Ontario’s decision to fund IVF gives me the most important thing: hope

With the recent announcement of Ontario's decision to assist with the cost of one IVF cycle, Wendy Litner weighs in on the importance of giving infertile women one more chance.
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Photo: Wendy Litner

“Infertility is a vanity procedure,” writes Llewellen in the comments section of The Globe and Mail yesterday when Ontario announced its plan to fund one cycle of in vitro fertilization (IVF) for women under 43. “Try adoption.”

“Infertility is not a serious medical problem. Just a couple not able to conceive,” writes Giorgio2012 in the Toronto Star. “Not everyone should be a parent.”

These writers are talking to me: I’m the vain woman who wants to have a baby. I’m the person who shouldn’t be a parent.

Perhaps the comments sections of newspapers, or Twitter, aren’t the most scientific barometer of public opinion, but the immediate conversation online in general is laced with outrage: outrage at the government and outrage at the frivolous people who need to use assisted reproductive technology. “If someone can’t afford to have the procedure,” writes IanC222, “they can’t afford to have children.” People who have never met me believe—strongly—that I shouldn’t get to have a baby.

The road to parenthood is a deeply personal one. There are a multitude of reasons why both men and women can’t conceive. Chances are, you know someone who needed help starting his or her family. My husband and I, both 35, are among the one in six Canadian couples that have been diagnosed with infertility. We’ve been trying to have a baby for a very long time and have spent a lot of money doing so. Our 10-year anniversary vacation fund? Spent. Our emergency savings account should either of us lose our jobs? Spent. The garage sale money and change between the sofa cushions? All spent.

We’re lucky, of course, to have had savings to spend. But we’re out of savings now, both financially and emotionally. The Ontario government’s announcement that it will assist with the cost of one IVF cycle brings massive relief. With a stroke of good luck and the miracle of science, we may be blessed with a child of our own. The hope that one more attempt brings is invigorating. The government assistance only covers the procedure itself; we will still have to borrow to cover the $6,000 worth of drugs that will be injected into my ass and stomach daily for two weeks. My employee benefit plan specifically excludes coverage for any kind of fertility treatment (a provision that is in bold, all-caps and underlined in the manual).

Ontario is now the fourth province to provide assistance for infertility, joining Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick in providing help with an assortment of direct coverage and tax credits. The costs of IVF and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) vary across Canada, with a price tag of between $4,000 and $9,000, in addition to medication totalling another $2,000 to $7,000.

Using assisted reproductive technology to try and have a baby is, of course, a choice. No one is forcing us to procreate. No one is forcing us to spend our life savings on fertility treatments. But we are, and here’s why: We want to be parents—desperately. We want to be parents like the 83 percent of the population that is able to without costly intervention. I want to tell you what infertility feels like, how broken I feel for not having been able to carry a child, how impossible it feels to face an entire future without the baby we so desperately long for. Childlessness feels like an incurable disease. As I wait for the fertility clinic to call with news of my pregnancy test results, my desire doesn’t feel vain or narcissistic but primal. I won’t die if I don’t become a mother, but part of me does every time I hear that a cycle hasn’t worked, that the cells I hoped were dividing aren’t.

Another route to parenthood is through adoption, which can be a wonderful option. It is not, however, a straightforward process and, in some cases, the costs can be even more prohibitive than fertility treatments. We know people who have built families through adoption, and we know others who, after many years, are still waiting, heartbroken. It’s an extremely complicated, extremely emotional and extremely personal decision. I implore the Internet commenters, the trolls and those who are simply ill informed to demonstrate just a little bit of humility and respect and engage in a conversation about infertility that doesn’t start and end with “Just adopt.”

I understand people’s frustration at having their precious tax dollars allocated to people like me. I do. But I’m frustrated, too. I’m frustrated that, while I’m going deeply into debt to pay for fertility treatments, I’ve had to pay for countless vasectomies for men who have completed their families. I’ve had to pay for men seeking medical assistance for erectile dysfunction, even though erections and wanting to have sex without making a baby are no more medically necessary than infertility treatments. My desire to be a mother is no more vain than your desire to get it up, yet I pay for it because it affects your quality of life. I also pay for public schools to educate a child I don’t have. I pay into employment insurance for the maternity leave I’m not able to take. When I can opt out of those payments, you can opt out of your contribution towards my single round of IVF.

The pain of infertility is so exquisite, so insular and so all-consuming that it’s difficult to really, truly imagine it if you aren’t going through it. But please try. I ask you now to close your eyes and imagine your life without your children. Do their lives feel frivolous to you? Unnecessary? A vanity project? I’m asking for the chance to feel the love and joy you feel. Please let me try.

Read more:
I’m not ashamed of my infertility>
Can you “tweak” a pregnancy test to find out sooner?>
A guide to fertility methods>

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