By Rabbi Idit Solomon
18 families are waiting.
Actually many more are waiting. That is just a number of people given a few weeks notice that were able to pull together financial, medical and personal information to apply for financial assistance for fertility treatment. They all need a little help to build their families. Hasidah has heard from hundreds of people seeking help.
People applying for financial assistance desperately want to become parents and are trying to do so while maintaining some semblance of financial responsibility. But the costs are staggering. The average out-of-pocket expenses for a round of IVF are over $24,000. And IVF is like natural human reproduction meaning it doesn’t result in a baby more times that it does. The average out of pocket IVF expenses someone in treatment incurs is over $65,000.
While some people consider what will constitute a romantic enough evening to ring in their family building festivities, others are debating dipping into their retirement savings, or using their credit cards, or using the money saved for a home or a new business. Research has shown on multiple occasions that the number one issue people facing infertility have is the finances.
Applications came from across the country and across religious affiliations. Two applicants are carriers of genetic diseases that are fatal to their children if inherited and a third had a known genetic disease that among other effects, causes early ovarian failure i.e. infertility. The Jewish community does a lot of work to develop awareness about genetic diseases and how to screen for them. The goals of these programs are to help screen for carriers to make sure they can have healthy children. But that only happens if the alumni, meaning those who are found to have these diseases, also have the financial means for the in vitro fertilization (IVF) with pre-implantation genetic diagnostics (PGD) that is needed for them to make sure their children to not inherit these diseases.
Seven of the applications came from homes with one or more Jewish professionals. These are men and women who have committed themselves to building a Jewish future, for their children and ours. They include rabbis, educators, communal service workers and a cantor. They are making less money than they could had they used their skills in the for-profit world, they do not have any insurance to cover fertility expenses, many have graduate school debt, and they work in a Jewish environment that wonders, “Nu, when are you having kids?” It is time for us to preempt the question and make support available for them to build their families.
On some levels, financial assistance to build Jewish families is an obvious issue to address. The Jewish community’s numbers are shrinking. Jews are getting more and more education and having fewer children. Affiliation among young adults is dropping and numerous programs are funded at extraordinary levels to keep them in the fold. Why? So that they remain Jewish and have Jewish children etc. etc…. Except, some can’t.
Financially speaking, the community provides significant financial aide under the rubric of supporting Jewish families. We like to keep children Jewish. From birth to parenthood – free books, scholarship to pre-schools, day schools and religious schools; incentives for Jewish camps, vouchers for youth group weekends, free trips to Israel – even the honeymoon in Israel now! But when someone needs help with having the children, much more support is needed. Much more.
The surprising reoccurring theme from Hasidah applicants has been the gratitude. Thank you, they say, thank you for the opportunity to apply. They are often isolated and struggling to face this challenge with grace and they get a few moments of respite speaking with someone who understands and who knows that on top of the emotional, physical and spiritual strain, they are filling our applications forms for financial aide to get help.
The Jewish community needs to rise to this challenge. We need to recognize that our efforts for innovation, outreach, supporting Jewish families, applying Jewish wisdom, Birthrights and all the incentives for doing Jewish would be embraced unabashedly, enthusiastically, and gratefully by the many people hoping and praying to have a chance to have a child. We can make this happen.
18 families are waiting.
Rabbi Idit Solomon is the founder and CEO of Hasidah, a Jewish fertility support organization that builds awareness, develops network resources, and provides financial assistance for IVF.