Katie Davis, 24, lost her ovaries to cancer when she was 12. Doctors told her that if she wanted to have a baby one day, she would have to use donor eggs and undergo in vitro fertilization. She has been trying to have a baby since September 2010, but so far no luck.
Davis said infertile women sometimes feel like members of a "silent sorority."
"Women are quiet about infertility because they're so ashamed," said Davis, of Bolingbrook. "If you want to have children and you can't do that, you may feel your womanhood has been taken away."
On Saturday, Davis and her husband will share their story at a free conference on infertility and adoption, called A Family of My Own, in Glenview.
Conference organizers say the event will be an opportunity for people to learn from a variety of experts who run in vitro fertilization centers, surrogacy programs and adoption agencies; who teach couples how to raise money for the costly procedures; and who explain how scientific advances are enhancing a couple's ability to conceive.
For more information on the conference and to register, go to afamilyofmyown.com.
Dr. Angeline Beltsos, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, is medical director of the Chicago-based Fertility Centers of Illinois. She said that couples navigating infertility need a strong support network because the process is often taxing physically and emotionally.
"When they're going through treatment, they have to come in for ultrasounds, blood tests and even surgery," said Beltsos, who will be speaking at the conference. "They have busy lives. But what tries them the most is the anguish when all their work doesn't produce a baby.
"When they find a safe place to share their stories, it gives people hope that (they can have a baby) one way or another. We can help them."
But help is often quite expensive. Beltsos said a round of in vitro fertilization, or IVF, costs about $15,000 to $17,000 without use of donor eggs; surrogacy can range from $50,000 to $100,000; and, adoption starts near $40,000.
In Illinois, companies that have at least 25 employees and provide insurance that covers pregnancy-related benefits must also cover all or some fertility treatments. Although there are exemptions, the state is one of the few in the country to require companies to do so.
But costs related to surrogacy remain a large hurdle for some parents-to-be.
Katie O'Brien, 32, of Wadsworth, learned she had uterine fibroids in August 2005. Doctors told her that conceiving a child would be difficult, despite five surgeries to help correct the problem. She and her husband tried to conceive via IVF for two years before deciding to use a surrogate.
"When we found out how expensive surrogacy was, I cried the whole way home," said O'Brien, a patient at Fertility Centers of Illinois. "If you don't have insurance, you can find grants to help you pay for fertility treatment or adoption. But we couldn't find anything for surrogacy. A lot of costs related to surrogacy are similar to adoption."
She said she came across the Facebook page of the nonprofit Birdies for Babies, an annual golf outing that allows couples to raise money to pay for infertility treatments. With the help of family and friends, O'Brien, an elementary school teacher, and her husband, an accountant, raised $30,000 toward their costs of roughly $60,000.
"We found a surrogate whose insurance should cover the pregnancy," said O'Brien, whose blog is at prayingforbabyobrien.blogspot.com. "That's keeping us on the low end of the price range. We'll pay for the rest with savings and help from family and begin trying in September."
One of the conference sponsors is the Broken Brown Egg (thebrokenbrownegg.org), a nonprofit started by Regina Townsend, 29, an Oak Park resident, who aims to destigmatize infertility in the black community.
Townsend, who is black, said that when she and her husband were having difficulty getting pregnant, she found very few resources directed toward women of color.
"When we talk about reproductive health and black women, it's always about contraception and prevention, abortion and (sexually transmitted diseases)," said Townsend. "It's always everything before fertility."
She said there's a misconception that blacks don't have problems conceiving, don't adopt and can't afford the treatments.
"Until I started talking about infertility, I couldn't find one member of even my own family who would admit this was something our family has dealt with before," Townsend said. "You want to feel you're not alone, but you want information. You want to be proactive."
Beltsos said conferences such as A Family of My Own help make couples aware of what's available to them. That includes the breakthroughs in the science of fertility treatments.
For example, the advances in the technology for freezing eggs have taken off dramatically over the last decade thanks in part to work done in Italy, Japan and Korea. She said such advancements have had a profound effect on women diagnosed with cancer.
"We will pull eggs out and have them preserved for when the woman's done with chemo," Beltsos said. "Women can come back once they're cured from cancer and use their own biological eggs. No one would question that the most important thing is saving her life, but afterward it shifts the focus from surviving cancer to living one's life."
Davis said that when she was diagnosed with cancer at 12, her cancer was too aggressive to consider taking time to save her eggs.
"From the beginning, I knew I would have to go the IVF route," said Davis. "There's no guarantee it's going to work. We ran out of eggs the first time and now we're starting back at square one."
Davis, who also had a fundraiser through Birdies for Babies, said she believes it's important to share her story. She said a woman her husband knew in high school read about their ordeal on her blog (at katieandpatsivfjourney.blogspot.com) and offered to donate her eggs.
"It's amazing that things like this happen," said Davis. "At first, we were both not sure whether we should talk about (the infertility). But just by being so open with our story and speaking at events, we believe we're also helping others.
"I've been in remission for 11 years. I'm cancer-free. The last thing is this, and once I have a baby, I'll know cancer didn't take anything away from me."