Tree of Life Grant Assists Local Jewish Couples Facing Infertility
By Tonyia Cone
Infertility, a disease that results in the abnormal functioning of the male or female reproductive system, is the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after 12 months of trying to conceive, for those 35 years old and younger, or six months for those older than 35. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, infertility affects about 10 percent of the population.
Approximately 7.3 million women aged 15 through 44 have used infertility services.
The disease – which has many different causes and treatments – is widespread enough that if not coping with infertility themselves, most people know a friend, relative or neighbor who is.
After Adam and Phil Loewy got married, they started trying to get pregnant but had trouble conceiving.
Through their involvement in the Jewish community, they knew Kaylen Silverberg, a fertility specialist at the Texas Fertility Center, and immediately started seeing him.
“I was very surprised that we were having problems conceiving. But he pointed out it’s much more common than people realize,” said Adam, a personal injury lawyer at Loewy Law Firm.
After almost a year that included treatment with fertility medication and intrauterine insemination, the couple conceived. Their son, Clayton, was born in July 2017.
Fertility treatment is expensive, and in most cases, not covered by insurance. According to the Atlanta-based Jewish Fertility Foundation, only 27 percent of employers cover costs for in vitro fertilization treatments, which are, on average, $12,400 per cycle.
Adam said, “As a result of the ups and downs associated with the fertility process, we realized we wanted to help other Jewish couples who are dealing with this issue.”
Knowing that there are many people in the community who struggle financially to get fertility help and wanting to ease the financial burden they face, the Loewys established the Tree of Life Grant. Run through the Fertility Foundation of Texas, the grant is designated specifically for Jewish couples in Central Texas who need to undergo IVF treatment.
“Our Jewish faith teaches us about the importance of life and we can think of no greater mitzvah than playing a small part in helping a new life being conceived. It is our hope that this grant both helps couples and reduces the stigma associated with infertility issues in the Jewish community,” Adam said.
Tree of Life Grants of up to $10,000 can be used toward fertility treatment through any Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies clinic in the United States. Grant dollars can be applied toward embryology services, medications, laboratory services and hospital or facility fees, but cannot be applied toward physician services.
The Tree of Life Grant reviews and selects applications twice a year, with November 30 and May 30 deadlines.
For the purposes of the grant, Jewish is defined as having at least one Jewish parent from birth or conversion, with the intent of raising the child with Jewish values. Applicants are also required to demonstrate financial need based on a total household income below $100,000 per year; be uninsured for fertility treatment or have exhausted infertility coverage; and be evaluated by, and under the care of, a board certified reproductive endocrinologist who has diagnosed the cause of infertility and prescribed a treatment plan.
Applicants who are under the age of 40 – due to the significant statistical decrease in ovarian reserve – and who have no other living children are given priority.
Adam explained that he and Phil believe it is important to talk about fertility issues.
“Many couples are hesitant to talk about [infertility] due to stigma. The reality is millions of couples deal with these problems and thankfully, there are treatments available,” he said.
“Financial support is wonderful and crucial, but emotional support is really just as important and we feel very grateful to the community here,” explained Phil, an active volunteer in the community who works for startup Babyation, which is developing a modern breast pump.
“We were open about our struggles, and the support, the love, the outreach that we received was fantastic. So we also wanted to be able to provide that to others in the community,” Phil added.
Carol Silverberg, Fertility Foundation of Texas president, explained that the Tree of Life Grant is the foundation’s first grant targeted for a faith-based community.
“We would love to expand that to other faiths as well. So many people don’t realize in their faith communities, they may be in church or synagogue sitting next to somebody that has infertility,” said Silverberg, who is married to Kaylen Silverberg.
“Quite often people with infertility suffer in silence. It’s something very personal and not public and in a faith-based community where it’s all about family, all about life cycle celebrations and events, it is extremely painful. But I have found, across the board, infertility strengthens people’s faith. Most of the applicants we get are praying for a miracle,” she added.
The Fertility Foundation of Texas also gives out grants of up to $10,000 to qualifying infertility patients in Central Texas in need of financial assistance. Like Tree of Life Grant funding, the foundation’s grants may not be used for physician services.
Silverberg explained that most couples the foundation helps are relatively financially successful people with jobs and insurance. Many have bought a home expecting to fill it with children before learning that they have infertility.
“Every one of our applicants pays for care above and beyond what our grant can cover,” she said.
“It takes a big chunk out of people’s expense and it keeps them from becoming financially destitute.”
The Fertility Foundation of Texas additionally seeks to create public awareness that infertility is a treatable medical condition and that the community benefits when these patients have access to medical care.
“You can imagine in a culture, like being Jewish or Hispanic, or so many of our cultures are so family-centered, when your cousins, your sisters, everybody’s getting pregnant and you’re not, it becomes a very private, isolating situation. And it shouldn’t be. For me, it is reproductive health 101,” she said.■
For more information on the Tree of Life Grant, visit treeoflifegrant.com. For more information about the Fertility Foundation of Texas, visit fertilityfoundationoftexas.org. For information on infertility from the National Infertility Association, visit www.resolve.org.