The Gift of Infertility

Today’s guest post is from Sarah Ivy and Juli Westcott, DC. Sarah and Juli are Barren Besties turned founders of the non-profit, Braving Infertility Together. Thanks, Sarah and Juli, for sharing your story. 

“Thank you all for coming to dinner tonight. It was great getting to meet you. If any of you would like someone to pray with you before you leave, I’d be happy to do that.”

“Hi, my name is Juli. I could really use some prayers. I just found out that my IVF transfer worked and I am pregnant, but I’m so scared something will happen.”

“Hi, Juli, I’m Sarah. Let’s pray right now.”

And so it began. Two women from two different sides of the infertility spectrum, both desperately wanting to become mothers, and wanting to feel like they were not alone in this journey. So, how did things go from acquaintances at a dinner to a true, deep friendship?

Sarah:
A little while after Juli became pregnant with her daughter, my husband and I had the opportunity to do an IVF transfer with a pair of adopted embryos. We were thrilled to find out that we were also pregnant! But unfortunately, when we went in for our sonogram at week nine, there was no heartbeat.

Juli:
At that time,  I was 12 or 13 weeks pregnant, and heartbroken for my friend. I debated on what to do, because I figured the last thing you want to see when you have just lost your baby is a pregnant lady, but I knew I needed to see her. I put on a loose sundress, bought a beautiful orchid plant, and drove down to her house.

Sarah:
This was the turning point in our relationship. Her bravery in that moment, in being afraid to come but doing it anyway, and my vulnerability in loss sparked a deep, authentic friendship that has only continued to grow.

Sarah’s loss was the summer of 2015, and Juli’s daughter, Cady Joy, was born in December. A few weeks after her birth, we decided to get our husbands together for dinner at the same restaurant where we met back in April. When our husbands met, we realized how similar they are – both came from a construction background, and both were fiercely protective husbands that had longed to be fathers. There was an instant connection, and that night brought us all closer together.

Juli and Sarah with their families at their book release party

Juli:
A few short weeks after our first family dinner, I remember sitting on the couch one night breastfeeding Cady, and all of a sudden my phone rang — it was Sarah. Now if you know Sarah, she is much more more likely to message or text than call, so I thought it was a bit strange and answered.

Sarah:
I asked, “Hey, does Cady need a friend?”

Juli:
I thought it was a strange question so, I said, “Sure… you can be her friend?” Not having any idea what she was trying to say.

Sarah and her husband had miraculously become pregnant naturally! We were both beyond ecstatic for this new little life, and secretly hoped that maybe it could be a girl so that our daughters could be friends. By the grace of God, we found out a few weeks later that it WAS going to be a girl!

Juli:
One of my favorite pictures we have together is a candid photo of us at Sarah’s Gender Reveal party. We are sitting next to each other smiling, and I am holding Cady who has her hand on Sarah’s tummy and the biggest smile on her face! It was just a sign of the sweet relationship these two girls would soon share.

Left to right, Sarah, Cady, and Juli at Sarah’s gender reveal party

In June of 2016, we had an amazing opportunity to go to a writing conference and do something we had both always dreamed of doing — become published authors. Our plan was to write books to share the stories of our journeys to our daughters, but God had a different plan. By the end of the conference, not only did we know that we were supposed to write a book about our support group (which had continued to meet and grow since that first dinner), but we also felt very strongly that we needed to make the group “official” and file our paperwork to become a non-profit organization, Braving Infertility Together.

Where are we today? Our group has grown from 15 women who met for dinner to over 450 women and their families in the DFW area, as well as over 100 women worldwide in our online support groups. For us personally…

Sarah:
We are at a point where we are no longer seeking medical intervention to grow our family. We are praying and trusting that if God wants us to have more children, we will, and if not, we will treasure the precious gift he has already given us in Charlotte.

Juli:
For us, it has been an emotional road the past year. After much discussion, we decided to do another IVF transfer back in August of 2017, and were so excited to find that we were pregnant again. Unfortunately, a few short weeks later, we discovered that the pregnancy was ectopic, and we lost our sweet baby in an emergency surgery to remove the tube where it had implanted. It took me several months and countless tears and prayers to have the courage to go through another transfer, but in February of this year (with my mom, Sarah, and Ray sitting in the waiting room), we did. By the grace of God, we are expecting our sweet little miracle in October of this year.

Through our friendship and growing non-profit, we have really had the opportunity to live life together. We have brought people into our homes, encouraged people to love each other, and walked with others through some incredibly dark moments, while at the same time loving and encouraging each other.

Sarah:
Juli is the most beautiful friend inside and out. If I had to pick three things about her that I would want the world to know, I would have to start with her hugs. That may sound silly, but I swear her arms wrapped around me and her chin on my head (she is nearly a foot taller than me) give me strength and security, and remind me that I have a BRAVE sister with me in all of this. The look on her face when we asked them to be Charlotte’s Godparents was only rivaled by the look on her face when she held her for the first time. Her genuine love for my daughter is so special. She prays for, loves on, and watches after CC as if she were her own. Lastly, her love for the Lord and her constant encouragement for my relationship with God and reminders of His truths are the greatest gift.

Juli and Sarah at Sarah’s 80s themed, rollerskating 35th birthday party.

Juli:
It’s hard to pick only three things I love about Sarah! She is so creative — she can make something beautiful out of literally anything, and it’s effortless. She is also an incredible communicator. I have so much pride and joy getting to watch her do what she was born to do. She speaks and teaches with such grace and eloquence. I have never seen someone so comfortable in front of an audience! Most of all, I absolutely love her heart. Sarah is one of the most genuinely caring and compassionate people I have ever met. She cares deeply, ferociously, and completely for those she brings into her life, and will stop at nothing to help anyone she has the power to help. She is an incredible example to me and so many others.

How has sharing the journey of infertility changed our lives? In our deepest darkest moments, we always know that we are the only ones who truly get how the other feels. We have a relationship built on incredible trust and honesty, and we have supported each other through so many of life’s challenges, in infertility and beyond.

There have been a few times where we have discussed whether experiencing infertility has been a burden or a blessing, and without hesitation, we both agree that given the option of not going through it but having to give away everything we have gained, we would choose it again without hesitation. The life-long friendship we have developed because of this journey is truly a gift. As we look towards the future of not only our families, but our organization, living without each other is not an option.

We are BRAVE because of each other, and can now help others be BRAVE in their journeys. THIS is the truest gift of infertility.

For more information about Braving Infertility Together, visit www.bravingit.org or, find them on Facebook or Instagram @Braving Infertility Together.

Two College Students Connect Over IVF

by Kristen Mahan and Alaina Schepp

Kristen:

When I asked my roommate and friend since freshman year, Alaina, to come to Reproductive Writes – an ART of Infertility event – I had no idea how our friendship would change. Sitting at the workshop with other participants talking about their personal experiences with infertility, I suddenly found Alaina opening up. She shared with the group that she — herself — was created from IVF. Not only that, all of her siblings were also created using IVF.

Kristen, left, and Alaina, right

Sitting there, hearing her story, I was surprised that this had never come up before! Alaina had always been close to her family, she would frequently go home to help out or even just hang out with her siblings and parents. I never really understood why, until she talked about how hard it was for her parents to get pregnant.

Walking back from Reproductive Writes that evening, Alaina shared with me how her parents  decided to undergo IVF after her dad found out he was not able to have kids. Alaina was the first child to be born from their IVF cycle. Shortly after they had Alaina, and desiring a big family, they decided to go through another two rounds of IVF.

As Alaina opened up to me that night about her parents IVF story, our relationship changed for the better. We stayed up for 3+ hours chatting and crying from some of her most prominent childhood memories. Hearing her story explains it all. I cannot even imagine how hard Alaina’s childhood was and what her family went through, and is still going through. Hearing her story made me realize how strong Alaina is and I am so thankful to have such a loving, kind, and genuine friend like her.

Alaina:

Seeing the exhibit, Reflections of Reproductive Loss and Access to Care, during the Reproductive Writes event was an experience that touched very close to home. I have always been very thankful for IVF for basically giving me my entire life I have today. When my parents explained IVF to me throughout the years I never thought of it as not working, until I saw the exhibit. My understanding was that if you were infertile, most of the time IVF would work. However, seeing the artwork and the stories of others, I realize that is not the case. The process of IVF always amazed me – how it can work and how it did work for my family. However, after the exhibit I realized how thankful I am and how fortunate we were for this to work, not once but three times.

I knew going into the exhibit that I would be able to relate more to the artwork than some of the other people there.  I also felt like I could relate to the pain by seeing IVF put a financial, medical, and stressful toll on my own parents. Being as close as I am with my family, it is a dream of mine to have a big family. With my family having fertility issues and being told they would not have children, it’s a fear of mine that I could be told the exact same thing.

Baby Alaina

I thought I could turn to IVF in a worst-case scenario, but going to the exhibit and hearing everyone’s complications and deeply sad stories, makes my worries much greater.  Seeing others’ heartbreaking stories makes the fear that much more real. However, I believe everything happens for a reason and that I need to trust in the plan that is in store for me. I believe that my family is closer because of IVF. It made my parents value my life, and each of my siblings’ lives, so much more because they truly thought they would never have children of their own, and now they have three. I have IVF to thank for giving me my family and my own life. Without IVF, I wouldn’t have the people who matter most to me.

I thought the exhibit was a perfect time to open up to Kristen about being an IVF baby. IVF is not something that is talked about enough, and that was clearly verbalized throughout the conversation at the exhibit. I have always thought of Kristen as a great friend and someone I could really trust, but it just wasn’t a topic of conversation I knew how to bring up. Sharing at the exhibit that I was an IVF baby brought about more conversations afterward that really shared my feelings, my thoughts, and my journey into what made me. Kristen was the first friend I was able to deeply share that with. With Kristen interning for The ART of Infertility, I knew she was able to understand where I was coming from and could comprehend it more than any of my other friends.

Kristen, left, and Alaina, right, on the first day of their junior year at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Kristen and I have had many memories together. Being together the past two years, we have been there for each other during the highs and the lows. We are able to go through school together and spend late nights studying and cramming for exams. Kristen and I love having a good time and being able to spend basically everyday together.

Kristen:

I think my favorite memories of Alaina and I are just staying up late and talking about anything and everything. Alaina is extremely outgoing and talkative so our conversations are endless. She is all around the most bubbly person I know. Like with any college girl, there is usually “boy drama” which Lain and I have been each other’s rock for. We are always up front with each other and try to give our most honest input on certain situations.

Connection

Leanne Schuetz was inspired by her #BarrenBesties to create this piece, which we first exhibited during “Cradling Creativity” in Philadelphia. Leanne’s piece, “Advanced Maternal Age”, is currently on display in our exhibit “Visualizing Voices of Reproductive Loss” at the University of Wisconsin Madison, now through the end of May.

“Connection”
Artist: Leanne Schuetz
Mixed Media on 9×12 Canvas board

I was inspired by the quote that says “When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the dark”

This piece is a tribute to the dear infertility friends I have made through out my journey.  Women who never told me that I had to cheer up, or relax but allowed me to feel my disappointments and heartbreak and said, “Me too, you are not alone.”

Connection by Leanne Schuetz

 

 

 

 

Click below to hear Leanne recite her label.

I went to Capitol Hill (for Advocacy Day) and all I got was this lousy best friend

#BarrenBesties, Brooke and Kathy, share stories of their friendship in today’s blog post. Thank you Brooke and Kathy!

Kathy, left, and Brooke, right

B: Kathy and I met on the message boards of thebump.com. We really started chatting when she was undergoing radiation therapy for her thyroid cancer. We have similar diagnoses in our marriages (minus her cancer), so we bonded really easily. She’s also freaking hilarious.

K: One of my first memories of my friendship with Brooke was flipping through a catalog (like the old school paper kind) and seeing this print of a quote- it was colorful and bright and immediately made me think of her. “In the midst of winter, I found, within me, an invincible summer.”- Albert Camus. I ordered it and awkwardly packaged it up and shipped it off to Arizona because she neeeeeeded it. I remember my husband saying you’re sending this to someone you met on the internet?? Yes. Yes I am.

B: One of our funniest moments was Kathy’s birthday gift being spoiled. At our second Advocacy Day, RESOLVE invited us to be Ambassadors and it included a full day training. Because we’re hilarious, we started calling each other Ambaaaaaaaassador in fancy British voices and it evolved into Badassador. And so for her birthday, I ordered her a custom necklace with our made up word on it. The Etsy seller posted a photo of it on social media and Kathy sent me a screen shot like “OMG LOOK.” and I’m like… “uhhh, Happy Birthday!”

K: The best things about our friendship are everything. Literally everything. I can say anything without fear of judgement. I can vent. I can complain. She relates to me in a way that is so rare to find in a friend. And the jokes. SO MANY JOKES.

B: Two years ago, one of our fellow advocates (we’ll call her Becky to protect her privacy) couldn’t make it to Advocacy Day, so we had a giant photo made of her face so she could be there “with” us. And then she ended up being able to come. We posted a selfie with it and she was like, “is that my face?” And then we died laughing.

K: I picked Brooke up at the airport with our flat friend riding shotgun and one of the greatest moments that year was the Flat and Real versions of Becky meeting each other. Flat Becky even got a photo op with RESOLVE CEO Barb Collura.

B: We have a million inside jokes. We can make each other laugh with a single word. It’s amazing to have someone who knows me so well.

We see each other – ideally – twice a year. We do Advocacy Day and then try to do a long weekend later in the year. Being from Arizona, I like to go to DC and spend time in cold weather. Two years ago, Kathy came to Arizona for my 35th birthday. Thirty-five was the age that I kind of gave myself to be the limit for freaking out about choosing childfree and pursuing treatment, so it felt like a big birthday. I wanted her with me, and she came! It was amazing. We went on a Selfie Trail because obviously.

K: We tried so hard to meet up this year- planned this great trip to Memphis and two days before- I was diagnosed with the flu. So instead of going to Graceland, she sent me a life size cardboard Elvis who now lives in my dining room. He stares out the window to freak out the neighbors. We have Amazon Primed things to each other that we never knew we always needed. I love her so much that I’ll spend 4 hours in the observation tower of the Air and Space Museum while she tracks the planes that land with an app on her phone. She gets all giddy like the little elementary school kids. We go to terrible spas and eat way too much Mediterranean food. And every single time we’re in an airport together it’s just a big ugly cry mess.

B: I heard about Advocacy Day in 2013 and it was too late to get it together to go, but we started talking about going in 2014. At some point, she invited me to stay with her, so I did what any rational person would do and booked a trip to spend an entire week in the home of a complete stranger. I didn’t even ask if she intended to turn me into a skin suit until I’d landed at Dulles.

Brooke and Kathy at Advocacy Day, 2017

K: When Brooke told me she wanted to go to Advocacy Day that very first year- It never occurred to me that we might not get along and it would be awkward having her in my house. My son, Sam, was just a few months old when she came that year. I remember being worried about if she would be uncomfortable with SO much baby everywhere. But that was all gone when she sat holding him at dinner that night. Now she is a part of his life, which I love. She sends him such thoughtful gifts. Now my 4 year old Sam asks when she is coming back and if he can take her to the trampoline park. And he always requests to see pictures of her dogs. He thinks it’s hilarious that they eat carrots as treats.

B: I never even knew she was worried about me having sad feelings about Sam. Quite honestly, it can be difficult to have a relationship with someone who was successful with infertility treatments while we’ve chosen to be childfree after infertility. I remember so vividly all the emotions of Kathy’s three IVF cycles and was so elated when she found out that the third had been successful. I love Sam deeply and it’s just never been an issue. It’s been difficult with other friends, but never with Sam.

Advocating together has been amazing. We’re both passionate about advocating for family building and ensuring that others have the options to pursue the family they want. The Capitol has become Our Place and we give Capitol themed gifts sometimes.

K: That first year when we met- it was like meeting your person and just knowing that you were going to be together forever. We spent that week laughing until we cried and I was so happy that she came to stay with me. A big part of that was experiencing our first trip to Advocacy Day together. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of empowerment that comes from the first trip to Capitol Hill. It has become just another thing that bonds us together and something we both share a passion for.

B: Well said, Biff. Love you. Mean it.