What Does It Take To Become A Single Mom In Indiana?

Illustration by Katarzyna Bogdanska

It’s 7:30 in the evening and I am sitting down for the first time. As I look over at my sliding glass door and my floor-length curtains now tied up four feet above the ground, I see this has become a toddler’s house. The kitchen floor is caked in applesauce. The living room is a minefield of wooden blocks, Legos, and sturdy board books. The couch holds a tall pile of tiny clothes that still need to be folded and put away. It’s 7:30 in the evening, and there are reminders all around me that my day isn’t over quite yet.

Life in this house is a nonstop symphony of beautiful chaos. But I asked for all of it. I am a single mother by choice.

When I think of all the things that happen in just one day in our life, I realize how truly lazy I was before I became a mom. This isn’t a brag; this is just the truth of parenting. In one hour of pre-baby life, I would still be glued to the television, thinking about running the dishwasher. One hour in post-baby life is a valuable commodity not to be squandered. In 60 minutes, I can do a load of laundry, put dinner in the oven, wrangle a squirmy toddler for a diaper change, de-scale and sanitize a dehumidifier, sweep a floor, and run through four animated readings of my son’s favorite book.

But, again, I wouldn’t trade any of it—not the physical and emotional toll, the frustrating labyrinth of insurance regulations and state laws, or the mountain of money that it took for me to bring a life into this world.

Before I became Mama, life was good. It was eventful and filled with wonderful things: great family and friends, a rewarding career, and activities and hobbies I enjoyed.

At 38, I was living a good life, but to a degree, I was just existing. I was fulfilled. But I wasn’t whole because I had no purpose. That was waiting to be born.

For as long as I can remember, motherhood has always been my endgame. Growing up in a house with four siblings, family meant everything. The noise, the laughter, the yelling, the backpacks on the floor, the soccer games … that life. That was the existence I saw for myself. Every path I took and every choice I made, consciously or subconsciously, was done with this purpose in mind.

Motherhood wasn’t an option; it was destiny.

In my 20s, when I was still getting acquainted with myself, I figured I would start a family the traditional way. The husband, the kids, the matching Honda sedans. In my late 30s, when I was truer and more accustomed to my personality and needs, I stopped questioning why I wasn’t more eager to get married. I wasn’t opposed to marriage, but at that point, it felt like I would be resigning myself to marriage versus choosing it. I hadn’t met the right person for me, and I wasn’t going to force that type of relationship even if it presented a sizable obstacle in starting a family.

I was nearing 40, I was single, and I wanted to be a mother. These factors could have been setbacks to be overcome all on their own, but, as I later learned, I was also battling infertility in Indiana. If I wanted a baby, I wasn’t just going to have to jump over hurdles—I was going to have to clear the high jump and run a marathon.

“We thought it was going to be a chip shot. We were wrong.” That’s what my Indianapolis-based fertility specialist told me after my seventh failed round of intrauterine insemination (IUI). Through IUI, my fertility specialist had placed the sample from my anonymous donor directly into my uterus and near my waiting egg, yet I had still not gotten pregnant.

Just months before this dark and tearful conversation, I had committed to the fertility process and to becoming a single mother by choice.  From there the journey took off with lightning speed. I had an initial visit with my OB/GYN to discuss my plans, a consultation with a fertility specialist to identify the best options for me, I had chosen an anonymous sperm donor who I had hoped would help me start my family. As quickly as I checked off all the boxes on my fertility care checklist, I was  in the stirrups for my first IUI, and then my second, and then my seventh.

All of the preconception work-ups suggested my chances of getting pregnant looked favorable. My blood work had been great and my reproductive organs were clear and functioning. I was an overall healthy person. Even with all this, and trying almost everything possible to get a woman pregnant, it wasn’t working and no one was sure why. I was told that while my age was probably a factor, that my infertility was unexplained.

It was at this point that my fertility specialist told me that my best chance for a family was through IVF. My doctor left the room and his nurse walked in carrying a large binder that mapped out the treatment plan in great detail. Tucked in the back pocket, behind pamphlets for high-interest personal loans, was a pricing sheet.

For a woman of my age, one round of IVF without medication costs $21,000 with no guarantees or refunds. The expense was in addition to the $12,000 I had already spent trying to conceive through IUI.

I was floored, scared, and, honestly, a little lost. I didn’t know where to go from here but knew I didn’t have $21,000—a staggering amount that would come entirely out of my own pocket. Fertility treatments aren’t covered by insurance companies in Indiana because Indiana doesn’t require them to be covered.

But that didn’t stop me.

When I started the IUI process, I told myself I would give it three tries. No more. No less. Three tries and then I would walk away.

Then the third attempt failed—along with the fourth and eventually seventh. But I couldn’t give up. IVF was a viable medical option, but not a financial one. I was bending over backwards just to afford my “non-aggressive” treatment. How was I going to afford these extreme costs?

Fueled by naivete, fear, and a resolve to prove my body wrong, I started researching for an answer.

I learned that only 18 states in the country currently mandate fertility coverage for their residents. I discovered that in 2017, infertility was identified as a disease by the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. I found that despite the 8 million babies born via fertility treatment, that IVF is still considered experimental and a luxury. That of the one million Hoosier women in their childbearing years, 200,000 are in need of fertility assistance in order to conceive, but will not be extended benefits through insurance.

That echoed the experience of a young woman I came across in an old news story on FOX-59. The woman was about my age, had struggled to conceive through basic fertility care, and was told that IVF was her only hope. She spoke about how expensive fertility treatment was in Indiana and why insurance was of no help. She mentioned  a place in Syracuse, New York, called CNY Fertility that charged her a relatively low price of $3,900 per IVF cycle—a clinic that had helped her become pregnant with her twins.

I reached out to the woman from the news story through Facebook, and we scheduled a time to chat. We took sips of lukewarm coffee as we chased her twins around the living room. She told me that CNY was real and explained the process. More importantly, she gave me courage and hope. I continued my research and eventually found and connected with another travel patient who had gone public with her story. She was a nurse who also became pregnant with twins. And after a phone call that elicited yet another positive review, my next call was to CNY.

Still, money remained an obstacle.

I considered moonlighting at Starbucks since the company provides insurance benefits and fertility coverage to all employees, but the time necessary to be deemed a vested employee was more than I had to give.

Instead, I shifted gears and started driving for Uber. I picked up fares on my way to and from work. I drove in the evenings, on weekends, and on holidays. Any free time I had was spent in my Accord trying to grab every extra dollar I could.

My largest sum of money came from a cash-out refinance on my house. This was a pretty drastic step, but it only added a couple of years to my mortgage, and hopefully a lifetime of happiness to my world.

Once the house was closed, I had enough money to travel and enough money to cover more than one round of treatment. Just in case.

In March 2018, I began my IVF cycle. As a travel patient, a lot of the baseline testing was done in Indy. I had my blood drawn at a lab in Castleton. I had my ultrasounds done at a radiology center in Carmel, one floor below my previous fertility clinic. Each day I injected myself with expensive medications. Every morning a new bruise, every evening another shot. For the shots I was too chicken to administer myself, or the ones in my rear end that I couldn’t reach, I recruited friends. I was given injections at a Chatard football tailgate, in the bathroom at Livery, and in my aunt’s living room as her family faced the TV to watch a rerun of The Office.

The injections were supposed to increase the number of eggs available to be retrieved for fertilization. For someone my age, the hope was to start with 10 eggs, fertilize eight, and hope that one or two would result in a pregnancy.

At my last ultrasound, the tech found eight follicles (sacs that often hold eggs) on my ovaries. I was ecstatic.

Armed with a solid Spotify playlist and joined by my best friend, Hillary, riding shotgun, I drove the nine hours to Syracuse for my retrieval. When we got to our hotel, I administered my last hormone injection and tried to sleep.

The author and her son at home in November.

The next morning at the clinic, Hillary sat in the waiting room reading a dated People magazine while I was taken back to a treatment room and sedated. When I woke up, the nurse told me the retrieval was not what they had hoped. They had harvested three eggs. Eventually, two fertilized eggs were transferred back into my body and Hillary and I returned home.

Twelve days later, I learned the procedure had failed—I wasn’t pregnant. I took a day to cry and eat junk food.

In April, a month after the failure, I went through the same drill all over again. Blood work, shots, bruises, ultrasounds, nine-hour car ride, two eggs retrieved and fertilized, transfer, blood work, sad phone call, devastation.

I had now done the most aggressive thing you can do to have a baby, twice—and still no baby.

Medically, the doctors made some tweaks to my protocol before the third attempt. We decided to do a less-is-more approach with medication. The hope was for quality eggs and less focus on the quantity. Emotionally I made tweaks as well. I stopped Googling every feeling and every symptom I had. I took walks, listened to music, and spent time with friends and family. I tried to be as blissfully ignorant as possible.

I went back to New York. Two eggs retrieved, two fertilized, two transferred. Three days before my scheduled pregnancy test, I turned 40 years old—and felt every bit of it. I had a constant need to pee. I felt nauseous one day and fine the next. But then I started having cramps and feared the worst. On August 14 I went in at 7:30 a.m. for my blood draw. Thirty minutes later, I was home in bed to cry. I knew it hadn’t worked.

At 9 a.m. my phone rang. It was the nurse from CNY.

I was pregnant.

On April 19, 2019, I gave birth to my 9-pound, 13-ounce boy named Wyatt. He is everything I ever wanted, and more wonderful than I could have ever expected.

Over the past few months, he’s really started to develop a personality and expresses his likes and dislikes. He loves to be outside at all hours of the day in any kind of weather pushing his bubble lawn mower all across the patio. He hates having his nose cleaned. Wyatt is a social butterfly who likes to FaceTime with our family during breakfast in the morning and dinner every night.  He does not enjoy being put into his car seat. Wyatt sings silly songs, nearly on pitch while pounding on the keys of our upright piano, and enjoys listening to everything from Hall & Oates’s “You Make My Dreams” and Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady.” He hogs his crayons, and doesn’t like it when you ask him to stop eating rocks. Wyatt has not read To Kill a Mockingbird quite yet, but Time for Bed, Pete the Kitty and Doc McStuffins Boo to You! are paving the wave for the books without pictures to come.

I tell him how smart, how sweet, and how cute he is every day. I try not to harp too much on his looks, but it’s hard not to. He gets those big squishy cheeks from me, and while I’m not sure where his long dark eyelashes come from, I am quite certain that most people would pay good money to have them. Beyond that, I see so much of my Grandpa Gene who passed away in 2015. Wyatt makes so many of his faces and has so many of his mannerisms it sometimes catches me off guard.

The other thing that throws me is when I notice similarities between Wyatt and baby pictures of his donor, like the pointy shape of their ears. It’s a detail that reminds me of everything it took for my son to come into the world.

Wyatt is a biological, statistical, and financial miracle. Becoming pregnant cost me $36,000. In the grand scheme of things, the money seems like the smallest price to pay, but should have been an unnecessary sum.

Prior to passing its state coverage mandate, the New York State Department of Financial Services conducted a financial analysis of the impact of fertility coverage on insurance premiums. The research suggested that the inclusion of IVF and fertility preservation could impact premiums by .05 to 1.1 percent. If this math were to hold true in Indiana, according to data provided by the Kaiser Family, this would result in an increase of $17 a month for an employer-based family plan.

What would a change in law mean to 200,000 Hoosiers struggling to conceive?

While our story ended happily, it could have just as easily ended before it began. That’s what $17 a month represents. It means that the story isn’t over, that the dream is not lost, and that the life you always wanted is still in reach and not a nine-hour car ride away.