I was recently named one of ShareCare.com’s Top 10 Online Influences for Infertility . It’s a privilege that still humbles me greatly and I am honored to have been independently recognized in that regard. I’m also very humbled to be on this list in the company of some true heavyweights in the ALI blogosphere, including some folks I’ve been following since the start of my own blogging journey more than three years ago.
Number 5 on the list is Bonnie Rochman, a writer for the TIME Magazine Healthland Blog. She shared with me her most recent article and I was surprised to see she had covered a topic that’s been sitting in my drafts folder for some time now: the ethical implications of IVF contests.
Y’all know I loves me a good infertility video . In fact, I was even approached by this clinic to help them judge their IVF contest.
At first I was flattered. Then… hesitant. I did a little soul-searching and touched base with some trusted friends. Their opinions were all over the map, so I went with my gut. It ended up I had a convenient out anyway: I had upcoming travel that prevented me from completing the judging in time for their deadline.
Turns out I wasn’t the only one who felt uncomfortable about being asked to judge this IVF contest, as Rochman notes:
Yet some of the judges — I was asked to participate but declined — were uneasy with the process. “It felt like playing G-d,” says Erika Tabke, who runs IVF Connections, a website for people going through infertility. “Who’s more worthy? Whose loss is more tragic? Who are any of us to judge each other?”
As I’ve had time to process and think about this, I’ve had a lot of reservations about even writing about my thoughts on contests like these. For one, I like to see myself as a health activist and patient advocate, so I think it’s important to share this with the infertility patient community. I struggle with sharing my personal opinions because I’m currently in treatment and I don’t like to name clinics if I don’t have to; to clarify, I’m not going to the clinic that featured this contest – but I won’t bad-mouth anyone I would consider a professional colleague.
I’ve been so hesitant to talk about this at all here because I constantly have to strike a delicate yet awkward balance as both an infertility patient and infertility professional.
I feel like I got some editorial reprieve when I saw this on the clinic’s Facebook page yesterday:
TIME writer covered our “I Believe” Video Journal Project. Like a good journalist, she looked at all perspectives. Some outsiders took a few shots at us for doing this. We have nothing to be ashamed of and are proud of how we can help even a few people. What do you think?
Well, if they’re actively opening up discussion, then I feel obliged to comment
Like the ShareCare recognition, I’m deeply humbled by the ask. “Little ol’ me?” I thought, when I got the message. “You think my opinion matters?”
So yes, I’ll admit there was a nice little ego boost at the onset. But then the reality set in. As someone who hasn’t even started treatment – and here you have folks who have been through round after round – who was I to deem worthy enough to receive a free cycle?
Where I chickened out, Carolyn Savage stepped in (check out my review of Inconceivable , her incredible true story of carrying someone else’s embryo when her clinic transferred the wrong one):
As a judge, I had to watch the videos, and somehow determine which couples were most worthy of becoming finalists.
Holy Moly. How do I do that?
I watched every video twice. The first time, I’d sit back and try to immerse myself in the story. The second time, I’d take notes. How long had the couple been married? Did they have a diagnosis? How long had they been trying to conceive?
But then came the other notes… That’s when I questioned my involvement. Was it right to weigh one person’s loss against another’s? And who the heck am I to decide who’s more worthy of a chance at parenthood? ( Source )
On one hand, I can understand where contests like these are coming from. In an increasingly crowded market, clinics must distinguish themselves beyond standard testimonials and SART data in order to attract patients and clients. The publicity buzz from this has been pretty fantastic for this clinic: you’ve got Rochman’s piece, Savage’s response and now mine – in addition to all the comments in response to these posts as well as comments and shares on social media.
IVF contests make for good business. And let’s not kid ourselves: as much as REs want to help us build our families, they’ve got businesses to run.
. . .
But here’s where I get stuck. Allow me to set this up:
A few years ago, I used to play poker regularly with some friends. I’m looking forward to the new proposed casino in East Boston. I celebrated my 21st birthday like any kid from South Jersey: by spending the weekend getting free drinks on Atlantic City casino floors. I am a sucker for the occasional scratch-off ticket when I hit up the 7-11.
In short: Lord, I was born a Gamblin’ Gal.
But there are some things on which I just won’t gamble. For me? That’s anything related to my family, whether it’s my husband, our marriage, or our future children.
I’ve talked at length about how just because we’re finally starting treatment this year doesn’t mean we end up with a child(ren) or even pregnant. And the financial implications of that risk of our treatment not working literally keep me awake at night. Remember, even with our mandated state coverage, we’re still facing $6-7K out of pocket.
I try to keep my bets to around $20 max. In fact, I’ve only ever bet $20 TWICE in my entire life at card tables in the casino. I didn’t need the “third time’s a charm” lesson to know that even $20 was too rich for my blood, because I was already $40 in the hole. And when it comes to our cycle, we’re talking about a bet that’s 300 times what I’m normally comfortable with putting on the table.
So when someone gives away a free IVF cycle, there’s no guarantee that the winning couple even takes home the real prize. (That’s why, as Mel notes over at Stirrup Queens , IVF contests saying “Win a Baby” are a damaging misnomer).
And I just can’t play with those kind of odds. To be honest, living with premature ovarian failure feels like I’ve already had so many odds stacked against me. Did you know, that for example, I still have a 6-10% chance of conceiving naturally? But that no protocol exists for predicting or encouraging just who that 6-10% of POF-ers will be?
And even with great stats supporting that women who use donor eggs have better implantation and live birth rates than women trying to use their own eggs… well, it feels like my right Fallopian tube (the one that still has an ovary at the end) is just a lever on my reproductive slot machine.
…Oh man, I apologize for the totally inappropriate use of “slot” in that last sentence.
. . .
We’ve had to make some extremely difficult financial decisions and sacrifices in the past week just to move forward with treatment. These choices already feel like a gamble I’m not even sure will pay off in the short term and deeply impacts our long-term financial health.
I could use a free all-expense paid IVF cycle right about now. I totally understand the allure as an infertility patient. I get the need for market competitiveness as a business-owner. Could I have produced a slick video and won an IVF cycle? Probably. Do we need that financial relief right now? Absolutely.
Would a free cycle guarantee a baby? Not for one second.
And I don’t get why you’d add an even chancier gamble to already stacked odds when it comes to fertility treatments. That might sound a little jaded, but infertility has instilled a sense of razor-sharp cautious realism within me.
So for me, IVF contests: either participating in, sponsoring or judging them – just feels like an all-in call I’m just not willing to make.
. . .
What are your thoughts on IVF contests? How much are you willing to gamble on your family-building journey?
Place your bets in the comments.
UDPATED: Terri Davidson, a friend and colleague I hold in truly high regard, has written a stellar response piece from the perspective of a fertility clinic marketing professional. Our feeling about contests like these aside, there’s a bigger issue to discuss here: the fact that most insurance companies still consider IVF elective, making fertility treatments even more unaffordable for couples who need it most. Terri knocks it out of the park with her article, so definitely swing by and give it a read.