In vitro fertilization, also known as IVF, has expanded the possibilities of who can start a family. This scientific innovation has helped to circumvent biological barriers to entry that have subjected women to condemnation throughout history. The newfound ability to begin a family has also accelerated the LGBTQ community’s acceptance into the American imagination.
What is often neglected in the conversation around IVF though is how access is complicated by socioeconomic class, race and sexuality. This treatment is incredibly expensive — the average cost for one IVF cycle is $12,000. For heterosexual couples who are struggling with infertility, the same factors that are making it difficult for them to conceive will likely make multiple cycles necessary.
And that number doesn’t account for everything leading up to the decision to participate in IVF, consultations, medications and insurance co-pays — the list goes on and on. All of this can amount to enormous sums that must come out-of-pocket because of how some insurances define infertility: as an “inability to achieve pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected heterosexual intercourse.”
The definition is incredibly narrow and fails to reflect the various types of families in this country. Given those circumstances, IVF only fosters inclusivity on the most superficial level — dialogue. And while social movements will help push against the boundaries, policy that affects people’s lives in such a visceral way must mirror the changes that have already taken place.
The treatment isn’t just exclusive in a semantic sense. Pregnancy shouldn’t have a literal price tag when someone needs help along the process. The ability to comfortably participate in this gamble is something afforded only to class-privileged individuals, which often are not people of color. When you are being depended on for financially supporting your existing family, how selfish must it feel to burn through money in an endeavor that is likely to fail and non-essential.
How have we arrived at a point wherein boundaries have been drawn around something as natural as pregnancy? While the process is intrinsically expensive, if it’s all the same science, it should not vary from country to country.
Yet, IVF treatments are more expensive for women in the United States compared to anywhere else in the world. Given that race remains a central conflict here, it’s possible the pricing likely follows the same pattern. The white nuclear family is important enough to the American identity that existing inequalities are being factored into pricing of fertilization.
Fortunately, IVF is not the only available option for starting a family. Adoption is not only more financially viable for the general public, but also the adopted child would be a part of the family as much as biological progeny. However, there are still legal barriers in place to police who get to start a family in this country.
It is important that this topic is coming into light. Those who have been able to get pregnant on their own and afford to raise the child dominate the conversation around child-rearing. IVF and its controversies at least ensures that this trend will not continue.