ST. MARY'S COUNTY, Md. -- - Infertility affects more than 7 million women and their partners in the United States. They're many of our friends and neighbors here in Maryland.
This National Infertility Awareness Week, April 20-26, we're putting the disease in focus: the emotions, the cost and the unique ways people are building their families.
For years, infertility was somewhat of a taboo subject, something people hid from the world and didn't talk about.
Now more and more, people are opening up, sharing their struggles and enlisting help from family, friends, and even strangers on their hopeful journey to parenthood.
Tina and Jimmy Stone are one of those couples.
Their home is now full of laughter these days, and sometimes a little chaos, among their three kids. But they wouldn't have it any other way. Since their marriage 12 years ago, there was one thing they always knew.
"We were going to have a kid no matter what," said Jimmy Stone. "That's all we knew, that's all we focused on and we love being around other people's children. It's who we were."
They never anticipated a long road to parenthood fraught with pain. Tina got pregnant right away, but suffered a miscarriage. The couple continued trying for another year, but did not get pregnant.
"Thirty to 40 percent of all women who have infertility have some element of endometriosis," Mottla said. "It's a condition where the lining of the uterus gets outside the uterus onto other body organs or the ovaries, the tubes, the intestine."
The couple was fortunate to have insurance that covered in vitro fertilization. It's a process where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside of the body and then is transferred to a woman's uterus. But after three rounds using Tina's eggs, it didn't take. The news was devastating.
"We were picking ourselves up, we were, you kind of have to cross that off your list of things that you're going to do, you're not going to get pregnant, you're not going to have a baby that way," Tina said. "You can't."
The Stones again weighed their options and decided to adopt. They became parents to their daughter, Ella.
"It was an amazing experience and it helped us get past the mourning process of not having, to bear a child, but i wouldn't change that for the world," Jimmy said.
For couples struggling with infertility, the decision to grow their families isn't made lightly, and often comes with a great financial burden. The average cost of just one cycle of IVF is around $12,000 and the process often requires more than one cycle to be successful. Adoptions can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Using a surrogate to carry your child can soar past the $100,000 mark.
"You've heard of people using up all of their credit cards, people taking loans out, refinancing their homes," said Barbara Collura, executive director of Resolve, the National Infertility Association .
Maryland is one of only 15 states with laws that require employers to provide insurance coverage for infertility treatment. But Collura says even then there are limitations.
Small employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempted from Maryland's mandate. Very large companies with more than 200 employees often have what are called, 'self-insured' plans, which are also exempt.
Also, some treatments aren't covered. For example, if a couple needs to use donor eggs or a gestational surrogate, those costs aren't covered.
"Even with a great mandate, there are a lot of people in Maryland who are still having to pay out of pocket," Collura said.
The Stones found that out when they decided to try IVF again. Their insurance only covered three cycles, which they exhausted the first time around, so they had to get creative.
"We finished off the basement of our house and we rented it out to help come up with the cost to go towards paying for it and we reached out to people to see if they would be able to help with it," Jimmy said.
This time, the Stones knew they would have to use donor eggs, which is more expensive. To bring the costs down, they decided to do a shared donor program where eggs from one donor are used by more than one couple.
"We can share eggs between two recipient couples or maybe even three with very high producing donors, reducing the cost, enabling more patients to access this treatment and keeping our high success rates up," Dr. Mottla said.
They also took advantage of a unique program offered by Shady Grove called Shared Risk. It gave them the security of knowing they'd either have a baby or still be able to pursue other options if Tina didn't get pregnant.
"To us that meant, we're going to
spend all of this money to do this thing, but if it doesn't work, we'll get our money back and we'll go adopt one way or another, it's going to work out," Tina said.
Just like they thought, it worked out --times two.
"Baby A and Baby B," Tina said.
"I went to the dollar store and bought every little dollar pregnancy test they had, just so I could watch the little lines getting darker and darker and darker," she added.
Twins Riggin and Schuyler have completed this family. It was a long, trying journey, but the Stones now have the family they've always wanted. They're sharing their story to show other couples dealing with the same struggles that they're not alone, and though there's plenty of heartache, there are also happy endings.
"Never give up if you want a family," Jimmy Stone said. "I mean that's all I can really say. You will find ways to expand your family."
Shady Grove Fertility Center is the largest in the country, with several locations in Maryland alone.
Often with fertility treatments, IVF is the most widely known, but it's really for the most serious cases. Mottla says there are other treatments that are far less costly and oftentimes may be all a couple needs to conceive a child.
In 20 years, Shady Grove has helped couples bring 27,000 babies into the world.