By Kate Weldon LeBlanc
Soon after Lori Berube and Ryan Gagne got engaged, they started planning to build their family. “We knew we wanted to be parents,” Lori explains. “And we didn’t want to wait.” So Lori went for a check-up with an obstetrician, rather than her usual primary care physician. It was during this visit, and from the follow-up scans that followed, that Lori was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer (invasive carcinoma of the cervix). The doctors told Lori that the best course of treatment would be a hysterectomy, but Lori fought this for a while, determined to try to keep her uterus, as well as her dreams of experiencing pregnancy and birth. But ultimately, she was convinced to have the surgery. “I felt like Ryan had not signed up for all of this, and I told him I would understand if he wanted to break the engagement,” says Lori. Needless to say, Ryan didn’t need to be married already to stand by the “in sickness and in health” vow.
On Christmas in 2016, Lori was still recovering physically, and the couple was coping emotionally as well. So Lori and Ryan decided to have a quiet holiday at home, and her cousin Katie visited them there. While discussing her hysterectomy, Lori explained that she was able to keep her ovaries, so they would be able to do in vitro fertilization (IVF) but not able to carry a pregnancy. “It was just part of our conversation, but then Katie sent me a message a few weeks later to say she and her husband were all in to help us build our family. I cried my eyes out, so happy and thankful that she would be our gestational carrier.”
Fortunately, Lori did not need to do chemotherapy or radiation. They were grateful for this and for the option of IVF with her eggs, but it was still a long, difficult road. The couple held off on getting married and focused on trying to become parents. Lori and Ryan are residents of the Granite State, and New Hampshire has no infertility insurance coverage in state law, even for cancer survivors. The couple did multiple rounds of IVF, first paying for cycles out of pocket and then Lori switched jobs to a Massachusetts company so that she would have insurance coverage. They did preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) on the embryos, and unfortunately several of them came back as abnormal. Finally, ultimately two of their embryos were transferred to Lori’s cousin Katie, a mother of two boys.
On Christmas in 2017, Katie was able to share the news that she was pregnant with Lori and Ryan’s baby! And the couple made plans to become husband and wife in June of 2018.
While waiting for their baby boy and their wedding, Lori decided to apply for RESOLVE New England’s first ever scholarship to Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. She had no experience with political advocacy, but she knew firsthand the added challenges of dealing with infertility without insurance coverage and wanted to get involved. Advocacy Day is an empowering and important annual event sponsored by RESOLVE: the National Infertility Association and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). RNE’s scholarship was open to applicants from New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont or Rhode Island because these states have been underrepresented at Advocacy Day. A volunteer committee chose Lori unanimously as the winner, but we did not know just how ideal this choice would be. One of the central policy issues being discussed at Advocacy Day was trying to secure insurance coverage for military veterans (#IVF4VETS). Lori is a veteran and Katie is active duty in the Air Force, which made this cause even more personal and powerful.
Advocacy Day participants attend a morning training to get fully briefed on the issues, and then meet on Capitol Hill with their members of Congress (or their staff). Lori and I met with an aide from Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s office, as well as from the two New Hampshire Congressional offices. We were able to meet Senator Maggie Hassan personally, and Lori powerfully shared her own experiences as an illustration of why insurance coverage for infertility is needed for all in the nation. Just by chance we also ran into Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on Capitol Hill. Stopping to hear Lori’s story, the Governor high-fived Lori when he heard the happy news that she and Ryan were expecting, with the help of her cousin. It was a tiring, gratifying, and fun day. “I wanted to go to Advocacy Day because I want to make the path easier for women and for couples in the future,” says Lori. She is also committed to joining with RESOLVE New England and others to advocate in New Hampshire for family building coverage in the coming year. “I know firsthand how difficult infertility is, and how much harder it is when you do not have insurance.”
Since our time in Washington DC, Lori and Ryan were married, and in September, they welcomed their son! The road to parenthood that began with their engagement took twists and turns that they never anticipated but has arrived at a most wonderful destination.