WE WENT BANKRUPT FOR BABY
Couples desperate to become parents are exhausting retirement accounts and even losing their homes to pay for fertility treatments
I N 2015, Ann and Brian Johnson had to quickly gather their possessions and flee their home before the sheriff arrived. The couple’s Green Bay, Wis., duplex was being foreclosed upon. After spending eight years and $70,000 to have a baby, they were broke, but no matter: Their daughter McKenna was 1 week old and the light of their lives.
“[She made] it 100 percent worthwhile, but we are facing [ongoing] debt,” says Ann, 39. “I would love to be able to light some candles and just get it on with my husband. But, for us, making babies costs a lot of money.”
In 2014, Americans spent $3.5 billion on fertility treatments, up fourfold from 25 years ago, according to Marketdata, a research firm. Since in vitro fertilization was pioneered in 1977, more than 5 million babies have been born thanks to the technology — but they don’t come cheaply.
The average cost, nationally, for a round of IVF treatment is $12,000, and many women require multiple rounds before successfully conceiving. A 2015 survey by lending site Prosper Marketplace found that 44 percent of American women who sought fertility treatments racked up more than $10,000 in debt, with around one-third using credit cards to finance at least part of that expenditure.
“Often, the mounting debt or potential financial ruin are secondary to people’s overriding desire for a baby,” says Erica Sandberg, consumer finance
expert and author of the guide “Expecting Money.”
That was the case for the Johnsons, who have had an especially difficult time having a child.
Ann, who has polycystic ovary syndrome and Stage 4 endometriosis, successfully underwent $22,000 worth of IVF in 2007 and conceived twins. But, tragically, they were both born prematurely — at 20 and 23 weeks — and neither survived.
“It was heartbreaking,” says Ann.
As they grieved the loss of their babies, they also struggled to get back on their feet financially with their limited income — Ann, now a homemaker, was a nurse and Brian is a UPS driver. In 2010, they were forced to file for bankruptcy.
Despite their insolvency, they were able to remortgage their home for $170,000 and use the money for three more rounds of IVF — none of which were successful.
In 2014, desperate for additional rounds of IVF, but unable to afford it, they entered a contest with a Nevada fertility doctor who was providing the treatment to one couple for free. The Johnsons won the contest, which is the subject of a new documentary, “Vegas Baby,” now streaming on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes.
The free IVF resulted in a successful pregnancy at long last. McKenna was born in January 2015 at 23 weeks of Ann’s pregnancy and is now a happy toddler.
“This little girl saved my life,” says Ann. “Many times I thought about ending it all because I couldn’t live without a child.”
Such intense feelings aren’t uncommon, says Andrea Syrtash, a relationship expert and founder of Pregnantish.com. “People [get] tapped out from the [IVF] process — emotionally, physically and financially.”
In America, fertility treatments are rarely covered by insurance. Some employers — including Avon and Starbucks — do offer generous IVF benefits, but most don’t. In May 2017, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans reported that less than one-fifth of employers with more than 500 employees cover IVF. Only 4 percent of employers with fewer than 50 employees offer fertility services.
Adding to the bill is the fact that the procedure often doesn’t result in a healthy pregnancy on the first try, requiring multiple rounds. The success rate for a single round for mothers ages30 to 34 using fresh embryos is 21 percent; for women ages 35 to 39, it’s just 14.1 percent.
Crystal Breiner-Smith, 38, is in the latter age bracket and, as a part-time medical assistant, has no fertility benefits through her job. But she and her carpenter husband, William, 46, are desperate for a baby.
In September, the Hicksville, LI, couple cashed in their retirement funds, maxed out their credit cards and took out a $10,000 personal loan at 22 percent interest to pay for two cycles of IVF.
“We would do anything for another child,” says Breiner-Smith, who has four kids ages 19, 16, 12 and 9 from a previous marriage.
The family, which has a subprime credit score of 620, is in debt from fertility treatments. Their electricity was almost cut off before they arranged a payment plan and the children have need-based scholarships to pay for after-school activities such as basketball.
“Even if IVF doesn’t work, we want to be able to look back in 15 years and say, ‘At least we tried everything,’ ” says Breiner-Smith,
We want to be able to look back in 15 years and say: ‘At least we tried everything.’ ” — Crystal Breiner-Smith on her multiple IVF treatments
who is now planning a third round of IVF, although she’s unsure how she’ll finance it.
“We’ll manage somehow,” she says.
For Meredith, 43, a Long Beach, LI, mom, spending $100,000 on IVF ended up paying off. Last month, after five rounds of IVF (her first was in 2014), she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.
Meredith and husband Charles, 35, had to pinch pennies to pay for the fertility treatments that made their baby possible. (Both declined to give their last names.)
They stopped taking vacations and put any extra income toward IVF. Things got even tighter when Meredith had to quit her six-figure job as a paralegal in August 2016 because she needed so much time off work for medical treatments. Two months ago, she had to cash in her $8,700 401(k).
“You will do and pay anything to achieve your dream,” says Meredith. “It was a huge gamble, but we had to really believe it would be justified in the end . . . Her birth has made everything worthwhile.”
Ann and Brian Johnson lost their home to foreclosure after spending all of their money on IVF. But daughter McKenna, now 2, was worth it.
Long Island couple Meredith and Charles spent more than $100,000 on IVF to have a baby girl.