Episode 164: Endometriosis, Male-Factor Infertility, and the Waiting Game
Football is a waiting game. Fans all over America watch their teams anxiously for months with one common desire, a chance to win. Today’s guest, Patriots fan, Chris Callahan, knows this waiting game quite well and it may have even prepared him for the most worthwhile wait of his life – the journey to his son, Brady.
In this episode, Chris dives into their dual diagnosis of endometriosis and male-factor infertility, and the obstacles he and his wife faced on their path to parenthood. While they did have fertility coverage through Chris’ work, two rounds of IVF were still a financial burden. Chris, impacted mentally, physically, and financially, decided to share his story on social media in hopes to encourage others to know they’re not alone in this journey. In his post, he highlights the importance of employers choosing to invest in the lives of their employees through family building benefits. The responses took him a bit by surprise, and he soon found a whole community that was standing with him in solidarity and sharing stories of their own.
Guest: Chris Callahan, Workplace Fertility Advocate
Host: Dan Bulger, Progyny
For more information, visit Progyny’s Podcast page and Progyny’s Education page for more resources. Be sure to follow us on Instagram, @ThisisInfertilityPodcast and use the #ThisisInfertility. Have a question, comment, or want to share your story? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some highlights from this episode:
Navigating Infertility Together
04:27 – 12:30
Chris Callahan: I did a semen sample, and he immediately came back and said yeah, you have sperm. It’s not the best quality, it’s really slow so the motility was slow. So, at that point, you have endometriosis and then you have my slow sperm. So, if you think about it, in non-medical terms, she has a blockage there that’s making it tougher for sperm to get through. And then I have sperm that’s like just not moving very fast. So those dual problems are really kind of like a nightmare scenario for a couple. So, it kind of made it more of a partnership thing. And I’m thankful for that, that we were able to kind of navigate it together, because it was both of our issues, for lack of better words. You’re talking about anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000. It’s just confusing, no matter how good your insurance is at explaining it. In terms of like the actual medicine that they have to use for my wife. And then you have a whole different area for the procedure part of things. And then the storage of my sperm, my long term and potential storage of her embryos. So, it’s just like, it’s very, very overwhelming.
Dan Bulger: Many of those challenges are only exacerbated when dealing with a benefit that only offers to reimburse expenses. And that’s to say nothing of what happens for those who might need to do a second round of IVF to find success. For male-factor infertility, a treatment that is often used to dramatically increase IVF success is called intracytoplasmic sperm injection, or ICSI. This is a process where an individual sperm cell is injected directly into an individual egg. The hopes are that many of these eggs will fertilize and then embryos will grow and ideally there will be a few high-quality embryos to choose from for transfer. IVF isn’t like going for a knee replacement. You go in for a knee replacement, you pay for the materials and the surgery, and you have a replaced knee nearly 100% of the time. No, with IVF it’s more of a process and success and failure exists more on a curve. Unfortunately, for Chris and Becca, this first round of IVF did not result in many healthy embryos. And their first embryo transfer was not successful. The second round was going to cost just $3,000 out of pocket. Now I don’t know, if they had $30,000 worth of coverage and already did a round of IVF. It’s a bit surprising that it’s such a low amount for a second round. And well, the week before the embryo transfer, they actually got a call about that.
12:33 – 18:02
Chris Callahan: They called me and said, “Hey, we made a mistake. You’re actually not financially approved to do this through insurance, it’s going to be an out-of-pocket expense. We made a mistake on our end, and we didn’t bill for that first, proceed the first IVF. So, you’ve already hit your max.” I didn’t end up telling her until the day before the transfer. I was like, hey, we have some billing things that we have to take care of. But I don’t want you to stress about that. But, you know, that was quite a shock to find out that we were on the hook for that amount of money now.
Dan Bulger: Okay, so they go in for another embryo transfer. This time, they had to stay in a hotel near the clinic, as there was a big snowstorm that weekend.
Chris Callahan: I went over to my wife and as she was watching the game with me, and I was all emotional. And I was like, this just like feels right like, we want to name our son Brady, the Patriots won, everything’s gone perfect. And then flash forward two weeks later on the Super Bowl, she gave me the positive pregnancy test right before the game. And we have our son Brady now.
Dan Bulger: Chris didn’t have coverage through Progyny. But since his experience, he has learned a lot more about Progyny. And he sees what a difference it would have made for them.
Chris Callahan: And I think that’s where a service of like Progyny would have made things a lot easier. It was a health insurance thing. It wasn’t like a thing where there was a support advocate, no one really knew anything beyond like numbers and spreadsheets and line items. And that’s where having kind of more of a human approach that Progyny and having an expert there and what you do need and what you don’t need.
Talk About It
18:53 – 20:53
Chris Callahan: So, I put that post out there. And just to kind of say, alright, there are other employers out there that do similar benefits. And if they don’t, like they should definitely consider it. And it’s something that actually has an impact. And from a brand perspective, like the positive, like publicity that you get from doing something like this, is so much more impactful than those other things. And if we’re being honest about the number of wasted benefits and coverage that companies give, $30,000 isn’t much compared to some of the junk that they do probably cover that no one uses or use and don’t get a benefit from it. So, I kind of just wanted to put that out there. And then honestly, the response was just like it went like viral instantly and the stories that I got both positive and heartbreaking were unbelievable. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of stories. That is kind of what the same experience has been when I’m open about it at like, a bachelor party I went to a year and a half ago, I remember I just said the whole thing about Brady, my son and how we had him and the IVF. And there was a person that I kind of knew, but we weren’t friends of any sort. And he told me, him and his wife were going through it, wondering why they weren’t able to. They ended up having a kid a few months ago. And I don’t even think they had a full IVF journey, but just how quickly he was to open up to me, a complete stranger is the same response I’ve had via the internet on LinkedIn is just so many people, different versions of the same story.
Dan has been in the healthcare industry for the past ten plus years as a multimedia content producer. Better known as ‘Video Dan’ he has interviewed numerous doctors, patients and other experts in the world of fertility. He’s also the producer for this podcast, This is Infertility and the producer behind the Progyny YouTube Channel which features interviews with dozens of the nation’s leading fertility specialists. On a personal note Dan’s parents started fostering kids when he was four years old, and he considers himself a proud older brother to over 100 foster children.
Chris is an outspoken advocate for open conversation around male fertility issues. Having navigated the complex journey of fertility struggles and IVF treatments with his wife, Becca, he intimately understands the delicate balance of managing personal emotions and providing support. In a viral LinkedIn post, Chris shattered the silence around this issue, generating over 9 million impressions in June 2023. Now, as the proud father of their son, Brady, he hopes to help support others through this challenging process.
Music From This Episode: