Shedding baby shame | News Feature | Creative Loafing Charlotte
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Shedding baby shame 

Women struggling with infertility in N.C. see little support from lawmakers, or society.

In one month alone, it took Livia Furr at least 192 hours to try to get pregnant. That's how much time she spent on buses traveling between Charlotte and New York City, where she met with the country's best infertility doctor.

In the middle of any given week in March, she'd work a half day at her job at a local blood bank, board a bus in Charlotte at about 6 p.m. and sleep through most of the 16-hour trip. She'd arrive in New York in the morning and hang out in Manhattan before she'd meet the guy with the highest success rate. After the visit, where her doctor would monitor an ongoing treatment, she'd walk around the city for a few hours playing tourist: visiting landmarks or snapping photos of the Trump Tower or Empire State Building. She once joined a crowd of a live television show and can remember seeing Kelly Osbourne at a Wheat Thins event. She thought the ball that drops at midnight would be bigger.

As the sun would begin to set, she'd head to a bus station for the trip home. Sometimes her mom would be with her, especially when Furr, 26, anticipated bad news. And though she wishes he could have come every time, her husband Bryon, who works the evening shift at Dave & Buster's, was only able to come twice. The couple's insurance plans cover testing for infertility, but once she was diagnosed with a medical condition that prevents her from ovulating, coverage stopped. They've paid for the eight or so infertility treatments she's been through out of pocket, including doctor's visits. After about four years of trying, they're $20,000 in debt.

Furr doesn't hesitate to recall painful details for the prying stranger in a coffee shop on South Boulevard. In fact, she tells most of her story, even the time she couldn't emotionally bear to attend her godson's first birthday party, with a shy but cheerful tone in her voice and a smile. Her struggle to have a child has, without a doubt, taken a toll. But the way she tells it, there are people in the world who are much worse off than she is.

Furr is one of about 212,480 women in North Carolina who have trouble getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to birth, according to Census and other data from 2013, the most recent year available. That's about 10 percent of the child bearing-age population.

With only 35 fertility specialists in the state, limited infertility support groups and no laws that require insurance companies to cover infertility treatments, national infertility organization RESOLVE recently ranked North Carolina among states with the fewest resources for women who are unable to get pregnant. Only about five states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland, scored well, which meant they have laws that require insurance companies to cover treatments and have some (though not many) support groups.

"There are members of your state legislature who have gone through infertility," said Barbara Collura, the nonprofit's president, over the phone. "You probably have a family member or dear friend who has gone through it. They're not talking about it, and so we, I think, need to as a community realize that raising our voices does make a difference."

About a year and a half ago, Furr found a local support group only after talking to strangers at a local lab. Google couldn't even find her any at the time. "If I was shy, I probably wouldn't have found it." It took her about three moths to go to the first meeting. "At that point, I wasn't what we call 'out of the fertility closet,'" she said. "My family didn't know, my husband's family didn't know. My friends didn't know. It was a very private thing."

She compares the way society talks about infertility to the way society used to talk about cancer — in that no one talks about it.

"With women, it makes them feel like there's something wrong with them. 'Why can we not do what every other woman in the world can do without trying?' To actually come out and tell people, it's sort of like coming out as a homosexual. It's a big deal, and you're not sure how everyone is going to react to it. Not everyone is supportive."

Someone close to Furr told her that if God had meant for her to have kids, she would have them, and treatments were a waste of money. "That ultimately is what made me tell people. I wondered if she knew that, at that time, we had been struggling for four or five years."

It's a common reaction, especially in Bible-belt states.

"When your pastor is up on the pulpit, talking about parents, having kids, using that as an example, it's hard, " Collura said. "What we hear a lot is about people's faith and how it's kind of shaken when they go through infertility. It's such a foreign concept of, 'Wait a minute, I thought I was meant to be a mom. I thought I was meant to have kids. This is all part of God's plan, and now this isn't happening.'"

For Furr, infertility treatments are a more viable option for having kids than adopting, even if it means maxing out her credit cards. Adoption is not only extremely detailed, it's also expensive (most agencies require $5,000 up front), and if you're adopting a baby, the power is entirely in the birth mother's hands. She can have the child and decide after a few days not to give it up. Though the thought gives her chills, it's still an option.

Furr keeps a list of baby names she started when she was a kid. She thinks about the day one of the treatments will be successful. She and her husband have agreed they'd call in sick, visit her OBGYN and immediately work to keep it. Most woman wait the doctor-recommended 12 weeks to tell their friends and family, but Furr struggles with when to share the news. If she tells people she's pregnant and something happens early in the pregnancy — the risk is higher due to her condition and the treatments — she'll have to tell people that, too.

"You're going to want to scream it from the rooftops, but you have to keep in mind if something does happen, you have to scream that from the rooftops."

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