Those who know me can believe that I was once so painfully shy (as a child) that I could not bring myself to ring doorbells while selling Girl Scout cookies. Yet, here I was, calling on Congressional offices on Capitol Hill unannounced to advocate for fertility benefits for wounded warriors and to talk about the importance of insurance coverage for fertility treatment.
I was recently in Washington, D.C. to attend the first annual ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine) ‘Advocacy Academy’. Day one was spent listening to inspirational speakers talk about the skills involved in advocacy. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez spoke about winning the geographical lottery because he happened to be lucky enough to live in Maryland when he and his wife experienced infertility. At the time, they intermittently had insurance which covered their IVF treatments. He entreated us to continue the important work that we do to treat and advocate for infertility patients because he would not have had his two children without IVF treatment.
My medical school classmate, Dr. Gil Mottla, spoke about his efforts to support legislation that would provide IVF for military veterans whose injuries incurred in the line of active duty prevent them from having children. Although the Department of Defense currently provides IVF coverage for active military members who have sustained damage to their spinal cord or reproductive organs, only 20 active duty members have been able to take advantage of this benefit because once the military member no longer needs acute treatment, he or she is transferred to the VA system which is prohibited by law from providing IVF.
Dr. Mottla showed those of us in attendance an emotional video clip from a (CBS) news story featuring a military vet whose leg was amputated and whose testicles were irreparably damaged when he stepped on an IED. He could not fathom why his country would not provide for the IVF treatment he and his wife needed to start a family after he had faithfully served his country. His clinic, Fertility Solutions, and others are currently partnering with ASRM and pharmaceutical companies to provide deeply discounted IVF treatment and fertility medications for veterans that have sustained similar injuries. However, Congressional members are still needed in order to sponsor and pass those bills that will change the current policy at the VA.
Day two was spent taking 15,100 steps (counted on my fitness tracker) crisscrossing the Capital Mall and walking up and down stairs (with painful shin splints) into the buildings housing the offices of our elected officials. Davina Fankhauser (Fertility within Reach) and I dropped in on Senator Ed Markey’s office unannounced, but we were thrilled when he stopped to shake our hands and remembered receiving the Reproductive Health Champion Award from Fertility within Reach in 2014.
“From one Reproductive Health Champion to another, you are a hard act to follow!” I said as we high-fived each other.
In Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office, I was proud and surprised to be only the sixth visitor from Dedham to place a push-pin on her map of visitors from Massachusetts. We paid visits to the offices of Representatives Joe Kennedy, Katherine Clark, Nikki Tsongas, Seth Moulton and Seth Lynch. We even paid a visit to Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline, who represents Providence and Newport, on behalf of the Navy families from Newport Naval Base who see us at the Providence office of Fertility Solutions. We finished up with a visit at Rep. Stephen Lynch who represents Dedham and surrounding towns. We were greeted politely everywhere, but nowhere as warmly as those offices representing our “home towns” of Dedham and Providence. Even though they could not promise support on the bills we were advocating for, every single staff member we met was receptive to the idea of supporting a bill that would extend the same benefits that active military members receive under the DOD to the VA system.
What did I learn from my experience in Washington?
It is easy to become an advocate for a cause you are passionate about. These are the ABCs of becoming an advocate:
A. Act: You may think one person, with one voice may not make a difference, but one person can start a movement. If you think someone else will do it, no one else will. YOU are that someone.
B. Believe: If you believe in your cause, you can’t help being a good spokesperson. Also, breath! It may seem scary to speak to an audience of one or many people, but it gets easier each time you do it.
C. Call to action: The role of an advocate is to call attention to the importance of the issue at hand and gather support for your cause.
I would love to hear from others about their experiences advocating for expanded fertility coverage or other causes that they have been supporting. Please contact me at [email protected], our Facebook page.
Yours truly, Pei-Li Huang, MD