In the back courtyard of the campus of SGF Jones Institute in Norfolk, there are several bricks with my name on them. When the new campus for the Jones Institute was built, many of the families of the first in vitro fertilization (IVF) babies born from the program in Norfolk donated funds for those bricks.
In many ways, those first families, mine included, laid the foundation for many more children of assisted reproductive technologies to come. Those families didn’t just build their families brick by brick; the commonwealth of Virginia deserves much of the credit as well.
If my name seems familiar, it’s because it has a place in the history of the state of Virginia. Nearly 40 years ago, I was born the first in vitro baby in the United States, at what was then Norfolk General Hospital.
No one should have to fight as hard as my parents fought to have me. I am a product of my parents being able to beat the odds, thanks to access to a technology that no one had really come to understand yet. They were the one in eight with fertility issues.
More than 40 years ago, when my parents were given the devastating news that they may never have children of their own and were trying to figure out what to do, it was in Virginia they found hope. After learning about the first IVF baby born in England just a few years prior, Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones sought to bring this groundbreaking procedure to the United States.
My parents, living in Massachusetts, flew to Virginia every month for my checkups. Because IVF was unavailable in Massachusetts at the time, Virginia truly gave them an option when they didn’t think they had any options at all.
Now, the problem is not access. Lack of insurance coverage for infertility medical treatments is a major barrier to family building. Having children is fundamental; it can be part of one’s identity. Being unable to have a child can affect people physically, financially and emotionally.
My parents experienced set back after setback. Because of ectopic pregnancies, my mother nearly died three times. A pamphlet handed to her by her doctor provided the last glimpse of hope they could cling to. If Virginia had not been a pioneer and visionary 40 years ago, I am certain that I would not be writing this today.
Why, 40 years after my birth as the first American IVF baby, are we still fighting for access to care through insurance coverage?
As a proud daughter of Virginia, it’s time for our lawmakers to take long-overdue action to provide this care. Whether through legislation sponsored by Del. Dan Helmer (D-Fairfax) or language in our state budget, the General Assembly must act without further delay.