pregnancy loss

The Birth of a Big Idea: The FFFS

When I wrote a blog post about a past miscarriage in the early days of my blogging career, I had no idea the response I would receive. CBC radio asked me to come on air and discuss my fertility and miscarriage and even added an article for their online content. CBC National picked up that online article and from there the views on my blog soared, the messages poured in and beautiful experiences presented themselves to me.

Out of my grief and experiences came a better gift: a purpose to help others. 

Out of my grief and experiences came a better gift: a purpose to help others. 

 

I was overwhelmed to say the least. To add even more excitement and awe to this incredible start to blogging, an old co-worker, Dani Friesen, reached out to me for a coffee meeting to discuss an idea she had. She was heartbroken to see many of her friends suffering with infertility and even more, she was appalled at the cost and financial devastation some couples were taking to try to conceive. She wanted to start a charity that raised funds for families to help pay for their fertility treatments. And she wanted my help.

I was honoured and confused; what did I know about charity work or fundraising? But Dani was confident I was a good fit and we began researching and planning immediately. I contacted Dr. Adrian Gamelin, the co-owner of Aurora IVF in Saskatoon to ask for her assistance. Her exact words: “we’ve been waiting for someone to do this.” She was on board to act as our medical consultant and help us decipher medical information. From there, Gamelin suggested we meet with Wendy Winiewski, a Global news anchor and mother who had her daughter via IVF. The three of us met, saw how well our personalities, skills and stories complimented each other and Family Fertility Fund was underway! Since then we’ve added one more valuable board member, Kristie Anne MacDonald who we know will be an immense help to FFFS and to all those who apply, reach out and/or work with.

Dani, myself, Wendy. Not pictured: Kristie Anne but you'll all see her soon enough!

Dani, myself, Wendy. Not pictured: Kristie Anne but you'll all see her soon enough!

 

It’s been hard. We obviously knew it would be challenging but hard work of getting a business off the ground aside, reading the applications from our applicants was heart wrenching and emotionally draining. We’ve done one round of funding where we gave $5,000 to one couple in December. Our criterion and selection method are based upon a grading process combined with an extensive application that reviews medical history, prognosis and financial statements. We ask for a fertility history as well as personal statements from both people on the application. We short list three couples who then receive a second medical evaluation form that is more thorough and in depth. That form is filled out by their physician and then sent to Gamelin who helps us decipher their diagnosis and prognosis. Her input is valuable but ultimately, the decision comes down to finances. What have they previously spent on treatment? What are their assets? Do they have any savings? Are they going to Mexico twice a year knowing their infertility diagnosis and quoted treatment costs? Have they made financial sacrifices? What’s their income to debt ratio? What percentage is their car payment out of their monthly income? Do they have student debt? Do they have a maxed line of credit from previous treatments? Do they spend frivolously?

As you can probably imagine, there is a lot that goes into the decision and it weighs heavily on us. On top of sifting through bank statements, budgets and medical jargon, we also catch a personal glimpse of who they are and how they’ve been impacted by their struggle from the story they share. Some even included pictures. When tasked with the fate of someone’s fertility, you can’t turn into a robot and let numbers and cents dictate your decision. There must be an element of humanity and compassion in the process.

The couple we chose for our fall funding met our expectations and medical and financial criterion. Without divulging their names, diagnosis or financial status, we wanted to share with you, many of you who have contributed donations and money to our organization already, an excerpt from their personal statement to show you how deserving and incredible these two people are:

From the wife, her first words were: “I am blessed. I really, truly am blessed with what and who I have in my life.” Despite her many fertility challenges and losses, she still has gratitude and finds the silver lining in a very dark cloud. She acknowledged her struggles and yet focuses on moving forward. She continued, “I still have hard days but I feel as though time really helps to heal. This year has been packed full of some of the most difficult moments I have ever faced. I truly feel that this year has tested my resiliency. I have learned that some things don’t always turn out the way you planned it or the way you think they should. I have also learned that things are bound to go wrong and can’t always be put back together the way they once were. But the biggest thing I have learned is that you can still come out on top if you are surrounded by the people who love you.”

Tough times are the biggest teachers for most people. They teach you strength or resiliency and sometimes, who to walk away from and who to embrace. They can also make you resentful and bitter. Hard times are just that, hard and infertility is such a hard beast; it’s a huge hovering menace that infiltrates every thought, move and decision. It takes over the lives of those it infects. To find a couple who could still embrace the good, acknowledge the bad and find strength to move forward was hard hitting for our selection committee.

Her husband’s story affected us even more. Upon finding out their first IVF cycle failed, he said, “ I was brought back down to reality when [wife] called me at work the next day to tell me that we did not have any embryos to be frozen. After hanging up with her, I had to leave the shop and have a moment to myself. I kept this a secret from [wife] knowing that she was at home having her own moment. I was more worried about how she felt. If there is one thing that came out of this horrible situation is that it brought me closer to my wife.”

Their story combined with their past struggles, life circumstances, financial status and medical history led us to choose them. It was a night to remember when the FFFS directors got together December 21 to deliver the best Christmas gift we could ever imagine giving: funding for their last chance to have a baby.

Delivering the $5,000 we raised from two online auctions and two events to Aurora IVF on behalf of our recipients

Delivering the $5,000 we raised from two online auctions and two events to Aurora IVF on behalf of our recipients

It was incredibly difficult to give bad news to eight other deserving couples. It broke our hearts to tell them they hadn’t been selected even though they all deserved a chance. Here we were, a group of women trying to help, and yet, breaking hearts along the way. It stung. But the joy, disbelief and tears we heard over our speaker phone conversation was enough to know that we were doing something good for our community and that we needed to continue. My husband Clayton, a farm boy with a tough exterior, filmed the conversation and even he had tears in his eyes witnessing such a magical moment. We all cried that night; tears of joy and happiness and tears for the others who were now back at square one with their treatment options.  I’m actually tearing up remembering it now. With more funding, we could help more people than one recipient each round. With more money, we hope to one day fund all the applicants who apply. With more money, we can help more babies join us earthside. This is why fundraising and charity is so important for us: We give a family hope. We give a family a chance. And hopefully, we will give a family their baby.

It's Okay to Be Okay...or not.

The other day a new friend, a fellow Phoenix mama, expressed sympathy for my four recurrent miscarriages. She apologized for the losses and said, “oh, your poor heart.” While I certainly appreciated the love and her sweet, kind heart, I didn't feel the sting of pain. In fact, I felt nothing.  There was no sadness or anger or angst like there had been for years before. Instead, there was just gratitude for her acknowledging my journey and my angel babies. But I spent the next 24 hours examining myself. Was my depression creeping back in? Had I lost all capacity to feel somewhere between the second and third loss? Was I numb? Truth be told, I panicked a bit.

A few days later, I asked another friend for some blog ideas and she suggested this exact topic. She too was a Phoenix mama: she lost her son at 23 weeks. We discussed at length these feelings, or lack thereof, and that it wa scaring me. She reassured me with her own similar feelings and how, with time and grieving and support, we heal and that's okay. But yet, we still feel guilty for it.

It’s as though we think that if we move on and find happiness after the loss (and this can be any loss-not just infant or pregnancy) we are betraying them. We think we aren’t allowed to experience joy again when our world had previously crumbled. We think our happiness isn’t deserved and somehow, the loss needs to stay with us in some negative, cloud-hanging-above-us way that prevents us from forgetting what happened. Because, of course, if we’re happy and moved on, we think we will forget them.

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Similarly, when we find this strength and resiliency after a loss, we feel guilty for that too. I know I especially do. When I miscarried the third time, I had quite a bit of time alone to cry most of my tears and grieve. Plus I had a few tools under my belt for bereavement so I was able to process more quickly that time. A few days later, I had two friends bring meals for us (at separate times) and they both cried while standing in my living room while I awkwardly consoled them. I understood their pain in knowing their friend was going through a terrible loss but it was weird to be okay when it was happening to me and they weren’t okay. I felt like I was supposed to be hysterical and upset to show others how awful the loss was to us. I felt that if I wasn’t crying and grieving outwardly, the loss didn’t matter to me. I also felt like my strength portrayed me as unfeeling and bitchy. It can be strange to see someone be fine so soon after a loss but we all grieve in different ways and at different stages. It's never linear and it's never the same with each loss. When my friend’s dad died, she was more relieved he wasn’t suffering anymore and her grief didn’t show itself as hysterical tears when she told me his death story. Grief isn’t a one size fits all. And that’s okay.

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I’ve since learned that it’s okay to be okay. I can’t imagine any lost loved ones are looking upon us and wishing us ill will for moving on and finding happiness again. I’d like to believe my angel babies want me to be happy after suffering so many times before. Once in awhile, in a seemingly random and unexpected moment, I'm hit with that wave of sadness again but then I think about where I am in that exact moment and am thankful for the hardships because I am the best version of myself for that time because of what's happened. Moving on doesn’t mean we will forget them, not if we don’t allow it. That’s why many people want their loved ones recognized. When we say their names or send kind messages on anniversaries, we keep their memory alive. When we hang pictures and tell stories and shoot a shot in their honour, we keep them alive in our hearts.

And in our hearts is where it matters most.

I’ve also learned that it’s okay to not be okay. Sometimes grief is so heavy it smothers us. We feel like we can’t breathe and getting through the day seems damn near impossible. I rarely have these days myself now but I know many people that do. Your job as the okay person is to love them through it. Check in daily whether through email or text or a phone call. Bring a meal or a book or a bubble bath kit even if they say they don’t need anything. We always need something in times of grieving but can rarely decipher what it is so opt to saying, “It’s okay, I don’t need anything.” Grieving people don’t want to feel like a burden on others so more often than not, they don’t reach out. Thankfully there are so many online and in-person support groups now that grieving can be felt in a safe, healthy space with people who are also grieving. Many people are not okay, and that’s okay. There is always someone to listen, to cry with, to hug you, to bring you anything. We grieve to process and then heal. We only hope we come out of the other side of it strong and healthy, ready to move on with love and acceptance.

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To be okay is okay. To not be okay is also okay. We are all perfect souls in imperfect bodies trying our best to make the most out of this life. Whether you have healed and are okay or haven’t healed yet, there are many people in your corner rooting for you, including the ones you’ve lost. They’re in your heart, you memories, your energy awaiting your triumphant rise a new kind of happiness once again.