For close to two years, Michael Tarle and April Oldenburg of Emeryville tried to have a child. “We tried the old-fashioned way,” Tarle said. “It didn’t work.”
Then they tried nine rounds of artificial insemination and two in vitro fertilization treatments. Without success.
“It was a huge struggle for us,” Tarle said.
And so was the cost. In 2012 and 2013, he and his wife spent between $60,000 and $70,000 on all of these procedures, he said, eventually having to borrow from family and take out high-interest medical loans.
“At that point, we were really concerned,” continued Tarle. “And we didn’t really know how we were going to continue.”
Then Tarle’s brother suggested the couple visit Hebrew Free Loan, which offers interest-free loans for a variety of needs. At the time, the 123-year-old agency didn’t have formal program specifically for fertility procedures, but Tarle was given a loan of about $15,000 to look for a donor egg.
And it worked. Oldenburg got pregnant in January 2014, and three years after Noah was born, she gave birth to a girl, Navah — thanks in part to another loan from HFL.
“There’s absolutely no doubt,” Tarle said. “Without Hebrew Free Loan, our kids wouldn’t be here.” A former president of Berkeley’s Netivot Shalom, he said his whole family is active in the congregation.
The S.F.-based agency, a founding member of the International Association of Jewish Free Loans, has been quietly giving out fertility loans since the early 2000s, helping about 75 individuals and couples in the years since then.
In February, HFL launched the Fertility Loan Program, which helps borrowers afford medical treatments that are not only very expensive but also don’t guarantee a pregnancy. Details for Northern Californians interested in applying can be found on HFL’s website.
In vitro fertilization can cost between $12,000 and $17,000, and the medication required during the process can add another $10,000. A donor egg costs around $12,000 to $20,000. Artificial insemination is a little better at $500 to $4,000, but in all these cases, few insurance providers will pay for a majority of the costs.
With loans of up to $20,000, the Hebrew Free Loan program will potentially help many more people struggling with fertility. The application requires an individual or at least one spouse to be Jewish.
The two couples willing to speak to J. about their experiences with Hebrew Free Loan had to go through multiple procedures before success, raising costs even further.
That’s what happened to Becca (Brown) Dawson of Martinez, who secured a loan from HFL so she could have her eggs frozen. Another loan a few years later in 2018 for IVF led to disappointment when she had a miscarriage, but the loan was enough to try again — and Dawson and her husband Robert now have a son, Jack, born last November.
In total, she borrowed about $25,000 over the course of seven years, which covered most of the medical costs. She’s currently paying off the second loan.
“The fact there’s an organization in the Jewish community allowing people to do this — something that is really out of sight for a lot of people — it feels like they are doing a mitzvah,” Dawson said. “I’m beyond grateful that they supported me so much.”
Hebrew Free Loan’s new program, totaling $150,000, was funded by Dana and Gary Shapiro.
Gary Shapiro, a former president of HFL and longtime board member, said he was inspired to do so after a past borrower brought her baby to a board meeting — a baby who was born thanks to an HFL loan.
“My wife and myself looked at each other and said, there’s no greater [giving] impact than seeing a new baby being born,’” said Shapiro, who is willing to donate more money if needed. “I’m proud of the program. And I’m privileged to have participated.”
Though HFL had been providing loans for fertility purposes for years, the organization didn’t want to make it public out of concern that the demand would exceed the resources, said Cindy Rogoway, HFL’s executive director since 2014. Still, people were finding out by “word of mouth,” she said.
“There was a pattern of people asking for this. We were finding that more and more people were turning to us for fertility,” she said.
Now, with funding, HFL is able to promote the program.
Rogoway herself is intimately familiar with the topic. More than a decade ago, she and her husband had fertility challenges, eventually turning to an egg donor and a surrogate. Now they are parents to an 11-year-old.
“Because of the struggles I went through, this program matters to me on a very personal level,” Rogoway said. “I share my own experience with loan applicants, in hopes that my family’s successful journey to have a child will give them some hope and inspiration for their own journey.”