Your Path to Pregnancy is an interview series highlighting conception stories from real couples, brought to you by BeliMenVitality. Fertility health is a core value for Beli. We’re inspired by Samantha’s IVF advocacy and her philanthropy through her Bundle of Joy Fund which removes financial barriers to IVF access.
Thank you for taking time out of your super-busy National Infertility Awareness Week to chat with Beli, Samantha! Your family’s story has already resonated with a lot of people. For folks who are meeting you for the first time, what is it that makes you so committed to infertility advocacy?
My husband Kyle and I have gone through infertility ourselves. We’ve been on this journey for many years, and it’s important to us now to bring awareness to the topic. We want to do what we can to bring knowledge and support to other families who need it.
About seven years ago, we started trying to get pregnant. We were so young! We didn’t know anything about infertility, and people didn’t talk about it like they do today. I didn’t have my voice then in order to speak up and advocate for myself. I didn’t know to ask for blood work, or an ultrasound, or other forward measures before we started treatments. We tried to conceive for over a year. After having some health issues, I got the doctor to agree to testing. After finding out that I have PCOS, they put me on Clomid right away, but never recommended that my husband be tested, and never explained to us that one third of all infertility is male factor. I put my body through hell for five months on Clomid, when all along, my husband also had a low sperm count. We were never going to get pregnant naturally. That’s really frustrating. And it hurts me to my core to know there are so many other women like me who may not know what to ask for regarding their treatment, and lose time because of it.
Did you have any lifelines as you navigated the hard moments?
In the beginning, it was difficult. That’s a big reason I’m so outspoken now. I felt really alone, and I felt embarrassed. All my friends were getting pregnant. Everybody else had it seemingly so easy. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. What had I done to cause this? It led me to kind of isolate myself. It was a really hard time.
Fortunately for us, we found a great fertility clinic. We got pregnant right away on our first round of IVF with our son Brexton. We were over the moon! Then I felt comfortable enough to share our story.
What has surprised you about parenthood?
Every day is different! In a lot of our heads, we have a storybook image of what parenthood is like. And some days it is like that! And some days, it’s really hard.
I try to educate moms about giving yourself grace on those harder days. Instagram and social media has set the mom bar to the highest mark ever. Not only are you a mom, you have to be a Pinterest mom. You have to be perfect on every level. Sometimes, that’s a lot of pressure. There are days that are going to go so freakin awesome. I have days when I’ve got it together, my kid is doing everything right, and we’re loving and we’re happy and dinner is ready and everything is clean. I’ve done my job! And there are some days where I’m like, Okay, cool. We got dressed today, and we all ate. We made it through the day. I think giving yourself that grace that not every day is going to be perfect is something a lot of moms struggle with.
You were so generously open about your journey to parenthood on your CMT show Racing Wives.
Our second time trying to conceive, we brought everyone into our journey. We thought the odds were on our side with already having had a healthy pregnancy and doing genetic testing. And so we let the world in. We thought: what better way to help people to understand than to show them everything? We showed the doctor’s visits and the shots and the ultrasound.
When we faced a miscarriage shortly after announcing that we were pregnant, I felt that I was on a downward spiral. It was really women reaching out to me, complete strangers in the infertility community, who helped guide me at some of the hardest times. They validated my emotions. They let me vent. They didn’t give me any: Oh, it will happen when it happens! or In God’s time! Everything happens for a reason! They didn’t give me any of the crap that I didn’t want to hear. They were real, they were supportive. There is so much support in the infertility community. We have so much love and compassion for one another.
When Brexton was born, we decided to start the Bundle of Joy Fund, our organization that gives financial grants to couples who need to go through IVF. We understand how frustrating infertility can be and how expensive treatment is. Starting Bundle of Joy, and working with RESOLVE, The National Infertility Association, I saw what a community of women can do for one another. And it made me want to do even more.
Bundle of Joy is amazing. We love the page on your website that shows all the precious babies and toddlers born to families through IVF with the help of your grants.
The Bundle of Joy community is really an extended family. Families send us Christmas cards and picture updates when the babies hit milestones. When I announced I was doing a book on our infertility experience, I sent a message to everybody asking if they would come on a photoshoot. And all the women came out and did testimonials sharing what they’ve learned along the way. We’re a big group and I know a lot of them hang out often. We were able to financially grant them to be able to go through IVF, and now they have their own families and an extra extended family.
Beyond helping individual families, are there bigger changes you want to see made to the fertility healthcare system?
One thing that we fight for, and that we work towards with RESOLVE, is advocating for insurance to cover IVF. Currently, infertility is viewed differently in different states. There are currently only 16 states that provide insurance, but others don't. For New York, infertility is classified as a disease, but for other states, they are classifying it as elective care. It’s very hard to hear that insurance is a barrier to so many people.
It’s 2020, and infertility is a disease. One in eight couples are facing it. It’s time for the rest of the world and the insurance companies to embrace that and support people experiencing infertility.
Most of the people we fund through Bundle of Joy are police officers, firefighters, military, teachers, and nurses. These are people who choose to serve their community. But when they want to have their own family, because they chose jobs that do so much good but don’t necessarily get the biggest paycheck, there’s no help for them. That’s not fair, and it’s not right. Through RESOLVE, the Bundle of Joy Fund, and other organizations, we’re hoping to make people aware of this need for insurance coverage so we can start to see those changes.
Infertility factors are evenly balanced between males and females, but it seems like there are not as many public spaces for men to share about infertility.
Infertility is looked at as a female issue. Even doctors—even our OBGYN—instantly put me on fertility medication without ever saying, Hey, you do have PCOS, and there’s a good chance that’s causing you not to get pregnant, but let’s get your husband tested too. This is not just a women’s thing.
For men, infertility is a little bit harder to talk about. They may not receive the same support as a woman who talks about it. I’ve had men tell me that they tried to confide in another man but it didn’t go well, so it caused them to clam up more.
By explaining our story, including that my husband had low sperm count, we’re trying to start that conversation. The fact that one third of all infertility is male factor should help couples remember that they aren’t alone, and to consider male factors when looking at fertility issues.
Do you think your experience with infertility has influenced your approach to parenthood?
It’s changed me in multiple ways. Some days, even if my son is really acting up, I focus on never taking it for granted that I get to be a parent.
Also, I grew up in a loving family, but we didn’t express our emotions as much. We’ve learned, on my side and on Kyle’s side, how vital it is to comfortably express your emotions in a safe environment, and that’s something we’ve worked on with Brexton too. We can help him go through his emotions, and learn to say what he’s feeling, and what’s causing it, so that he’s not just told to bring it down.
That’s something I think is common for males: If I’m feeling something, I shouldn’t express it. But because of this journey, and the support of other people, we’ve learned that expressing your emotions always helps.
What role does mental health play in infertility experience?
When I started my infertility advocacy, it was about awareness, and it was about the financial aspect because that was the barrier that we were trying to remove for people. After suffering a miscarriage, I was surprised at how much pain and time it took to process that.
It’s funny, because I have a master’s in business psych, but I was always like, I’m not going to a therapist! No way. But I started going to a marriage therapist and to an infertility therapist. It made me realize that mental health has such a huge impact on this journey. You need that support system. You cannot do this alone. Yes, you need a tribe of women who’ve been through it, you need your own girlfriends, you need your partner’s support. But I’m a big advocate now for therapy support. Those are the people who can help you sit in your emotions, feel them, and then work through them without burying them or lashing out in other ways.
My miscarriage is sad, but it’s not my fault, and I’m not ashamed of my journey. It almost broke me, but it’s also strengthened me into a person that I never thought I could become. Sometimes when you get broken into pieces, what’s built back up is better than what came before. My experiences have allowed me to empathize and connect with more women and be a better support. I’m not happy I went through it, but I’m not sad that I shared it.