Jennifer and Josh Rutner had to cope with multiple failed IVF and IUI treatments. Their optimism was intact only because of the support system they had built around themselves. The Rutner’s were one couple out of thousands that suffer from infertility in silence—embarrassed, lost and struggling to find a way out. Jennifer was battling ‘unexplained infertility’ and doctors were left speechless.
But Jennifer kept blogging, kept tweeting and kept waking up everyday armed with suggestions from her support team. She kept going.
So why is infertility an issue left unspoken about? Why do couple’s feel as though they cannot openly discuss their personal difficulties with those they care about? Why is no one standing up and demanding that infertility be addressed?
“If you just look at 30-40 years ago, women couldn’t even speak about breast cancer, it was taboo and you didn’t talk about that subject,” Jennifer states. She goes on to say that, “women don’t talk about our breasts, uteruses, sex, ovaries… this whole dynamic happens around the social explanation regarding infertility, and the fact that infertility hasn’t really been recognized as a disease.”
Jennifer is rooted in her belief that infertility is a disease, a medical condition that needs to be legitimized. “My uterus and ovaries are sick and they don’t work they way they are supposed to and I cant make a healthy baby because I have a disease,” she passionately says. “This disease is centralized in my reproductive organs as opposed to my kidneys. And for some reason adults can’t quite process that, but my 12-year old cousin can.”
“Advocacy Day is one day each year, usually in the spring, where we bring advocates from all over the U.S. to have meetings with their elected representatives in Congress,” Jennifer says. “We have our community members go out there and get support for our family building measures.” Currently, there are three family building bills that RESOLVE is advocating for.
Jennifer describes herself as a dedicated advocate in the infertility world. “There needs to be mandatory insurance coverage for assisted reproductive technology treatments including IUI, IVF and surrogacy donation of sperm and eggs,” Jennifer states. “This is medicine that is being practiced for people that are facing illness and disease and they are barred from treatments because of finances.”
Jennifer says that financial limitations is the number one reason for why people can’t pursue medical treatment when it comes to infertility.
Financial constraints were a major reason Jennifer and Josh didn’t consider surrogacy after their infertility treatments had failed. “I had changed jobs in the midst of everything and lost insurance coverage,” Jennifer says. “And the average cost of an IVF cycle is $13,000 and doctors recommend 3 cycles to even have a shot at a successful pregnancy, which means we are talking about $40,000 in treatment costs and most people don’t have that kind of money to go through all of this because it is a huge financial burden to get the medical treatment you need to treat your disease.” On top of this, the Rutners were ready to be done with invasive medical intervention, so they discussed another route.
Their doctor’s kept recommending more IVF treatments but Jennifer and Josh took a step back and reevaluated their path. “Thankfully we both came to agree on adoption and so we worked hard to figure out what that meant for us and decided to move forward.”
With adoption their new goal, Jennifer and Josh found an agency in January 2012, and they worked relentlessly to make their dreams of parenthood come true. “We had just gotten our ‘faux-Ph.D.’ in reproductive science and now we were starting with adoption which was a whole other world we had to learn about,” Jennifer says with a laugh. “So we settled on domestic infant adoption and we found a wonderful agency we just loved. Working with them was amazing and they were incredibly supportive, they did a lot of education with us and that’s how we were matched with an expectant mother.”
It took the Rutners less than a year to officially adopt their daughter and welcome her into their family. “Our daughter was born in December, 2012. It moved very quickly for us and we were very lucky but were not expecting it.” Jennifer goes on to say that, “the average wait time at our agency was typically two years and we only waited two-and-a-half months. It was quite amazing. A huge surprise, the best surprise!”
Jennifer’s experience is not unlike many other women who struggle with similar shortcomings when it comes to their bodies. But what is unique about Jennifer is her intense dedication and passion for legislative reform in regards to infertility, “we need people in our community who are strong and have battled with this and overcome this to use their voice in this struggle.”
Just because Jennifer is a mother doesn’t mean she is turning her back on infertility or her community with whom she struggled, mourned and triumphed. “I am just starting to dip my toes back into the writing world again,” Jennifer says excitedly. “I have definitely begun thinking about what’s next for me and what it means to be an advocate. I think in some ways I am still finding my voice because I am not just telling my story anymore I am talking about broader issues that need a lot of attention and need action.”
Her hope is to collaborate on projects with other men and women in the infertility community to combat this disease and raise awareness for those who are new to this struggle.
I always end my conversations with the women I have interviewed thus far on the subject of infertility with this question: What would you say to couples that are still in the dark, quiet, lonely infertile place?
To that, Jennifer offers a lot of hope, optimism, encouragement and support:
Try to share it with someone in your life, even if you can only tell one other person, tell that one other person your story. It is such a hard thing to do, telling someone, but there is so much power and so much relief in even having at least one person knowing what you’re going through.
She also recommends getting online: “There are thousands of women and men blogging about this experience. There are dozens of people in your inner-circle that you might also be going through these things too. You just have to open up and go for it.”
Jennifer, being an advocate, also highly recommends RESOLVE as a resource, which hosts support groups across the country.
As we say goodbye, I am once again overwhelmed by the tenacity of women such as Jennifer. Smiling in the face of adversity takes not only an immeasurable amount of inner strength, but a great spirit as well. “I am so glad to have this opportunity to share these things with the everyone,” Jennifer says with what I imagine to be a radiant smile.
We are glad to have the humbling opportunity to share your story too, Jennifer!