AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Crowdfunding has become a popular way to finance just about anything, from birthday bashes to political protests. And now you'll find public pleas for something far more personal, fertility treatments. Stephanie O'Neill has the story.
STEPHANIE O'NEILL, BYLINE: Greg and Julia Fry of Ithaca, N.Y., were in their early 30s when they got married three years ago, so they set out to start a family right away. But a year passed and nothing happened. And then six months more went by and still no baby.
GREG FRY: So we started to do some tests to try and sort of find out what was happening with both of us. And we wound up going down the path of realizing that maybe fertility treatments were what we would need.
O'NEILL: They began with IUI, or intrauterine insemination. That's where sperm is inserted with a catheter into the woman's uterus. They tried the procedure four times in the past year but still no luck.
G FRY: This, by far, is the hardest thing that we've ever been through together. 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.
O'NEILL: Now they're going to try in vitro fertilization, or IVF. This involves mixing eggs with sperm in a lab, then transferring the embryo into the woman's uterus. And it costs about $15,000 to $20,000 a pop. At first, Greg says, they considered traveling overseas for more affordable treatments, but travel costs would have gobbled up any savings. So they decided instead to go online to the crowdfunding site GiveForward and to post an ad that begins this way.
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G FRY: You know us as Julia and Greg...
JULIA FRY: The couple with so much love to give.
G FRY: But now we are asking for your help and love...
J FRY: To start our family.
O'NEILL: Crowdfunding for IVF is gaining traction. GiveForward, the site Greg and Julia use, says in 2016 it saw a nearly 250 percent jump in the number of couples asking for IVF help, making it one of the fastest growing categories on the site. Many believe that's happening because health insurance usually doesn't cover infertility treatments. Janet Carter and her wife Jackie live in Charleston, S.C. Both, Janet says, have job-based health insurance.
JANET CARTER: They 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.
O'NEILL: So as their August 2015 wedding approached, Janet says, they offered their guests a chance to fund fertility treatments.
JANET CARTER: So we not only had a regular registry for Target, but we also decided to, you know, have it be an option for our friends and family that wanted to be a part of us starting our little new family.
O'NEILL: The wedding guests donated about $3,000, which the couple used to help pay down credit card bills for nine failed IUI attempts. And that encouraged Janet to suggest this year relaunching the campaign among a wider circle of friends to crowdfund the IVF she wanted to try next. But Jackie wasn't so sure.
JACKIE CARTER: Am I ready to do that? Am I ready for people to be that involved?
O'NEILL: So they asked friends and family what they thought. And, Janet says, the support was resounding, save for a wee bit of hesitation from Janet's mom.
JANET CARTER: She just doesn't really agree with it necessarily, and I think that's just a generational difference in opinion.
O'NEILL: Jackie, however, became convinced.
JACKIE CARTER: There are, you know, thousands of people out there using these crowdfunding sources for things that aren't as impactful as, you know, having a child.
O'NEILL: The Carters went forward with a site called YouCaring that has so far netted them more than $5,000. Still, crowdfunding can be hard, says Rachel Gurevich. She writes about fertility issues.
RACHEL GUREVICH: I wouldn't do it unless you have a lot of social connections. I feel like a lot of people think that it's automatic - they're going to put it up, and they're going to raise a bunch of money. And they're not. And that could be really disappointing.
O'NEILL: Indeed, dozens of IVF campaigns on these sites show zero dollars raised. Greg and Julia Fry's crowdfunding efforts have earned them about $1,200 so far. Julia says the support is heartening.
J FRY: There are people that come up to me. They've come into my office in the last couple weeks and, you know, they hand me $20, and they're like please take this. We love you guys. We think you will be such great parents. Please take it.
O'NEILL: The Carters, meanwhile, are continuing crowdfunding to pay off their recent IVF attempt. And Janet Carter is now pregnant and due to give birth on June 24.
For NPR News, I'm Stephanie O'Neill.
CHANG: This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR and Kaiser Health News.
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