The waiting womb
Coping and hoping when dealing with infertility
By: ARLENE FINE Staff Reporter
One family's struggle and success
As Steve and Jodi Marton and their four energetic sons, Jordan, 15, Ethan, 8, Zacha ry, 5, and Brent, 1, ju mp into the
family van to head downtown for a Cavs game, you would never imag ine that behind this lively family scene is a
dramat ic and inspiring story.
The Martons' saga begins with the couple's painful in fertility problems; it end s 18 years later with their bountiful family
of six. The Pepper Pike residents credit their success in having a thriving family to medical advances, a dogged
determination to "never give up," and their strong Jewish roots.
First the raw statistics: Jodi Marton had 22 inseminations, 2 in vitro fertilizations (IVF), 3 miscarriages, 1 emb ryo
transfer, and 5 frozen emb ryos. And after age 40, she had two natural pregnancies.
When Steve and Jodi, then both in their 20s, were married in 1984, they never imagined that they would have trouble
conceiving. But, three years into their marriage with their nursery still empty, they knew so mething was wrong.
A visit to Jodi's family gynecologist eventually led to four insemination attempts. The last one resulted in the successful
birth of their son Jordan in 1990.
Two years passed, and although the Martons longed for another child, they could not conceive. Jodi endured additional
costly infert ility treat ments that included blood work, hormone shots and ultrasounds. None of these procedures was
covered by insurance, and with treat ment cycles running at almost $2,000 each, the drain on family finances was
"We moved into a new house at that time but did not have money for drapes," says Jodi. "My skin was raw fro m
Pergonal (fertility hormone) shots admin istered by Steve, and my depression was deep. But Steve was always there for
me. He even spoke to the nurses and doctors and told them not to mention money issues to me because I was under
Because insemination was not working, the couple opted for the more costly (around $10,000) high -tech IVF procedure
in 1995. But this, too, failed.
At that point the Martons switched doctors and contacted Cleveland Clin ic infert ility expert Dr. Jeffrey Goldberg. J odi
said she chose him because her mother Eleanor's maiden name was Goldberg, and "I thought it was beshert."
The first thing Go ldberg did was perform routine testing and discovered that Marton had a septate uterus (tissue down
the middle). Once she had surgery to remove the tissue, Goldberg performed a second in vitro, using the then -
experimental Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) method.
This is a procedure in which the eggs and the sperm are fertilized in a laboratory by direct injection of a sin gle sperm
into each egg. Three days later the resulting embryos are placed into the uterus with no surgery. Ext ra embryos are
frozen for later attempts at pregnancy.
The IVF procedure led to Ethan's birth in 1996. Son Zachary was born in 2000 fro m a froze n emb ryo transfer.
After the Martons had put away their charts, pills, needles and calendars, their bonus baby Brent was born, "conceived
the old fashioned way," in August 2003.
"The reason I am so open about my fertility issues is to give other people h ope," says Jodi, 44. "Each month when you
are trying to conceive seems like years, but as I reflect on those years, I realize that everything happens for a reason."
She adds that the role the doctors and nurses played in the process was also crucial. "A k ind word on a bad day could
change my attitude and maybe even the results of that month's tests," she notes.
Faith has played a strong part in the Martons' support system. "We met with Rabbi Moshe Garfunkel of Congregation
Zichron Chaim (Orthodox) who counsels relig ious couples with infertility problems," says Jodi. "He took our
desperation to heart and sent a prayer to the Western Wall. He also led us to the ICSI method. I tru ly believe God
answered our prayers with the miraculous birth of each of our son s."
Jodi also credits her pregnancies to attending two different britot ceremonies. It is believed in some circles that
attending a ritual circu mcision ceremony will bring mazel (good luck) to a wo man t rying to conceive.
"Before I became pregnant with Jordan, I went to a friend's bris," she says. "I was standing at the back of the room all
choked up, and my friend whispered to me, 'I would like you to be part of our bris. I will hand you my son, and then
you will pass him back to me.'" The next month Jodi became pregnant. She attended another bris three months before
she conceived Ethan.
Following the birth of their first son, three of the Martons' four parents passed away, and each child subsequently born
is named after these beloved relatives. "By keeping their memo ries alive, their births are a double blessing," says Jodi.
Although Jodi admits the stress of their infert ility problems was enormous, it brought the couple closer together.
"Adversity bonded Steve and me," she says. "Our family is our greatest joy. I thank God every day."
Infertility from a professional viewpoi nt
When Dr. James Go ldfarb, director of the Cleveland Clin ic Fertility Center at Beachwood, walks through a mall, goes
to a restaurant or stops at a gas station, he often is approached by a grateful, smiling parent who either points to a child
in tow or to a wallet full of photographs. The parent then proudly says, "This is one of yours."
Co mments like these are never routine, says Go ldfarb, who has been an infertility specialist since l979. "I am still
humbled each time I help a family have the child they so badly want," he says.
The need for fert ility doctors' expert ise has never been greater," says Goldfarb.
The chances of conceiving are sharply impacted by a wo man's age. While wo men's fertility peaks in the early t wenties,
fertility rates decrease very little until the early 30s. During the 30s and especially in the late 30s, fert ility rates decrease
rapidly. By age 40 at least 40% o f wo men who start trying will not be able to conceive easily or at all, and by 45 over
90% of those who start trying will not be able to conceive, maintains Gold farb. In young women with fertility problems,
med ical interventions can often vastly increase their chances for pregnancy. Medical interventions are much less likely
to improve the already lo w fertility potential as wo men get older, he adds.
"This decline in fertility is the result of the natural aging process of the ovaries and emphasizes the need for timely
evaluation and treatment," says Goldfarb.
Assuming they have the patience, wo men are advised to turn to an infertility specialist when they are under 35 and have
been trying to conceive for a year, or between the ages of 35 and 40 and have been trying to conceive for six months.
"A woman who has mild hormone problems at age 30 may be able to be treated with simple fert ility pills and have a
very good chance of getting pregnant in 6 or 7 months," says Goldfarb. "On the other hand, if a wo man at 40 has the
same type of hormone problem, the co mbination of the hormone problem and the intrinsic decrease in fertility at age 40
will make her much less likely to conceive with even much more aggressive therapy."
The med ia, he adds, does not do us a favor by publicizing wo men who get pregnant in th eir 50s. "Chances are they are
using someone else's eggs," he says. "Also the media never publicizes the failures and bad outcomes."
When couples first meet with Gold farb, he performs a series of routine tests and hopes the solution is as simp le as a
fertility pill that addresses a mild hormone problem involving ovulation. This pill costs $35 monthly and is usually
taken for 3 to 6 months. Depending on a woman's age, up to 40% of wo men may get pregnant this way.
Another treatment may involve a minor surgical p rocedure for blocked fallopian tubes or a uterine problem, or the
removal of cysts, fibroids, or scar t issue that has prevented conception.
When this does not do the job, or if the male's sperm count is lo w, insemination of the sperm into the ovary is the next
option. This runs about $1,200 for three cycles. About one third of the wo men who undergo this procedure may get
The third and most costly step is in vitro fertilization (IVF). Go ldfarb, one of the early pioneers, has been involved with
in vitro for 20 years. Currently, h is Beachwood practice performs 500 of these procedures each year.
While at Mt. Sinai, Goldfarb directed the program responsible for Ohio's first IVF in 1983 and the world's first
IVF/surrogate birth in 1986. When the first so-called test-tube babies were born, Go ldfarb remembers scathing attacks
by various groups for his profession's attempt to "play God."
The IVF option runs fro m $10,000 to $11,000 in Oh io, with price vary ing throughout the country. "If one of the sp ouses
is older and they want a child quickly, and the other options have not worked, this is probably the best way to go," says
Go ldfarb. "Before I advise IVF, I lay out all the choices for a couple and let them make the final decision. There are
trade-offs with each method. The cost and wear and tear on a wo man's body is certainly among the deciding factors."
IVF often puts a huge financial burden on a family, and very few states cover the cost of treatment through insurance
policies. In Oh io, diagnostic tests are often covered, but not the treatment. "This is like telling a patient he has a bad
heart, but not paying for corrective treat ment," says Goldfarb.
"When we first began in vitro in 1983, the success rate was about 10%," says Goldfarb. "Because IVF is basically a
bypass of the fallopian tube, it was first used only for wo men with damaged fallopian tubes. With time, IVF was shown
to be efficacious for other types of infert ility."
Until 1991, the only way to fertilize an egg with IVF was to surround the egg with 50,000 to 200,000 sperm and hope
that one sperm penetrated the egg. However, if not that many sperm were available or there were abnormalit ies in the
sperm that made it very unlikely for sperm to penetrate the egg, the couple could not expect success from IVF. Since
1991, couples with these severe male factor problems have been able to get comparab le pregnancy rates through a
procedure called ICSI.
Now in a process similar to in jecting jelly into a doughnut, one sperm is injected direct ly int o an egg that is removed
fro m a wo man's body. The egg and sperm mixture, o r a 2 to 3-day-old embryo, is then placed in the wo man's uterus. If
a man has a low sperm count, this solves the problem since only one healthy sperm is needed to fertilize the egg.
The IVF process takes 40 days from start of medications to the pregnancy test. A woman must undergo mult iple
injections of hormones for 20 days, visit the doctor's office for ultrasounds and blood tests every two or three days, and
undergo a minor surgical procedure to retrieve eggs from her ovaries. Eggs are then fertilized with the father's sperm in
the lab, and the resulting embryos are transferred back to the mother's uterus. Then after two weeks, a pregnancy test is
"Success rates are determined by multip le factors, the most important of which is the wo man's age," says Gold farb.
"Over the years, success rates have improved, especially for young women. Wo men under 35 can expect success rates
of over 50%. Conversely, in wo men ages 43 and older, the live birth rate fro m IVF nationwide is less than 5%. Because
mu ltip le births are not a goal but a healthy, happy family is, doctors are always working to lower the number of
transferred emb ryos per cycle to reduce the risks of mult iple b irths. Studies have shown that multiple pregnancies can
be harmful for mothers and their children."
Despite Goldfarb's and his colleagues' many successes, the gynecologist grimly recounts the failu res. "When IVF does
not work, when the hormone drugs do not do the trick, and we have no medical exp lanation as to why a couple cannot
conceive, that is when it really hurts," he notes. "I have seen women age ten years in the span of two, as they try every
known method to get pregnant and fail. Yet, we cannot explain why. Th e strain on these couples is enormous, and often
changes their personalities completely."
That is why Goldfarb is so passionate about Partnership for Families (see accompanying article). It g ives couples who
qualify one more chance to have a family they s o desperately want.
Despite all the scientific advances and the work done at the fertility center, says Go ldfarb, a member of Anshe Chesed
Fairmount Temp le, nothing can compare to Mother Nature.
"We have many highly skilled people operating in a lab equipped with high-tech equipment, and all of this is designed
to imitate an exqu isite work of nature - a slim fallop ian tube where the egg is fertilized," he says. "Yet, despite all the
years I have been doing this, everytime I look at an emb ryo, I am awed. F ro m one microscopic dot a human being is
As he points to a drawing of an emb ryo, he says, "It never ceases to amaze me that these little round cells become a
Partnership for Families Fund gi ves couples a second chance
"Just relax and you will get pregnant" is often the most well intended, but can also be the most annoying, frustrating
advice a wo man struggling with infertility can hear.
Today, some fortunate couples are hearing wo rds that offer real encouragement - thanks to Partnership for Families
Fund. This is a program, under the auspices of the Cleveland Clin ic Fertility Center that enables qualified couples a
second chance at in vitro fertilizat ion (IVF).
Since its inception, Partnership for Families Program has provided the fund ing for nine couples to have a second IVF
cycle. So far, five are p regnant, two of them with twins.
"In November of 2003, a friend of mine called me and said she wanted to donate money to help infertile couples in an
effort to pay back for the successful birth of her children," says Dr. James Go ldfarb, d irector of the Cleveland Clinic
Fertility Center in Beachwood.
That same week Go ldfarb had received a poignant, heart wrenching letter fro m a couple, both school teachers, who had
recently gone through one unsuccessful attempt at IVF. They had mortgaged their home and borro wed money fro m
family members to pay for the procedure. Yet, that one attempt failed to produce a viable pregnancy.
"Suddenly I knew what to do," says Goldfarb. "I realized the need for a fund for families who had one unsuccessful IVF
procedure and could not afford one more attempt - one last effort to have a family."
With IVF treat ments prohibitively expensive for most couples, costing approximately $10,000 per treat ment cycle and
with fewer than 20% of couples having insurance to cover the procedure, Go ldfarb's idea made perfect sense. Moreover,
it provided that essential element of hope.
Within months, Goldfarb and an enthusiastic committee created the Partnership for Families Program, co mprised of a
volunteer corps of former patients and joyful parents.
"Once we exp lain why we are raising money, private individuals and corporations welco me the chance to give," says
Go ldfarb. "The response from the commun ity was greater than we ever imag ined."
Each recipient of a Partnership for Families Fund grant receives $8,000 worth of IVF medical services. In addition,
Serono Pharmaceuticals' Co mpassionate Care Program provides medications for couples going through the program.
Board members Toni and Don Scherzer are great cheerleaders for Partnership for Families thanks to their personal
"Our daughter Gabrielle, 20, a student at the University of Mich igan, was the first girl born in Ohio through IVF," says
Toni who was a patient of then Mt. Sinai doctors, James Gold farb, Wulf Utian and Robert Kiwi.
"We know what a difficult t ime it can be for infertile couples trying to start a family," she says. "The emotional and
financial issues can be devastating. We got involved with Partnership for Families because we did not view having a
family as a privilege, but a fundamental right. This program gives a couple a second opportunity for an IVF procedure
they would not have otherwise."
Mindi A xner, 39, who also serves on the Partnership for Families board along with her husband Michael, gave birth to
twins Sam and Emily three years ago via IVF.
"Infertility is not fun, and it affects people in all walks of life regardless of age, race, cu lture, educational level or
income," says Axner. "Today couples are waiting longer to get married and have children, and they are finding it more
difficult to conceive. Th is program gives them one more shot to have a family."
Partnership for Families Fund board members are exuberant about the results of their efforts. As one member states, "I
continue to believe that infertility is to my generation what breast cancer was to my mother's - it touches so many lives
and has been in the closet for too long and received too little in terms of resources."
For informat ion on Partnership for Families Fund or to learn if you qualify, call Denise at 216 -839-2929 or e-mail her at
The organization is having a special benefit called "A Night of Firsts" on Sat., May 7, with CNN anchor Paula Zahn as
the guest speaker. Call 216-839-2929 for information.