There are fertility warriors that walk amongst us. In fact, the list gets longer and longer each day. There are also fertility heroes too... a slightly different breed.
Who’s a Fertility Warrior and Who’s a Hero
I differentiate warriors and heroes in this way:
If you’re in it, as an active patient, as someone trying at home, as someone who shares their story or doesn’t, as a person who supports organizations or watches from the sidelines, then you are a warrior. It is far, far easier to hide from infertility than to turn around and look it in the eye. And we do face infertility in all different ways, at our own pace and in our own fashion. I acknowledge and salute all of you, wherever you are in your fertility journey.
I see them as the ones who stick up for everyone. Who are tireless, often loud, frequently “aggressive” (in the best possible way), and very, very public. The list of heroes, it’s a little shorter. See below for a very incomplete list of Fertility Heroes of mine. *
Risa A. Levine, Fertility Warrior and Hero to New York State Residents Needing IVF
One universally acknowledged Fertility Hero is Risa A. Levine. Her bio says it all and is listed in full on the bottom of this piece.** Here are a few very recent highlights:
“Ms. Levine is a leader in the effort to secure insurance coverage for infertility treatment and is working closely with RESOLVE The National Infertility Association on the State and Federal level. She was instrumental in securing legislation in New York to cover in-vitro fertilization treatment for large group insurance plans and is spearheading efforts to legalize compensated gestational surrogacy. She served on the Board of Directors of RESOLVE from 2010 through 2019, and as Chair of RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013 and chaired RESOLVE’s Congressional Briefing in 2010. She was the recipient of RESOLVE’s Hope Award for Advocacy in 2010 and was the recipient of the Barbara Eck Founder’s Award in 2019. Also in 2019, the RESOLVE Advocacy Legacy Award in honor of Risa A Levine was established.”
Watch the video that was released at the Night of Hope. She is a Fertility Warrior. She is fierce. Hilary Rodham Clinton and Corey Booker will tell you just how fierce. And I’m honored to be able to share a small piece of her story...
IVF Coverage Passed in New York State, A Personal Story
I’m honored to know Risa personally and to have spent time with Risa at RESOLVE’s New York state Advocacy Day last spring.
Ms. Levine was generous enough to share an intimate and personal account of why she fought so tirelessly to pass the life altering infertility bill in New York.
I asked some painful questions, and her answers explain why she works passionately for you, me, and all those affected by infertility.
Lisa Rosenthal (LR): What does this coverage mean to you? Why did you fight so hard for coverage that you can't use?
Risa Levine (RL): Nothing will ever heal the losses that I experienced or remediate the impact of the financial burdens I incurred, which devastated my future economic security as a result of my own treatment. But Misery Does NOT Love Company. Seeing women and families still facing devastation from the costs of infertility treatment means that we haven’t grown as a society very much. Our growth as a country means that we should always be moving towards more rights. This coverage means that our government officials are hearing us, that family building is important, and that all diseases, including reproductive ones, are being treated in a better and more efficacious way. So there is some validation that my tears over my own losses somehow found their way to cultivating better results for others, there’s something very Voltaire-like about it.
LR: What do you see as the future of fertility coverage? That federal coverage supersedes or replaces state insurance laws? Strengthens them?
RL: We are not yet done. We still need to find a way to expand coverage for people covered by small and individual group plans. If this coverage, IVF coverage, can be viewed as the benchmark for all NYS plans, we will go a long way towards getting more NY patients covered. We will continue to look to the federal government to provide fertility benefits to the employees covered by federal plans. If we can get federal workers covered, including the military, we will go a long way towards establishing that infertility is a disease that merits coverage for ALL Americans. We do not have a “cure” for infertility. But we do have a way to protect against some causes and effects of infertility, and that is egg freezing for women at their most fertile point in life. While there are some far-seeing companies that are recognizing the impact on employees’ job satisfaction of providing this coverage, we need to help more companies offer this benefit. If that means seeking legislative change, then that’s where we need to go next.
LR: Would this coverage changed your journey? Or possibly, your ending?
RL: In retrospect, without coverage (the $10,000 that I had was used up so quickly, it barely counted), I went down a rabbit hole in seeking treatment without regard to efficacy. I was constantly grasping at straws, mirages, and other ephemera. I was willing to try anything. If I had had coverage for certain treatments and not others, it would have provided better guidelines for what might actually work, and what was just a fool’s errand. Additionally, running out of a legitimate amount of coverage might have been an indication that perhaps I should have moved on to alternative paths at an earlier time. Insurance leads to better medical decisions. I am certainly testimony that lack of insurance meant that I just kept going, without even thinking about costs, because I had none from the start. By the time I was done, I had spent in excess of $270,000 on medical and alternative treatment, without success.
LR: With the passage of this bill, are we overall gaining or losing ground with women's reproductive rights?
RL: Any increase in access to care for women is a step towards better health care and more respect for women’s reproductive rights. “Pro-choice” MUST mean that the right to HAVE a baby is just as important as the right to not have one. And when the cause of the inability to not have one is medical, then insurance coverage must be provided. That is how women’s bodies need to be respected.
Thank You, Risa A. Levine
Risa, thank you. Thank you for the work that you have done and will continue to do and thank you for your honesty about your own personal infertility journey. As a Fertility Hero, you inspire many people, including me, to stand up, speak out, and give back, so that the fertility warriors out there aren’t battling alone. And they know it.
*Fertility heroes includes organizations such as RESOLVE, Resolve New England, PCOS Challenge, ATime, Eggsperience, Stirrup Queen, IVF Babble, Broken Brown Egg, Pregnantish, Fertility Within Reach, Fertility IQ, Chick Mission, Sistergirl Foundation, Fertility for Colored Girls, PCOS Diva, The Art of Infertility, and many, many more. This list also includes individuals, including but not limited to Angela Bergmann, Jay Palumbo, Hilariously Infertile, Betsy Campbell, Brooke Kingston, Candace Nocon-Wohl, Cindy Flynn, Gretchen Kubacky, E-Beth Cordell Marshall, Sharon Lamothe, Renetta Dubose, Davina Fankhauser, Amy Klein, Stephanie Varnell Caballero, Carmela Rea, Sue Ann Brabson Johnston, Carmen Vigil, Kate Weldon LeBlanc, Crystal and Tyler Wilson, Shantana Maye, Robin Mangieri, Rebecca Hodnett Flick, Kristen Darcy, Carrie Van Steen, Teresa B. Wolf, Valerie Landis, Keiko Zoll, Aprill Lane, Sue Taylor, and many, many more.
** Biography of Risa A. Levine: Risa A. Levine is an attorney practicing in New York in the area of commercial and residential transactional real estate. While managing her own practice, Ms. Levine has remained active in various communal, philanthropic and political organizations.
Ms. Levine is a leader in the effort to secure insurance coverage for infertility treatment and is working closely with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association on the State and Federal level. She was instrumental in securing legislation in New York to cover in vitro fertilization treatment for large group insurance plans and is spearheading efforts to legalize compensated gestational surrogacy. She served on the Board of Directors of RESOLVE from 2010 through 2019, and as Chair of RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013 and chaired RESOLVE’s Congressional Briefing in 2010. She was the recipient of RESOLVE’s Hope Award for Advocacy in 2010 and was the recipient of the Barbara Eck Founder’s Award in 2019. Also in 2019, the RESOLVE Advocacy Legacy Award in honor of Risa A Levine was established.
Ms Levine was a member of Hillary Clinton’s Finance Committee for her historic presidential bid. She campaigned on Hillary’s behalf in several states and was involved with fundraising and surrogate speaking on behalf of the candidate. Risa first began volunteering for Hillary Clinton upon the inception of the 2000 Hillary Clinton for Senate Campaign. Ms. Levine also served on the Finance Committees of numerous New York State and Federal candidates.
Risa is currently serving as the Vice President of the Brandeis University Alumni Association. She was an active leader of State of Israel Bonds for over 20 years a past chair of New York New Leadership, where she directed a campaign which succeeded in increasing sales of Israel Bonds by 120% in one year. Named one of the Top 40 Jewish Leaders under 40 by The Jewish Week in 1995, she has met with Prime Ministers Yitzchak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon and offered insight into the relationship American Jewry has with the State of Israel and its political implications. She is a committed supporter of other Jewish and Zionist causes and serves on the Boards of the National Jewish Democratic Council, New York and The Judaism and Democracy Action Alliance of North America.
Ms. Levine has appeared in numerous television and print features, including Fox and Friends, CNN, ABC and CBS, and Self Magazine, the New York Times, the Albany Times Union and other forums.
A cum laude graduate of Brandeis University, where she double majored in English and Sociology, Risa enjoys active participation in its Alumni Association and was Class Chair for her 25th Reunion, breaking both fundraising and attendance records.
Ms. Levine was born in Brooklyn, NY, is a graduate of the Yeshiva of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School and received her law degree from Fordham University School of Law.
With 30+ years experience in the fertility field, as well as navigating her own infertility, Lisa has dedicated her life to advocating for and supporting those struggling to grow their families. Her work includes serving as Illume Fertility's Patient Advocate, Strategic Content Lead, and founder of Fertile Yoga, as well as advocating for those with infertility at RESOLVE and other organizations.