We talk about the challenges of adopting, fostering, IVF, or third-party reproduction while being in the military. We talk with the co-founders of the Military Family Building Coalition, Katy Bell Hendrickson and Ellen Gustafson.
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Welcome, everyone to creating a family talk about adoption and foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport, I am the host. Well as a director of creating a family.org. You can find lots of other information for adoption or foster care or kinship care or raising kids with trauma or whatever. You can find all that information at the creating a family.org website. Today we're going to be talking about family building challenges for military families. We'll be covering adoption, we'll be covering IVF we'll be covering third party reproduction. It is a topic that I find fascinating and I also know how important it is to so many of our listeners. We will be talking today with the co founders of the military family building coalition, Ellen Gustafson and Katie Bell Hendrickson Ellen Gustafson is a social entrepreneur, author, activist, and most importantly, she is a mom and a military spouse. She has done extensive work towards food system change author in the book, we the eaters, if we can change dinner, we can change the world. She and her husband live with their three miracle preschoolers in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The other co founder of the military family building coalition is Katie bill Hendrickson. She is a military spouse to a retired career Navy Special Warfare Officer and the mother of five children. She and her husband have experienced with adoption, assisted reproduction and third party reproduction. Basically, she's kind of done it all. Katie has led multiple workshops on family building, covering the topics of assisted reproductive technology and adoption. in her spare time, a big joke, she has five kids, but in her spare time, she is an architect, and she lives in Washington DC with her husband, her youngest son and her twin daughters. Welcome Ellen and Katie to creating a family I am so looking forward to talking with you guys,
for having us.
It's really a pleasure to be here.
Yeah. So Katie, I know, you know, of creating a family in the podcast, through your journey, why don't we start, I think it would be helpful just to inform our listeners, what your how you came to be interested in the topics and how you formed your family.
Right? So Ellen and I are both military spouses. And, you know, our journeys embarked differently, but but came to some of the same conclusions which it's, it's really challenging, if you're not able to rely on conventional reproduction to build your family, while in the military, or, you know, while in service, you are really looking at a process that is very much do it yourself, or another term is your on your own. Despite all the many things that military life and or resources provide members, this is the one area that there really is no support, very little advocacy, and very, very, very few resources. So my husband and I's journey really began with the adoption of my three sons, I was widowed. And we learned a lot about adoption, the term that we worked with was paternally orphaned in order to and it falls kind of under the category of independent adoption, in order to legally adopt the boys into the family. And then from there to continue to build our family, we explored further looking at domestic adoption, but military life kind of intersected those efforts. And after about two and a half years, we we really timed out with multiple home studies. And something that's triggered every time you change your address. And that could be simply changing an address, honestly, across the street or three blocks away. And that happens a lot of military members. So at that point, we turn to assisted reproduction, and really thought we'd have science on our side. And we did you know, through the advances of cryopreservation, I could really make good use of the time that I had to really pursue the science of this because of course, my military partner, my husband was geographically separated or unaccompanied. And that's another challenge that many military members have, are simply not in the same setting enough. So cryopreservation, you know, really became my best friend. And we were able to after a few years of trying through assisted reproduction, to welcome our twin daughters. So I think through all of that something that Ellen and I shared was really, boy did we have to learn this the hard way? And why was it something that created terrific stressors, certainly, financially, it is overwhelming to most military men. Steve and conceive of how to afford and budget for anything outside of having your family really conventionally. And, you know, it was really in that process and and certainly our triumphs and during our family that Ellen and I then wanted to pivot and say, Okay, how, how do we change this? And I'll let Ellen share, you know, how she came about her process, because I think this is where you really get a sense of our overlap and where this really became a passion project.
Yeah, Ellen. Yeah. Your journey?
Sure. Yeah. So I married into the military and was, you know, not not I was living in New York City and, and working and, and did not envision myself as, you know, the classic military spouse, but but sort of, you know, I don't think anyone does. And then all of a sudden, here you are. So well, my husband and I, we started to start to think about, you know, building our family having children, we got pregnant. And we knew that in my family's female lineage, my maternal lineage, there was something that would happen to almost all males in utero, where they would be stillborn sometime in the late second trimester. And unfortunately, we didn't know what it was. And also, unfortunately, there wasn't sort of a good pathway to finding out. So I got pregnant for the first time. It turned out that it was a male, we got the early testing. My husband unfortunately deployed a few days after we found out that it was a male and while he was deployed, we we did have a stillborn like many of the women in my family so you know, dealing with you know, labor and delivery of a stillborn while my husband was deployed, we immediately even for him on the phone on a really you know, choppy line from from deployment to we're talking to the doctors and saying, you know, what, what can we do? I don't want to just get pregnant with another male and have this happen again. My mom had had four male stillbirth and I was a perfectly healthy girl. So so we knew it was something we just didn't know what? And the answer the medical answer was, well, you should do IVF so that you can test the embryos and know that you're having females now, I wouldn't say that's a medical answer, but it's certainly avoiding a major heartache and problem and physical challenge to do IVF and preference the female embryos so the next call you know, after I was recovering from my my labor and delivery before my husband got home was to try care to say Listen, I have a TRICARE is the Military Health Care System. And I called to say I have a medically necessary IVF that we need to start on if we're going to you know, have children without costing you this this stillbirth, you know, hospital stay again? And the answer was a blanket. No. So we embarked on IVF, we took us six rounds, because we kept making males. So I don't know what it's got. It was kind of a funny, funny twist. And then, during the time of our of our IVF process, we actually found some amazing researchers at the Mayo Clinic who took on our, our medical mystery, and discovered the cause we had our I have a carrier on my X chromosome have a rare genetic issue called the ipex syndrome, which leads to some males being born with it and then dying in their early youth. And then for my case, babies dying in utero. So So fetuses dying in utero. So long story short, at the end of finding out we had some male embryos that did not have ipex, we had a female embryo that was fine. We had, you know, a known issue that we could now test for, I got naturally pregnant with a girl and had my daughter First, well, first after four years, and then when she was when she was still pretty young. We were facing a move across the country. And I didn't want to move with my embryos. Because as you can imagine, in the military life, this happens often where you might be making embryos in one coast where like we were in San Diego and moving to the other in Virginia Beach. So before we moved, I put two of the embryos in a male and a female and those are my twin two and a half year olds. So we, you know, military life complicated this incredibly and the cost was astronomical for six full IVF processes with all the genetic testing. But at the end of it, of course, we have three perfectly healthy children and a huge will to fight.
I can only imagine. Hey, let me pause here for a minute to tell you about a free educational resource. Thanks to our partners, the Jackie being Family Foundation, we can offer you five free online courses through our creating a family ed.org online Parent Training Center. That's the creative A family edge.org. It's an online Parent Training Center. When you go to Bitly, bi, T dot l, y, slash j, b, f support, you can see the five courses like maintaining relationships while you were fostering and adopting. There are others as well. They're great courses, they are provided free. Thanks to Jackie being family, you can use the coupon JB f strong at checkout, you don't have to remember the coupon. It's right on the page and the page is Bitly bi T dot l, y, slash j. b f support? Well, the first question I wanted to ask you, it's almost redundant at this point. What are some of the challenges of being in the military? And let's start with adoption? We're gonna then talk about fertility treatment. What are this is going to be kind of like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, what are the what are the challenges? Oh, let me count the ways, right?
Yeah, that's actually a great segue. Well, you know, there are so many different ways. But we can jump in? Yeah. Well, so certainly,
okay, so let's, let's start with adoption. What are some of the, one of the ones you mentioned, Katie was that your home study, you every time you move or do something, you have to alter your home study. And movement is a sometimes very, very big movement. And when it also just major changes to the, to the to the home or deployment or whatever, all of that would change your home study. So that would make it very challenging. And in what ways give us some concrete examples of how just how the home study is impacted by your service
or your home, you did a nice job and and really understanding that a home study, it's funny, I you know, before I became familiar with it, you know, I probably would have assumed like anyone just from the title that I've I've prepared a nice, neat organized home for a child to be welcomed into. And it's it's really more about the background study and the state doing its due diligence, and the adoption process. So anything that triggers a change in that document, and it's a pretty complex document is going to mean you need to go through either a full new home study or a revised home study. But just the cost of that is a barrier. Let's start with that. The home study itself, and my numbers might be our ballpark, but there it's between three to $5,000. So we had, you know, as most military members do, we don't control our orders assignments, you may think you're somewhere for two years, it turns out, it's it's a one year tour, you know, so so movement, changing event of an address is a major impact. But that address can also just be, hey, we're in military quarters, and now they're renovating the townhomes that I'm in. So they're moving everyone with these addresses over to this part of the base, you haven't even had a PCs, but you're still going to have to redo it.
Make sure from the acronym PCs permanent change of
station. So you know, you may have done your best to calculate. Great, we're here, we've got two years to get through the adoption process. I know that we've got this billet, but you're living in military quarters, and just an address change simply to your quarters. Even if you know, my point is it's 100 yards away, you're still going to have to go through a new home study. But what couples with that is really the background check. And for military members, that is a very labor intensive process. So some of the questions, of course, in the background check is you know, how often have you been in a foreign country? And so you know, Elena and I's husbands would would say, Well, okay, wait a minute, 72 hours, how long do you have to be in a foreign country? to actually have to answer that question. It is, it's very, very complicated for military members to move through that background check process, without it being a major, major effort from a document standpoint. And that's something we're super sympathetic to here at the military family building coalition. And, and one of the pieces that we're really looking at trying to change is, is getting support for that because that just the home study alone can often force the military member to time out before they can get that background check. And that actual document completed, which is the first step to being approved for adoption. Another example of a barrier is that each state handles adoptions so differently. So as Ellen mentioned, Justin, their family building process, we're constantly dealing with moves, so where we may start an adoption effort in one state like California, we Then get orders to move to Florida and find out that the laws there are very different. So, you know, one of the greatest challenges, of course, is just maintaining that military lifestyle, which has a lot of movement, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of unknowns that you don't control. Now match that up with the adoption process, which is also a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of unknowns. And a
lot of little involved a lot of other people outside of yourself making decisions.
Absolutely. So in some ways, you know, I've always felt that, and all the families we work with who have been successful, it really does feel like it is an incredible triumph, to have all of those things align. And when someone has been able to do it very smoothly, or have an experience that seems much like the way in which the general population can anticipate in adoption, I'm always so happy, because it is, it is more rare that everything can can get lined up so carefully. But I will also say that from the hardship of that, I think we see within our military community, such incredible aptitude for adoption, I think it is within military DNA, to be able to handle very high emotional, high touch events with a relative, relatively high threshold for unknown, that is a very, very unique combination in a resiliency mindset,
right? Ellen? Is it possible? So let's say you're going through an adoption, and you know, all right, there, you know, we've got to be in a set place, because a birth mom has aren't expected mom has chosen us as a family before the baby is born. And we need to remain in this location long enough for nothing to change in our home study. And for because she wants us around. And so will the military take any of that into consideration when deciding on a move for the family?
Well, what's interesting about this, and also things like going through an IVF process, or, you know, even even being pregnant, there are programs that the military has, has really tried to capture, you know, that human experience and say, okay, there's an exceptional situation in this family where they need to stay in one, you know, duty location for a little longer. So there at times, that can be considered, in our experience a lot of those things, whether for adoption situations, or for things like IVF, it's it's pretty variable, which is, which is makes it hard for for us, I mean, some people can kind of figure that pathway out and make it happen for their family, and some people can't. So I would say, you know, I think the military is an institution, and the leadership in the military is very conscious of some of these things. And so so, you know, maybe the right boss would kind of, you know, make sure that that happens for you. But I think there's not necessarily a universality of sort of, you know, the whole family building set of policies that people do need to, to, you know, to make that the case for everything. And, you know, just just to make an important note for all listeners, when we're talking about adoption and assisted reproduction. There are two decision making bodies that that we need to consider when we're looking at the military. One is the military itself. And so some of these, you know, the exceptional family program, I mean, those some of those things are built into the military itself. But other elements like, for example, the fact that TRICARE, the Military Health Care does not cover non coital reproductive assistance. That is a congressional rule. That is congressional policy. That's something that every single citizen that's listening to this can do something about. It's not the military saying, we don't want to cover these treatments, these medical treatments for our military members, it's Congress making that decision. So the military is kind of part of the the sort of solution set for making family building easier. But Congress and the American public are another big part. And I think that's an important thing for people to know.
We're going to talk about TRICARE in just a minute, because you're right, that also plays pretty heavily. Before we move off of adoption. I would assume that adopting from foster care, which is the the majority of adoptions in the US. So I'm assuming that adoptions from foster care are equally if not more complicated in the military. Ellen, are you familiar with that form of adoption and how that might be impacted?
Yeah, Katie is definitely more of a subject matter expert on adoption in general, but I will say that we as an organization, look at the numbers of children in foster care about 500,000 and look at the military families and the communities of military families around this country and think what a match that isn't really being You know, when you talk about military families, although it seems like wow, what a hard situation to put a foster child, you know, into a forever family. These are families that are incredibly resilient have an incredible social safety net. And in many cases, in some cases, no. But in many cases, yes. And, and already have a culture of service, and a culture of belonging and a culture of, in many ways quality because of the way the military is run. And so we see this as an organization as a huge opportunity that we'd like to take on in the future, to say, let's match this challenge of kids in the foster care system with these incredible forever families that are military families.
Yeah. And, Katie, I'm going to turn to you, but I will make the distinction here, if let's make a distinction between adopting from foster care and then fostering in foster care, because some of the issues would be similar, and some of the issues might be different. So Katie, what are some of the complexities in let's start with adopting from foster care and, and that really, the reality just so our audience, catching them up to speed here, if they don't, and then they probably don't need it. But of the there are two ways to adopt from foster care, one, you can adopt a child that has had the parental rights already terminated the child, here actively seeking and adoptive family for that child. And the other way to adopt is to be a foster parent. And if reunification is not, is not successful, and if an extended family member doesn't step forward, to provide a home for this child, then most often the foster parents are given a choice of whether to adopt. So just so there's two ways to kind of go about adopting both of which will be complicated, quite frankly, from I would assume with military service, Katie,
yeah, that's a great overview and something that we're we're always educating on that there really is the foster to adopt, and then fast, you know, adopting from foster care. And I think Ellen did a great job of really speaking about where we really believe in our military community, and that, you know, foster to adopt and fostering children is is a match that we really want to amplify and support the challenge. Well, let's start with the benefit. You know, and I wanted to bring this up earlier, but we didn't get to it after our home study barrier. But cost is such a major factor for military members. And so Don, you can check me on this, but I tend to use and I use your website to stay updated on statistics. But right now, domestic adoption, I we have it in the $42,000 range, if that's sounds about right. And for a military member, that is a terrific amount of money to be able to afford domestic adoption. So one of the things that's very appealing to many of the families we work with, within the foster to adopt or fostering a child for adoption process, is that it within a military income range, it is very realistic. Yeah. And I think that that is right there. One of the pieces that we always begin our workshops with that topic, because it tends to have so much interest in how military members are really realistically understanding their financial barriers. within the military. There is one small credit that's available to a military member who has successfully completed an adoption, illegal adoption and has met the criteria for expenses, and that would allow a $2,000 offset to your adoption costs. But even you know that in proportion to a $42,000 possible price range is absolutely, you know, still leaving the military member with a terrific amount of a financial challenge,
even will ruin the adoption tax credit, the Federal adoption, tax credit is still a costly process. It absolutely news.
The Federal adoption tax credit for many military members is is interesting, because while you may have five years to claim those expenses, many military members don't make enough money to truly see the true value of that benefit.
Right. It's basically just a credit off of your federal, your federal tax liabilities, right, don't have a tax liability. You can't utilize it.
So it really falls short for the military member. And that's another part of our advocacy is to really look at how you know there was a small window, Dawn in which it was actually reimbursable What a difference that would make to the military member, it really would be one of the greatest ways to alleviate the financial barrier. So we've, we've done a lot of research on that, but kind of skirting back to the issue of promoting, you know, foster adoption for military members, we have such terrific interest in that process. And I'm always admiring of the courage to take on the unknown and the incredible altruism that goes into saying, we're a military family, we are blended, we are confident in our ability to love more children. And and if it comes as a child, a sibling set a child with needs, I have sat in many, many workshops and looked around and felt incredibly proud of our community because of that willingness and interest. The, the unfortunate truth is, it still has all the same challenges as the domestic adoption process, you're still looking at all of the different parties being involved, your own lack of control in in those timelines, and, and ultimately, things been incredibly varied from state to state with that process.
And, you know, I can only guess that one of the significant barriers would be that when you go in as a foster parent, the goal is family reunification, which means you have to be in the location that where the family the birth family is located, so that you can facilitate visitations, you can, you know, make certain the child is, is, you know, going to family reunions, all the stuff inviting, making certain that the birth parents are attending school meetings and doctor's appointments and things such as that. And it's fine as long as until you get orders to move. And then that, number one, the foster child would not move with you. So then you have a family, you have a disruption and a placement for that child. But even if the decision has been made for that the child's permanency plan is moved to adoption, I can see it could still be complicated, because oftentimes, although the child is going to be adopted, there has there is a decision made that the child needs to be in touch with him able to visit with birth siblings, grandparents and other important people in their life. Do you see these as as as problems for military families? And I guess I'll direct this to you, Katie, since you're our adoption person here.
Yeah, 100%. And I, you know, I don't you know, want to ever discourage I we're here to support awareness and provide education. But the numbers that we work with are between 19 and 30% of the time you're successful. So it's very hard given exactly those reasons,
is that just an adoption in general are working with your foster care,
through foster care, as you have very accurately pointed out, the main goal, the main intent is reunification. So if you're in that process, you have to be under you have to be very realistic that that is the intent of the law. And, and it may take many, many tries, this effort to find that you are a child is placed in your home, and then is actually available for adoption. So there is coaching and support that we give to those military members. Because we find that the mental wellness piece, the stressor of that is a big factor. And the military, that is something we're very good at. We have incredible access to a lot of mental wellness and mindset platforms that can really support the member and understanding I've taken on yet one more thing with terrific.
Yeah, gosh, it's got to just weigh on you. So before we move off of adoption, Katie, are there any other of the top challenges for adopting in the military, be it from domestic infant or from foster care? Any of those? Well,
it's a great opportunity for Elena nyda to speak to our platform in general, which is really embraces and supports our partnership with modern military Association, which is the LGBTQ community. We we work closely with modern military association to understand the needs of gay military members who are choosing to parent solo to parent and partnerships. And adoption is a very, very interesting and topic that has a lot of support within that community. Again, something where Ellen and I, you know, will always be, you know, as transparent as possible. Currently, our TRICARE policy Really is not designed to provide reproductive health care for military members who are in a same sex relationship. So, you know, right there, you're looking at a barrier to building your family through any other means. And so as we really inform and educate leadership, both in our advocacy for policy change, but also in the work that we do with legislation, it's to really understand that, you know, we are we are one within our military, and certainly that includes our LGBTQ community and their support for
adoption. Yes, good, really good point. Hey, guys, would you please do us a favor and follow creating a family.org podcast wherever you prefer to catch your podcasts. That way, you will never miss a week of great content, like today's episode, and you can listen on your phone or in your car. You can also scroll through all of our archives. And that's really important because we have been doing this we're coming up within, gosh, two weeks of our 14th anniversary. And so we have tons of content, much of which, in fact, the vast majority is evergreen, meaning that it is no, it's as relevant today as it was back when we recorded it 1314 1211 whatever years ago. So go through, you could scroll through our archives and choose the topics that are of interest to you. So thank you. Okay, now I want to move to talking about some of the challenges of being in the military when seeking fertility treatment. But before we do that, I think it might be helpful to talk about TRICARE, we've mentioned it a couple of times, and clarify what TRICARE is. And then if you which you've already said, let's say, again, What the What does TRICARE provide, as far as support coverage for fertility treatment?
Sure, yeah. So military members and their families, their spouses and children are, you know, very incredibly given as a benefit for their military service, full health care coverage, that has a pretty big hole, when we consider that it is excellent health care coverage for military members and families. With, as I said, a pretty big hole, which is that, you know, you can, you can get all of your needs met, either at a military hospital and military facility or out in, in town, so to speak, just like any other health plan would would be used. If you're a family member, you have the choice as to whether or not you go to a full on military, you know, Medical Center and hospital or you use TRICARE, which is name of the health care policy, like you would any other sort of employer health care, go to a doctor and see if they take it. But this very comprehensive health care system, both for military members and their families, has a policy, again, written by Congress that explicitly states with these words that tri care does not cover non coital reproductive procedures. Well, when you take that, and you sort of let that sink in for a second, and you think about what military life is, the whole nature of military life is centered around deployments and training missions. So military members don't, in general, have a desk job where they are, you know, coming home every night to their families, day after day, month after month, they're generally doing jobs where they're the nature of being in the military is that you have to spend time away from your family. And so the fact that the policy is written to explicitly make it harder for people who are physically separated from their partner, we think is is something that as Americans learn from podcasts like this, that that's the way the policy is written, it becomes almost an insidious jab directly at a military member, that that the health care, you know, does not cover this this specific type of fertility treatment.
Okay, well, let me ask a question about that. Now, if your husband is deployed, or the wife is deployed, either one, and and so the coitus, intercourse is not enough. It's going to be extremely difficult with with somebody notion away. But really, fertility treatment wouldn't be particularly effective, I suppose. Well, it could be I suppose you could freeze the sperm,
all fertility treatments become incredibly effective, because when you have, you know, biology preserved, you have sperm preserved, you have you know, month after month of of IU II, that can be possible.
Okay, so it's I you I would be certainly frozen sperm. Yeah, that makes sense. So what would they cover if they don't cover? First let's talk about what would be let's talk about what would be potentially covered and let's talk about all the things that wouldn't be covered by that statement.
Sure. So if if you are A married couple and you're using your own sperm and eggs and you're having coitus, you could get Clomid. And you could do timed intercourse under the the eye of a reproductive endocrinologist, you can get baseline testing, to understand why you might not be getting pregnant. So, you know, you can, you can have your, your, your, your, your, oh, you know ovarian reserve checked, you can get all of your basic home hormones checked, male members can get their sperm analyzed and see if those those are the challenges. But as you know, many, many people know, once you get those results, it's not a matter of, you know, then just go have more and more intercourse, it's a matter of now what other medical interventions might we need to help our bodies along in the process of building a family. And essentially, that whole suite of treatments and procedures is not a covered benefit. There are six military treatment facilities, so military hospitals, so only six in the whole country, that because they have reproductive endocrinologist, you know, on staff, and it's training hospitals, so they need to have the full suite of Obstetrics and gynecological care, you know, to be a fully accredited training hospital, they do have a few doctors who can do treatments like IVF, or cryopreservation for females and males. And sometimes you can get on a waiting list, if you check a whole series of boxes have a infertility diagnosis, and, you know, are married and are using your own gametes, so your own eggs and your own sperm and your own uterus. If you have all of those things, and you get on a waiting list, and you're in the right place at the right time, you could potentially get steeply discounted IVF or cry, you know, egg freezing or sperm freezing. Again, that is not a universal policy, it is not accessible to everyone, it is not actually covered care, because you're still paying it's just a discounted, you know, service, because these hospitals are teaching hospitals and the need to keep these doctors kind of up to date on all these all these services.
Yeah, that's and you would have to be and as you say, there's only six. So what are the chances that you're going to be deployed near one and you're in long enough for you to go through treatment? Right.
And and of course, that it, you know, we keep out single family, you know, single parents, we're obviously making it nearly impossible for same sex parents, you're not then covering any needs around surrogacy, you're not covering an either on egg donation. You know, so these are there's just incredible barriers, even for a sort of a heterosexual partners to get in the door at these, you know, into these treatment facilities. And I think, you know, we we are our position, starting with the policy being written as it is that they don't there's, you know, we're not covering non coital reproductive assistance. And just knowing that explicitly hurts military members more than it hurts anyone else in the general public. We believe that starting there, there are major, major things that need to change when we're talking about covering health care and helping our military members build their families.
When a Let's speak of the man, if a man is being deployed to a war zone, is there no provision for sperm freezing? Nope.
So but that's a great segue into something you know, that I know Ellen and I are excited to share with your listeners. So, you know, our desire to stand up a coalition is exactly that, that we wanted to partner with as many other military nonprofits and also in the private sector. And so part of our goal, Don was to understand what was missing from this health care policy, and to turn to the private sector for support. So our knowledge of the military community allowed us to, through our own research and support with other agencies on this research, we were able to identify certain military communities that have what we call an amplified need for support. So while everyone has the same limitations and TRICARE, certain roles within the military actually provide additional hardship with respect to family building, and we wanted to develop programming that we could provide into those communities. And further our argument and proof of concept in our advocacy work with changing legislation. So we, we have that program, because right now, there is no cryopreservation available to military members. But we turn to the private sector to ask for that service as a philanthropic gift. And we are providing that service to the community within the Navy known as Naval Special Warfare.
That makes sense, but then I guess you have to wonder. This may be what what do you think about them the argument that, that if we're going to cryo preserve sperm, we should also offer to cryopreservation. For eggs for our Oh sites for female service members. What are your thoughts on that?
Ellen jumped in? We
think we should, we think we should so so we're we're a small to to woman, nonprofit with, you know, volunteering and with a couple of other amazing volunteers, all of whom are connected to the military and have had family building challenges. And we're starting with, with what we can, you know, sort of, I would say that, for lack of a better way, we're starting what we can get from these incredible private sector donors. To make the point now, we are not intending to permanently provide male cryopreservation. For this one narrow community in the military, we are trying to prove that this is important that people want it and that it helps people when they're making decisions about if they stay in the military or not, that that's what we're trying to make the case on. And we believe that when you look at things like retention in our military and military readiness, that have programs that support a comprehensive family building suite, are what is going to keep people in the military and are going to keep them ready to go and deploy whenever they need. So we believe that look this this small example of male cryo in this relatively small community is only was only one pilot program, but that what needs to happen is comprehensive cryopreservation for people who want to stay in the military, and healthcare that covers their family building when they do stay. And one of
the things that we did as well in improving this with this particular program was we also did not tie cryo preservation to deployment, we wanted to really look at cryopreservation for all military members as something that is really baseline or essential to reproductive health care, when we tie it to deployment. We're really overlooking where we have so many other inherent risks to training, operational exercises, exposure to hazardous materials, those are all equally as, you know, making them ever just as vulnerable. We we really didn't want to see it only coming with deployment.
Yeah, that makes sense. To me. That makes good sense to me. Okay. Let me pause for just a moment to thank one of our partners. We are so dependent on our partners, which are agencies that believe in our mission. And this show wouldn't be happening without one such partner is VISTA Del Mar. They are a licensed nonprofit adoption agency with over 65 years of experience helping to create families. They offer home study only services, as well as full service, infant adoption, international home studies, and post adoption. They also have a foster to adopt program. You can find them online at VISTA del mar.org. That's Vista, del mar.org slash adoption. Check them out. Alright, so we've talked about some of the challenges with the healthcare with insurance as it relates to fertility treatment. Let's talk about some of the other challenges, as it might relate to seeking fertility treatment. Ellen, I want to start with you. Your challenges sounded like they were primarily financial, Am I understanding that because that even though yours was a medical necessity, they still were not going to cover? Did you have challenges outside of the financial in seeking fertility treatment related to your being in military?
Well, I mean, I would say we, we were lucky that we were a two income family that could could afford the $120,000 that we spent on our medical care, which is incredible amount of money for any military, any family, first of all, and any military family. And we were lucky that we had a health care provider in San Diego, a doctor who was very familiar with the military and very passionate about supporting military members. Our Doctor smotrich, lawyer IVF shout out, because he understood the complexities that we would have to face. He understood that when we had my husband in the office, he had to give as much of a sperm sample as he possibly could. Because that might be you know, we might be continuing on and we did, by the way, continue through our treatments without him being physically there. We had we had a we had a few chances of conception without the father present, you know, in our case, but we had doctors who understood that and we're proactive about that. We We were lucky that during our treatment, we stayed in San Diego for those number of years. That was interesting. lucky because we could have been moved at any time and my husband was able to say to his bosses, you know, listen, we're going through this. And and it'd be really hard to go pick up and find a new fertility clinic and do all of that all over again. So, so we were you know that that that was a lot of luck and a lot of opportunity that so many military members don't have, we know stories of people who have gone through their miscarriages in different health care settings, and then restarted IVF that they've needed in two or three different duty stations across the country, new doctor new waiting lists, new timeline, you're the lowest, you know, customer on the totem pole, and you're paying for it all out of pocket. And that's on top of the burdens of military life. So, you know, I think when when when the American public looks at what we're asking our military to do, and then assumes that that means that we at least provide a good quality health care for you know, as as a benefit of this service. This is a gaping, gaping hole.
Yeah. And to say nothing of the fact that by providing better care, if for nothing else, one of the benefits would be greater retention, and greater retention is a huge cost savings. Just the fact that it's a it's a preparation issue as
well. So let me give you this great data point, around 70% of currently serving active duty military members come from a military family. So it may be their parent about 30% is their parent, but but the rest of them these are people with grandfathers and uncles and grandmothers and aunts. And those are people that come from military families. If we do not have our military reproducing and building families in the way that they want, we are going to have a hard time fielding an all volunteer force in the future. Because when we're talking about a population that requires an expensive military to make sure that we're secure, but not everyone signing up, and 70% of the people that are getting into the military are coming from military families, our military families have to be having babies.
That's a very directly salient point. If nothing else, Katie, can you share any from your story that talks about the the realities of trying to be in going through fertility treatment, while one of the partners is in the military?
Yeah, you know, I appreciate that question. I want to just echo what what Elon just said, as as that very salient point, which is the all volunteer force. And, you know, I will add to it then and make this kind of my point is, is the economics, Ellen touched on how expensive it is, and, and, and rightly so said, that's, that's expensive for anyone, and it's certainly $120,000 is a terrific amount of money for the military member. But, you know, to be really transparent, we coach and counsel military members all the time, where that is very, very, very common. And I think any, any conversation with a fertility clinic, would tell you that that's that's really the cost of doing business. So imagine military members going into debt. And having let's just take the general population statistic, one and seven, what you know, you can pick one and eight, one and seven, they're both kind of being thrown around as the number of people within the United States who are challenged. Now, let's add that that number is probably much greater than the military. Given all the things that we've shared with you operational stressors, exposure, deployments, all the all the reasons why we know it's even probably greater than that. Now, let's go ahead and and just scale that number. What does it say when we're putting military members into debt to pay for the ability to have a family which isn't covered in their essential care? And where is that a national security issue, we spent a terrific amount of money to go through IVF, as well as third party reproduction, which is an egg donor, as well as a gestational surrogate so far beyond what any military member would, you know, even be able to grasp that? It is, it's absolutely insanity that because of lack of, of access to care, this is where the military member sets. The point that is, is so important to make is the economics of this. We, you know, by not allowing or by not having access to IVF. We did what many couples do when it came down to knowing where we're getting orders to move, knowing that we would be leaving behind the clinic that had, you know, from our end, a terrific investment of our own funds to get to a certain place in advance Reproductive Medicine. That's hard to leave behind. And so we did what most people do we transferred to did we were we trying to have twins? No. We we really just wanted to have, you know, one more child, but we did too. And we got to and the moment you cut the cord on to their dependency Right there are twins spent an enormous amount of time in the nick queue. We they were born at 31 weeks, we had all of those costs immediately become the cost of our health insurance. All, you know all really yet the results of IVF. So when we talk about the fact that Congress feels it's such a great ask to pay for this care, we quickly say, you know, you are paying for it, you're paying for it and retention of talent, the military member today is, is very forward facing about fulfilling their commitment to service and then really understanding are these benefits, you know, available to me to continue to stay in? Do I need to make the choice the sacrifice of not having a family versus, you know, working for an employer, that gives me family building benefits. So the war on talent, the cost that that is the the cost to our existing TRICARE system, those are really straightforward ways to understand that, you know, very often we're partnered with resolve and resolve does a great job of saying no marched down to your human resources department and ask for these benefits. Well, guess what, you know, we don't have a human resources in the military, the human resources we need is really incumbent upon Congress.
Yeah. Yeah. And, and, you know, just to make an additional point, you know, a lot of a lot of families struggle with the cost of IVF, not just military families. And there could be a cynic who says, Well, you know, then, unfortunately, people have to pay for it. But as Katie said, it's not that simple. When you're talking about the people that provide your national security, you know, when you're when you're when other amplified community that we we were really passionate about is female pilots. It costs millions of dollars to train a female pilot, and especially, you know, in our community in the Navy, a female pilot who can land on an aircraft carrier, well, there's a very small window where that female pilot doesn't need to be in the cockpit and, and regularly out to sea. And if she doesn't happen to complete her family building goals in that small window, she has a huge incentive to get out because she's being forced with the choice of having a child or staying in the military in her in her highly highly, highly trained job. We, as the American public want her in that job, if she wants to stay. She's highly trained. She's really, really important to us. And we would rather as as you know, strategic people who also care a lot, we'd rather see that woman accomplish her building goals in an efficient way, and stay in the cockpit. And I think that's where we're looking. Not just that, hey, let's all feel bad for people that are having a huge cost of family building. Let's look for strategic ways that we as the American public can be wise about who is serving and how we're making sure that they're fit and ready to serve.
That is excellent and a great place for us to end. I want to give out the website. I love your organization. It is a military family building coalition. You can find it online at military family building.org it's all one word military family building.org. Thank you so much, Ellen Gustafson and Katie Bella Hendrickson, for being with us today to talk about the challenges for military families in family building in general via adoption via foster or be it IVF. Thank you both so very much for being with us today.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai