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Milwaukee woman turns to volunteer organization to highlight IVF journey during the pandemic

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Posted at 5:21 AM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 07:50:30-04

Couples turning to in-vitro fertilization or IVF to start a family didn't have it easy at the height of the pandemic. Fertility clinics closed and even when they opened back up, some had a hard time getting their essential IVF medication due to pandemic-related drug shortages.

"Going through any sort of fertility treatment is extremely stressful. It's mentally stressful, it's emotionally exhausting and it's physically exhausting. And then you add an extra layer of there being a global pandemic," said Alexandra Maier.

Maier of Milwaukee says she struggled to get pregnant for five years, and in March of 2020, right when she was about to try out IVF, Covid hit and her clinic closed.

Maier says she was told time and time again her fertility treatment wasn't considered essential. Months in, Covid restrictions eased, and her treatment picked back up.

After one round of IVF, she welcomed a healthy baby into this world. Getting to that point, she says, wasn't easy. Covid testing requirements were part of the process.

"Something that I experienced was needing to test for Covid before each treatment cycle, and if you tested positive, that delayed your ability to start your treatment."

"And during IVF, they test you a second time, and if you catch Covid in this window, not only is that cycle canceled but you lose all the money you put into that cycle," she said.

At one point, Maier says one of the IVF medications she needed wasn't available at her specialty pharmacy. Fortunately, another location ended up having it.

"There was a bit of panic, thinking if I don't have access to this medication, if they don't get it in stock at this time, what would that mean for this round of IVF?"

Maier wanted to document how she made it through all the ups and downs. She turned to the Pandemic Pregnancy Project, a Milwaukee-based volunteer organization founded in December of 2021.

"Really it's to shed a light and archive and make history of what people actually went through when they were pregnant," said N'Jameh Russell-Camara, founder of PPP.

Within that project, Russell-Camara started a series called "Pandemic Pregnancies and Popsicles!"

Read more about the project here and here.

"She was one of the only people who contacted us about her experience with IVF," she said.

Russell-Camara is highlighting more than two dozen stories of people experiencing pregnancy, birth, and adoption during the pandemic. They're from all over the country. Anyone sharing can remain anonymous.

"There's not enough talk about what did this time bring in terms of the trauma and the mental health needs for those who are experiencing pregnancy, birth, and adoption and all that goes with trying to do that," she said.

Maier says one round of her IVF treatment costs $18,000.

She says the price tag was one of the major reasons why she waited so long to start the process.

"The sticker shock was scary," said Maier. "There are plenty of people who are struggling silently. And for many people, the cost is a significant barrier."

"I am so lucky the first round of IVF worked for me, but that is not common," she said.

As it stands now, Wisconsin health insurance providers are not required to cover fertility treatments or medications affiliated with treatment.

A recent bill introduced in the State legislature called the WI Building Families Act would call for health insurance plans to cover infertility services. But the bill was never called to a vote.

Maier is thinking about expanding her family. While the world recovers from the damage Covid has done, the virus is still a lingering threat.

"I do worry that if I were to catch Covid not only would I be delaying treatments but I could be bringing that to a young child and my entire family."

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