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Costly fertility treatments fuel rise of crowdfunding

Most health insurance doesn't cover infertility treatments; IVF can cost $15,000 to $20,000 each try.

Crowdfunding is a popular way to raise money for everything from birthday bashes to political protests. But on some of the big online fundraising sites, you'll find public pleas for something far more personal -- infertility treatments.

Greg and Julia Fry of Ithaca, N.Y., were in their early 30s when they got married three years ago and set out to start a family. But a year passed, and they didn't get pregnant. Six more months went by and, still, no baby.

Greg said then they went to a specialist. "We started to do some tests to try and find out what was happening with both of us," he said. "And we wound up realizing that fertility treatments were what we would need."

So they began with a less costly and less invasive option: IUI or intrauterine insemination. That's where sperm is inserted with a catheter directly into the woman's uterus at the time of ovulation. The procedure costs, on average, just under $1,000 a try. The Frys tried four times in the past year -- with no luck.

"This, by far, is the hardest thing that we've ever been through together," said Greg. "There is always hope going into every cycle. And that hope, sort of, gets dashed at the end of the cycle, and then we start again."

The next step they took was to try in vitro fertilization, or IVF. This involves retrieving eggs from the ovary, then fertilizing them with sperm in a laboratory dish. The embryo is then transferred into the woman's uterus. It can cost $15,000 to $20,000 each try.

[Also: Global infertility drugs, devices market to approach $4.8B in 2017]

At first, Greg said, they thought about going overseas for more affordable treatments, but travel costs would have gobbled up any savings. So, they went online instead, to the crowdfunding site giveforward.com. They posted a video in which they talk about their decision to ask for financial help.

"You know us as Julia and Greg," Greg begins. "The couple with so much love to give," Julia continues, and they alternate telling their story.

Asking for IVF assistance is becoming one of the fastest growing crowdfunding categories, according to Josh Chapman, CEO of GiveForward. It has outpaced all categories except adoption in 2016. "We believe this trend will continue into 2017," Chapman said.

Most health insurance doesn't cover infertility treatments. That was the case for Janet Carter and her wife Jackie. They live in Charleston, S.C., and both have job-based health insurance.

Janet said that was helpful for the diagnostic part of their process. "[The insurance] will cover anything that is testing beforehand, like any underlying issues that are leading to the need for fertility treatment. They do not cover any of the actual procedures at all," she said.

As their August, 2015 wedding approached, Janet said they asked their guests to consider giving them cash for fertility treatments.

"We not only had a regular registry for Target, but we also decided to have it be an option for our friends and family that wanted to be a part of us starting our little new family," she said.

The wedding guests gave them about $3,000, which they used to help pay for nine failed IUI attempts. Then Janet wanted to try asking friends again for money, this time for help with IVF. But Jackie wasn't so sure at the time.

"Does it seem like we're begging, or asking people for money, you know? Am I ready to do that? Am I ready for people to be that involved?" Jackie recalled.

So they asked friends for their opinions about crowdfunding, and the support was resounding, save for a wee bit of hesitation from Janet's mom.

"She just doesn't really agree with it necessarily, and I think that's just a generational difference in opinion," Janet said.

But, Jackie became convinced.

"I realized, 'Hey you know what? There are thousands of people out there using these crowdfunding sources for honeymoons and, you know, maybe things that aren't as impactful as having a child,' " she said.

The couple went forward with a site called, youcaring.com, that's helped them raise about $5,000 so far.

Still, crowdfunding is hard for a lot of people, says Rachel Gurevich, who writes about fertility issues.

"I wouldn't do it unless you have a lot of social connections," she said. "A lot of people think that it's automatic -- they're going to put it up and raise a bunch of money. And they're not -- and that can be really disappointing."

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Indeed, dozens of IVF campaigns on these sites show $0 raised. Both the Frys and the Carters received money from friends, family and some acquaintances, which is more typical for these crowdfunds, Gurevich said. Most donations range between $20 and $100.

Greg and Julia Fry's crowdfunding page has earned about $1,200.

"It's been very positive -- everybody that I've worked with," said Julia. "People come up to me. And they've come into my office and they hand me $20," she said. "They say, 'We love you guys. We think you will be such great parents -- please take it.' "

Their friend Jordanna Larish gave $50, even though she's unemployed right now. "Julia and Greg are incredibly generous people, always helping others," she wrote in an email. "They've been trying for so long to have a baby, and they'll be excellent parents."

Jessie Simpson, who is a friend of Jackie and Janet Carter, said she gave them $500 -- "and a whole lot of prayers." Simpson was moved by how easy it had been for her to conceive her son and how difficult it has been for her friends.

"Watching their struggle for over a year, all while the medical bills rack up each month, it was heartbreaking," Simpson wrote in an email. "That is the power of crowdfunding though -- connect their story to your experiences and you want to melt in a puddle of tears and give them the shirt off your back."

Jackie and Janet Carter are using their fundraising to pay down a credit card bill for their IVF. And Janet is now pregnant -- their baby is due in June 2017.

Twitter: @HC_Finance

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