An Infertility Advocate’s Guide to the “Coolest Must-Attend Event” in the Reproductive World (ASRM 2018)

An Infertility Advocate’s Guide to the “Coolest Must-Attend Event” in the Reproductive World (ASRM 2018)

Every year, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) organizes a 3-5 day “must attend event” for the reproductive world (similar to how long a woman’s menstrual cycle is!).   The ASRM Scientific Congress & Pre-Congress Conference offers workshops from top experts discussing the latest in reproductive care, booths from various companies who help with family building, and networking opportunities with clinicians, doctors, marketing companies, geneticists, therapists, patient advocates, journalists, nurses, and more. If you care about reproductive health, fertility or any aspect of family building, this is the place to find answers and network, non-stop, for days.

This year, the theme of the event was, “Focus on the Next Generation” and it was held in Denver, Colorado. As someone who expanded her family with the help of IVF and as a passionate infertility advocate, writer and promoter, I would not only be there, but I would be there with actual bells on. I did wonder, as a non-medical person, what would be the tone of the event. Clinical? Stuffy? Would brilliant doctors look at me and say, “Are you the one who made that joke about ordering your eggs ‘fertilized and implanted’ at brunch? Cute. Now, move out of my way.”

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I knew three things before heading to ASRM:

  1. Colorado was where a show I watched in the 1970’s called Mork & Mindy was based. (Yes, I’m old).

  2. I would have the opportunity to attend several unique and fascinating talks, including “Access to Infertility Care”, “Breakthroughs and Controversies in Gamete and Embryo Biology and CRISPR Research”, and “Human Trafficking: Recognizing and Responding to Victims in Healthcare”

  3. Literally almost EVERYONE I know in the “reproductive world” would be there. Seriously though. I went through the comprehensive list with my husband (much to his annoyance) and was impressed.

Celmatix swag from ASRM 2018

Here’s what I have to report (in my obviously non-medical way of putting things):

  1. Everyone, repeat, everyone was there to meet, greet, learn, connect, talk, listen, and came with an open heart. At least, that was my experience, but I tend to be a “test tube half full” kind of person.

  2. There was the fun swag from Igenomix citing a non-scientific study that those in the fertility field are cooler than pretty much everyone else, personalized thank you cards from Celmatix, sperm caricatures with your face on them from MedAnswers and a water bottle I received (and almost got tackled for) from IntegraMed.

  3. At any booth you’d get a warm welcome, an introduction and a quick exchange about who each other was and what you hoped to accomplish. There were so many people that it was beyond impossible to meet everyone. I ran into old friends, made new ones, had some meetings with colleagues I work with, and shared food (and drinks) with potential new ones. Business was accomplished, products were launched, announcements were made and successes were celebrated. It felt like a year of excitement and work was packed into a small span of time. There’s a picture of the amazing Dr. Serena Chen from IRMS and I sitting down because we were both so exhausted at this point that we couldn’t even stand.

Dr. Serena Chen and Jennifer Jay Palumbo exhausted on the floor because they literally cannot get up.

At the center of all of this networking, fun and celebration, was the theme of the conference: The Next Generation. There was a lot of talk about new technology for building healthier families, and particularly, how to make reproductive care affordable.  I would say that this was my main takeaway and, after reading David Sable’s review of ASRM in Forbes, it was apparent (and encouraging) to see I was not the only one.

Finding a way to get those who genuinely need fertility treatment or family building assistance access to the care they need is what personally drives me. This includes IVF, donor sperm, donor eggs, donor embryos, surrogacy, and adoption. Infertility is still not seen as a medical diagnosis by the overwhelming majority of the United States (as well as many other countries), which means companies and/or insurances do not cover it. Patients with a very real medical issue have to fight for the mere chance at having a family and that is unacceptable -- especially to someone like me who barely afforded that final IVF that brought me my now six-year-old son.

There were also many discussions about the inequity of care and lack of information regarding resources available to patients. There were equally as many talks about the controversial issue of mosaic embryos – how to handle them, how to advise patients on whether to transfer them, and overall genetic counselling in general.

I know in the fertility world with the high-cost of infertility (again, trust me, I paid out of pocket for my treatment and still can’t afford a house because of it), it’s easy to get jaded. Happy outcomes aren’t guaranteed, not every doctor/patient experience is a positive one, some cycles suck and the “path to parenthood” can be more like a crazy, out of control bumper car ride with no seat belts. However, I was also deeply inspired by the conference. I met a lot of people in the reproductive world who cared, who want to get it right for their patients and, dare I say it… the next generation.

While I was pleased to see a major emphasis on health and access to care, there is still so much work to be done. We need a tremendous amount of advocacy, letter writing, meeting with senators, and certainly more conferences!  Despite my lack of a medical degree, I am grateful for the opportunity to attend ASRM, and felt welcomed, heard and educated. It also was rewarding for me to find new ways (I hope) to potentially pay it forward to future patients, and help make their infertility “bumper car ride” a little bit easier.

About Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo

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Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo is a freelance writer, public speaker, infertility/women’s rights advocate, former stand-up comic, author of the blog, ‘The 2 Week Wait, and proud IVF Mom. As an Infertility Subject Matter Expert as well as Spokesperson and Blogger, she has been interviewed on news outlets such as CNN, NPR and BBC where she has demonstrated her ability to make even reproductive issues fun and educational. Her articles have been featured on the Huffington Post, ScaryMommy, Time Magazine, The Mighty and she volunteers for various organizations including the Alliance for Fertility Preservation, Resolve, the National Infertility Association, March of Dimes and Gilda’s Club. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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