WE WENT BANK­RUPT FOR BABY

Cou­ples des­per­ate to be­come par­ents are ex­haust­ing re­tire­ment ac­counts and even los­ing their homes to pay for fer­til­ity treat­ments

New York Post - - BODY & SOUL - By JANE RI­D­LEY

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.”

Kevin J. Miyazaki\Redux

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.

Ste­fano Gio­van­nini

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