we sat down with our infertility coordinator who checked in on us and prepped us for the week 3 drug regiment. We’re still doing Lupron, but at a reduced dosage, and introducing Repronex (another follicle stimulating hormone) and Follistim. That will make for three shots a day – one in the thigh, one in the stomach and one in the derriere.

The only other thing that happened in week 2 was we received the results from our genetic DNA mutation testing. The clinic took both of our blood samples in week 1 and sent it to GoodStart where it was tested for some 14 different mutations. The results tell us what we’re carriers for, if anything, and what our chances are of those carriers passing to or manifesting in any children we might have. I had no carriers; although they didn’t test for things you’d think they would like cancer and heart disease – I highly suspect I have those because they kill everybody these days. Desiree is a carrier for cystic fibrosis. The chances of passing that gene to our child is 50%, the chances of it manifesting in them is 0.06% since I’m not a carrier, another small victory.

Thank God for the small victories along the way, we’ll take as much as we can get.

Happy Mother's Day

A bittersweet Mother’s Day

While Mother’s Day is a day of much deserved celebration for great Moms everywhere it’s also a day of much mourning for about seven-million infertile people like us. It’s not easy to cope with friends and family celebrating everywhere. If we’re not exposed in public we’re exposed online with people posting a wealth of photos on social networks ranging from all the gifts they received to pictures of the cute outfits they put their kids in for the occasion.

With all of the activity on Mother’s Day, people tend to forget about women who cannot become mothers. Mother’s Day is an incredibly painful time for infertile women. You cannot get away from it-There are ads on the TV, posters at the stores, church sermons devoted to celebrating motherhood, and all of the plans for celebrating with your own mother and mother-in-law. (an excerpt from Infertility Etiquette)

Although we appreciate those who know of our infertility and take the time to say or do something it can be awkward and hard to feel like we’re not being pandered to instead of being included. But we’re very thankful for those who care enough to try; though it is bittersweet, thank you.

If we’re not feeling down about the loss of the ability to take part in today’s festivities we’re feeling like grotesque monsters who must stay hidden lest we ruin the day for everyone else. It’s never our intention to offend the ones we love with our mourning. We love that Mothers are celebrated today, that Dads take their kids to buy gifts for Mom, when kids are dressed up and when families are together. We’re happy for our friends and family who celebrate these things more now than ever because we feel we understand a life void of them.

If you’re a Mom you deserve to be appreciated today, relish in it. If you’re a kid, enjoy celebrating Mom, she deserves it. Either way please remember to pray that we will one day share in the gift of children alongside you.

On Infertility and Friendship

This is a great insight into the affects of infertility on friendships. If you’re up to it give her blog a read or two. We really enjoy her wit and above all her ability to put such complicated emotions into words.

Just Stop Trying and It Will Happen...

I was married in December of 2008, in a lovely ceremony in a historic chapel, surrounded by the people I love.

Standing by my side were five bridesmaids: old friends, cherished friends, childhood friends, best friends, family.

Between those five women, they currently have eight children, and one more on the way.

I am still trying.

And it hurts that I will never catch up.

I love these girls.  They are the people with whom I’ve grown up, learned, made mistakes, got into mischief, and experienced life.  They are the people I can count on through anything.

I have known my best friend since we were six years old.  We played Barbies together, and built forts in the woods together.  We got boy-crazy together (…well, she did; I had Coke-bottle glasses until I was fifteen, so it took me a bit longer.).  We dreamed together, graduated together, went off to…

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Lupron Injection

IVF Week 1: Lupron Injections

This is what week one literally looked like. Every morning at 9:45 AM I give Desiree 0.2 cc of Lupron in either the top or side of her thigh, alternating legs and locations each day – except for today because she did it herself. She’s been a champ. The trick is to go in fast at a 45-degree angle, inject the drug, hold the needle in place for 1-2 seconds and then pull out fast the same way you went in.

After reading online we realized she’s been prescribed twice the typical dose. The side effects, if any, have been minimal. She’s had some tension headaches, bloating and nausea at night, but we’re not sure how much of that is due to other factors like tasty Mexican food.

Oh, that reminds me, Happy Cinco De Mayo, everyone – tip back a margarita for us tomorrow!

Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI)

Semen analysis results, ICSI to the rescue

In our IVF orientation we were told by our doctor that if anything in my semen analysis leading up to IVF was questionable (by their standards) that they’d use ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection), the process by which they take a single sperm and inject it directly into an egg for fertilization; this is in contrast to normal fertilization where they coat the egg with sperm and let nature do its thing. ICSI costs an extra $1,500 and adds a couple more drugs to our regiment. They also told us that an IVF cycle with ICSI had a slightly higher success rate than one without. Of course when we explained this to our parents they asked, “So, why don’t they just do ICSI regardless of the analysis?” Good question.

We pressed the issue with our infertility coordinator and never really got a straight answer other than that they don’t like to go too far down the road of science if they don’t have to, plus research wasn’t clear on whether or not ICSI was responsible for certain birth defects. We respect that, but considering the amount of drugs already involved with a cycle of IVF, not to mention the invasive procedures, we feel we’re waist-deep in science already (pun intended). But she sympathized saying that she asks herself the same question for us and promised that if they found one little thing questionable in my analysis they’d give us the option. Well unfortunately, but fortunately, they did find something questionable.

I’ve had semen analysis done 5 times between 3 different clinics since 2008. I’ve always been either above-average (we jokingly call this super sperm) or average. When they’re looking at motility, the movement of sperm, they’re wanting to see at least 50% moving and within that they want to see at least 20% moving very fast or rapidly. This time only 19% were moving rapidly; I must have skipped coffee that day (just kidding, it has nothing to do with that). She said overall my results weren’t bad, but that 1% for rapid motility was enough for us to be offered the option of ICSI – we signed and sent the papers this morning. Both of our parents will be very happy to hear the news.

As weird as it sounds we’re happy our doctors will have more of a hand (literally) in fertilizing our eggs – it’s one less thing we need to worry about standing in the way of a successful round of IVF and more importantly a baby.