Forty years ago, I was born the first in-vitro baby in the United States, thanks to the foresight of Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones at the Jones Institute in Norfolk, Virginia, who brought the then-groundbreaking procedure to this country.
I had to be born in Virginia, since IVF was unavailable in Massachusetts, following several failed attempts and countless obstacles. My parents had experienced setback after setback, a familiar story to the millions experiencing infertility today.
My birth, touted on front pages all over the world, became a modern medical miracle and represented hope to millions of Americans grappling with infertility. My successful birth was sensed as a colossal moment moving us into a new era of scientific-based medical fertility treatment. As a pupil of the Joneses who completed his Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Fellowship at their prestigious Institute, Dr. Samuel E. Brown, my co-author of this essay, knew something remarkable had taken place.
We have since made incredible strides to incorporate IVF into our normal daily lives. Given the limitless potential of reproductive medicine, as the youngest form of medicine, forty years doesn’t seem that long ago.
And yet, we are still at the forefront of a revolution. Now, the problem is not access. It’s affordability.
The cost of reproductive medical treatments, and specifically lack of insurance coverage for infertility medical treatments, is a major barrier to family building. Almost 50 percent of Americans do not have insurance coverage for infertility, according to a survey undertaken by Resolve: The National Infertility Association, a non-profit organization with the only established, nationwide network mandated to promote reproductive health and to ensure equal access to all family building options for men and women experiencing infertility or other reproductive disorders.
Having children is fundamental; it can be part of one’s identity. Being unable to have a child can affect people physically, financially, and emotionally. It’s hard to believe that 40 years on, we are still fighting for access to care through insurance coverage. There are only 19 states mandating insurance coverage, and Florida is not one of them.
Next week, I am making the first stop on my book tour in Florida, at Dr. Brown’s clinic, to offer my support to families battling infertility and inspire clinic staff to keep encouraging patients to continue the fight.
Thankfully, there are wonderful resources now that weren’t available 40 years ago, even in a state that doesn’t yet require employers to provide fertility insurance. For one, there are many corporations operating in Florida, from Disney and Amazon to SpaceX and Verizon, that offer generous fertility benefit packages. Families have many options to purchase secondary fertility coverage or apply for many available grants. On its website, Resolve offers a simple conversation starter for employees. People often get their fertility diagnosis at the same time they learn there is no mandate requiring their employer to offer coverage, so the more you know earlier, the better.
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Whether it’s sharing your story, contacting lawmakers or asking your employer to change benefits, small steps of action can lead to big change. We have come too far along to undo this revolution and awareness and education is the key to long-term change.
Elizabeth Jordan Carr, the first child conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) in the United States 40 years ago, recently released her memoir, “Under the Microscope,” and is an advocate for Resolve. Dr. Samuel E. Brown is the founder and medical director of Brown Fertility with locations in Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando and others in Florida and Georgia.