Inside Infertility: Couples deal with cost of treatments

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COLUMBIA- According to the Mayo Clinic, 10-15% of couples struggle with infertility. However, it's an issue that people often don't like to talk about. Dr. Gil Wilshire with Mid-Missouri Reproductive Medicine & Surgery said he thinks the problem is getting worse because more people are obese and/or waiting until they're older to have kids. In Missouri specifically, Wilshire sees issues in men at a higher rate than the national average.

Many doctors recommend seeking the help of a fertility specialist if a couple has been trying for 1 year without conceiving, but they shorten the time line to 6 months if the woman is 35 or older. If you are trying to conceive, Wilshire recommends you get your weight under control and cut out risky behaviors like drugs, alcohol or tobacco use.

There's no one solution for infertility. The costs of treatment can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Some treatments are painless, while others are much more invasive and require surgery. Other treatments can take an emotional or physical toll on a patient, but Christina Shannon felt seeking treatment was one of the best decisions she ever made. For years she worried she may never have kids because she has Polycysitic Ovarian Syndrome.

"It was frustrating because we did want it so bad," Shannon said, but when she and her husband went to a fertility specialist it only took one round of artificial insemination for her to become pregnant.

Wilshire says people often don't see fertility specialists because they assume they can't afford it, but a procedure like Shannon's only costs about $500. A price Shannon says is more than worth it.

Nick and Sarah Andres on the other hand have had a much more difficult journey with infertility.

"You don't want to put the blame on each other, but most of it is my fault that this isn't working out as far as my body goes," Sarah Andres said. "I hated myself because I couldn't make him a dad."

They went through several rounds of fertility drugs, artificial inseminations and two miscarriages. Miscarriage is an outcome Dr. Wilshire says is more common than he'd like. Almost 1/3 of his patients pregnancies do miscarry. It's also been an expensive process for the Andres. They spent about $25,000 on fertility treatments, before they decided to try in vitro fertilization, a procedure they estimate will cost them another $12,000. They've had to pay all of these costs out of pocket because while 15 states mandate some sort of insurance coverage for fertility treatments, Missouri is not one of them.

"I don't get paid a whole lot. Sarah doesn't get paid a whole lot. We just did it as we could. We're in debt, but we did it. So far so good, and we should be able to do the IVF," Nick said.

With so much time, emotional energy and money spent on the process, it's easy to understand why on the morning of Sarah's egg retrieval, they're both a little nervous. Nick waited outside while the anesthesiologist put Sarah to sleep. In less than an hour, Dr. Wilshire removed 32 follicles, and he was pleased with the outcome. Sixteen eggs fertilized, but only one is implanted back into Sarah's body. The doctor's lab will freeze the rest to potentially use in the future. After the procedure, Sarah learned her ovaries became over stimulated, an unexpected complication.

"They were touching, so every time I moved it was excruciating pain. I gained 30 pounds in fluid, which I've only lost like 10 of it so far. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't lay down. I couldn't work for two weeks. I couldn't do anything. It was just terrible," Sarah said.

Terrible, but worth it she says when she found out the IVF worked. She took a pregnancy test every day for the first few weeks, just to be sure.

"He thinks I'm crazy, but it's like I have to. It's a mind thing." Sarah said laughing after her first ultrasound. "I don't know whether to cry or to get excited or to still be nervous. Now we have to wait 2 more weeks, so that's a lot of pregnancy tests.

The couple is cautiously optimistic because they know there's still a long way to go before they get to hold their baby in their arms, but they'll try to enjoy every little miracle along the way.