They spent years trying to conceive but could no longer afford the IVF cost and stopped treatment. Then a generous gift changed everything.
Cindy and her husband, John, have been together since middle school. They were high school sweethearts, young and in love. And they got married when they were both just 19.
Like many young newlyweds, Cindy and John (for privacy’s sake, these are not the couple’s real names) had dreams of settling down and starting a family together. After five years of trying to conceive with no success, Cindy made an appointment to see Dr. Jessica Scotchie at Tennessee Reproductive Medicine (TRM) to see if there might be cause for concern.
“I’d had a laparoscopic procedure done when I was 18 because the doctor I was seeing at the time suspected that I might have endometriosis,” explains Cindy. “That doctor told me that I might have some trouble down the line if I ever wanted to have children.”
After explaining her medical history as well as her ongoing struggle to get pregnant, Dr. Scotchie recommended a thorough evaluation of Cindy’s ovarian function and anatomy and of John’s sperm. Initial testing showed that Cindy’s ovaries were producing eggs normally and her tubes were open.
“Dr. Scotchie explained that they needed to see my husband, too, so that they could check for male-factor infertility,” she recalls. “I thought to myself, There’s no way he has any issues. He’s young, healthy, and nobody in his family has a history of fertility problems. But sure enough, they found that his sperm count was low.”
John’s sperm analysis also showed low motility (movement) that made natural conception and conception with intrauterine insemination (IUI) unlikely to occur. Therefore, in vitro fertilization (IVF) was recommended.
Fertility setbacks, disappointment and despair
Cindy and John were struck with the uncomfortable realization that they both had fertility factors working against their pursuit of trying to conceive. Dr. Scotchie walked them through their treatment options, and they ultimately decided to try a round of minimal stimulation IVF.
Standard IVF uses medications to grow many eggs for retrieval. These eggs are fertilized, and the fertilized eggs (embryos) are then nurtured for three to five days before being transferred back to the uterus. The benefit of having many eggs retrieved is that it increases the chance that at least one of the eggs will fertilize and grow normally.
The goal in standard IVF is to stimulate all available eggs that cycle. The stimulation does not remove any more eggs than the woman would normally lose, rather it grows the eggs she would normally lose on her own.
For example, assume a couple started with 10 total eggs. On average, about 80 percent of the eggs would be fully mature (8/10), and of those mature eggs 70 percent would successfully fertilize (5-6/8). And of those that fertilize, about half would grow into transferrable embryos (2-3 final embryos). Finally, about half of the embryos that grow have a normal chromosome number, the other half don’t and usually do not implant if they are transferred.
In contrast to standard IVF, minimal stimulation uses low quantities of medications to grow a few eggs, while natural cycle IVF uses nearly no medications in an attempt to retrieve a single egg. Minimal stimulation IVF and natural cycle IVF both reduce the side effects and overall treatment cost, and are a reasonable and affordable approach for young couples like Cindy and John.
Because the minimal and natural cycle IVF approaches use a small number of eggs, fewer embryos result, and sometimes an embryo does not grow to the point that it can be transferred. There are usually no excess embryos to preserve for future cycle attempts in minimal stimulation cycles. Cindy and John completed a minimal stimulation IVF cycle and fortunately had an embryo to transfer. But sadly, the embryo did not implant.
“I was absolutely distraught,” says Cindy. “I just didn’t know what we were going to do. I remember breaking down in tears as I talked to my mom about how we might find some way to come up with some money to continue treatment.”
A stunning act of generosity covers their IVF costs
In the midst of what seemed like a hopeless situation, Cindy received a surprise phone call from Angie, TRM’s practice administrator. Angie explained that an anonymous couple had donated money for a patient to receive a free IVF cycle. The physicians reviewed Cindy & John’s case and their previously failed attempts at pregnancy and recommended offering the donation to them for continued fertility treatment if they were interested.
“She said that I would be the recipient of the donation if I was interested, which of course I was,” Cindy recalls. “I was amazed!”
Two months later, fueled and funded by generosity, Cindy and John returned to TRM and to their journey of conception. They completed a standard IVF cycle and shortly thereafter, the couple was told they were pregnant with twins – a boy and a girl. In January of 2016, they welcomed their son and daughter into the world.
“We’re just so amazed when we look at our babies,” says Cindy. “It’s like they each got the best parts of us. Now we’re just focused on keeping them safe and keeping them healthy – we want to raise them right.”
Cindy and John are grateful for the role that TRM and the generous donor played in enabling them to build a family.
“If it wasn’t for that anonymous gift, we would not have kids today. We’d still be trying to save up money,” says Cindy. “We still keep in contact with TRM – they check in on us and see how things are going. It’s like they are part of my family now because they made it possible for me to have a family of my own.”
Cindy and John’s son and daughter will turn 11 months old this Christmas day.