Who has the best lights in town? Vote now for your favorite in our holiday lights contest.
A Salem couple is confronting the situation in both public and private ways.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Erick and Whitney Anderson, of Salem, have been trying for seven years to have children. Next month they will be in Washington lobbying for a bill called the Family Act which allows partial tax credit for money spent by infertile couples trying to start families.
Photo courtesy of Whitney and Erick Anderson
Whitney Anderson visits with the 23-year-old surrogate mother from Norfolk who is carrying Andersons’ twins. The babies are due in the fall.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
For the past seven years, Erick and Whitney Anderson have tried and tried and tried to have children. They’ve prayed countless hours, struggled to put on happy faces when surrounded by friends with families, and at times isolated themselves in despair.
They’ve consulted doctors in Roanoke and Charlottesville: gynecologists, reproductive endocrinologists and a hematologist.
Whitney, 35, has had surgery twice. Three times she was artificially inseminated. Seven times they’ve tried in vitro fertilization. They’ve spent more than $40,000 in pursuit of a family, and they’re still spending.
The results? Five miscarriages, each more crushing than the last.
They formed an infertility support group here in Roanoke, and Whitney started a blog on the subject, whitneyanderick.com.
Whitney and I met at a coffee shop in Salem on Tuesday morning. She’s a Salem native and Virginia Tech graduate who works in Roanoke College’s public relations department.
Erick, 41, is a network engineer she met years ago when she spent a semester studying in Puerto Rico. He moved here in 1998 and they married in 1999. They’re members of First Baptist Church in Roanoke.
She’s telling their story because infertility affects many more couples than you might imagine. Not coincidentally, this week is also National Infertility Awareness Week.
“It’s something I feel like has affected our whole life — physically, financially, emotionally and socially,” Whitney said. “When you’re going through something like this, it’s hard to put on a happy face and go out socially. It’s heartbreak — month after month, year after year.”
Many fertile couples have no concept of what an infertile couple goes through, she said. People don’t know what to say. The result is “a lot of meaningless platitudes and just plain lack of education.” At the top of the list is the adage, “just relax,” she said.
“What I want people to know is, they don’t have to go through this alone. There are resources out there. They don’t have to be ashamed.”
Infertility is defined as trying to get pregnant for a year without success. Since 2009, the World Health Organization has defined it as a disease. Dr. Robert Slackman, a reproductive endocrinologist for Carilion Clinic, estimated that about 10 percent of couples suffer from infertility.
About half the problems originate with the male and half with the female, and different factors may affect each, Slackman said.
On the male side those include sperm count, the ability of sperm to move and sperm shape. For women, common infertility causes include problems with ovulation, scarred fallopian tubes, abnormalities of the uterus and simply age. For many women, fertility begins declining in the mid-30s.
There are tests for all of these things, and treatments for many of them. But still, as many as 50 percent of infertile couples fall into a category called “unexplained,” Slackman said. And that can be very frustrating.
An added frustration is insurance coverage. Medicaid and Medicare don’t cover infertility treatment. Even coverage from private medical insurance is hit and miss, he said. The Andersons’ insurance doesn’t cover it.
Whitney Anderson terms that “financial infertility” — couples often can’t afford treatments that could otherwise help them get pregnant. A single instance of in vitro fertilization typically costs $10,000, she told me, and there are no guarantees.
The Anderson s paid $20,000 up front to a fertility practice in Charlottesville that offers multiple attempts at in vitro fertilization, until the first viable pregnancy is reached. She has been through six IVFs;four resulted in pregnancies and each ended in miscarriage.
A fifth miscarriage resulted from a pregnancy that developed naturally. None of them lasted more than 11 weeks.
Whitney said her doctors believe she may be having an immunological response that prevents her from carrying a pregnancy to term. “It’s possible my body attacks pregnancies. We don’t know,” she told me.
They’ve considered adoption and have filled out some of the required paperwork, b ut they want to exhaust all chances to have biological children first.
“We just felt pulled in this direction,” Whitney said.
Joined by scores of couples from around the country, the Andersons will be in Washington on May 8 to lobby for federal legislation that could help in the area of financial infertility.
It’s called the Family Act and it failed in Congress last year. It would provide a tax credit of up to 50 percent of the costs of infertility treatments, up to a cap of $12,650. To a certain extent, it’s similar to a tax credit available to couples who adopt children.
“One of the barriers to treatment is cost,” Whitney told me. “This is something that would help with that, and allow people to get the care they need for this disease. It’s a very treatable disease; it’s just that treatment is expensive.”
After they leave Washington, the Andersons will swing by Norfolk. The stop is an important one.
In that city is a 23-year-old married mother of two who’s carrying twins. The fetuses were created from Whitney’s eggs and Erick’s sperm — in their seventh attempt at in vitro fertilization.
The Andersons haven’t bought any baby clothes yet, or begun work on a nursery. The previous miscarriages have left the couple very guarded; they fear allowing their hopes to get too high.
But by May 9, the surrogate, who contacted Whitney through her blog, will be 12 weeks pregnant and beginning her second trimester. Most likely she will be well on her way to bearing two healthy babies this fall.
If all goes well, Whitney and Erick Anderson will be proud and overjoyed parents of two sometime in late October or early in November.
“Twins — that’s a handful,” I said. She nodded.
They can’t wait.
Join the conversation: Readers are sharing their support (and their own infertility struggles)
Weather JournalMix on Sat AM; coming blog changes