I have spent a lot of days this past year getting to know people impacted by infertility. Their stories are all unique, each an impossible combination of heart-wrenching, uplifting, and heart-breaking. Every infertility story, each couple’s life narrative has some common threads.
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One Alberta Couple’s Infertility Story
The starting chapters are filled with love, suddenly interrupted by sadness, grief, sometimes health care drama, then infertility tangled up with financial stress. For some, like Kevin and Amber, the clouds will part with help, the obstacles shrink just enough to give way to a happy ending.
Images of Hope
Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Alberta for an event called Images of Hope put on by a brilliant and passionate team of volunteers. Images of Hope is a photo exhibit, live and silent auction, that raises money to help people realize a family despite health care challenges, financial hurdles and infertility.
What is Generations of Hope?
Generations of Hope is the charity that exists in Calgary to fill a gap that is necessary because Alberta Health Care doesn’t fund in vitro fertilization, or IVF. IVF is not the first course of action for infertile couples. In fact, typically many other fertility treatments, both natural and medical, are exhausted before arriving at IVF. The cost of IVF can range from $10,000 to $15,000.
Kevin and Amber’s Infertility Story
Kevin and Amber had been married for several years. The couple worked full time, both in fields that were more rewarding emotionally than financially. Amber spent her days helping people who have fallen on hard times, working at a shelter in Calgary. The couple thought they’d have no trouble getting pregnant, but then Kevin, started feeling unwell.
It was 2005 when he received the diagnosis of acute myelofibrosis, a type of chronic leukaemia that disrupts the production of protein in bone marrow. He learned fertility could be impacted by the treatment. The couple chose to bank sperm to try and keep their options open.
Kevin was determined to beat the leukaemia diagnosis and he underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2006 from an unrelated donor. While undergoing gruelling medical treatment, he found a flyer at a hospital in Calgary. The flyer mentioned Generations of Hope Fertility Assistance Fund. He took it home, wondering if this might be the answer for them. Could it help them become parents? Amber looked the charity up on the Generations of Hope web site. Together, they hoped it might be the answer.
Meeting the Couple
When I met Kevin and Amber, they were both nervous seeing their video together for the first time at Images of Hope. They were warm and friendly, sweet, and more than happy to answer any questions I had. There were over 300 people in the room at Heritage Park, Calgary, impacted by infertility. Kevin repeatedly remarked how incredible that everyone there has somehow experienced the same difficulty trying to conceive.
What Hope Looks Like
Several years ago now, Kevin and Amber met with a fertility doctor in Calgary and he told them they could apply for the Generations of Hope grant. The money allowed them to start the process of IVF. But Amber’s body didn’t respond to the medications and the cycle ended up being cancelled. They were out of funds. Together they thought they’d reached the end of their journey.
Amber grew almost unrecognizable, according to Kevin. She was sad, depressed that they were done, that money was the only thing between them and their family. But the clinic stepped in and offered support, the cost of a medication they needed was now covered. They continued with the process. A fresh embryo transfer didn’t result in a pregnancy, but a frozen embryo transfer was the answer. The couple was expecting a baby.
If extreme adversity can be said to build strength, this couple might be one of the strongest couples in Alberta. Kevin, a towering six feet, wears that kind of comical Dad humour like a suit of armour, or maybe more like one of the ball gowns and tutus that only his beautiful ginger-haired daughter Keira could convince him to wear. He laughs a lot and when he speaks he sounds very often close to tears as he reflects on the journey to become a Dad. Beside him, Amber holds his hand barely letting go long enough for dinner. Steadfast, and loyal, anchor, and strong and love – all words that ran through my head on meeting this beautiful couple.
Kevin’s bone marrow transplant left him with several longterm side effects, but they are all manageable. He wears sunglasses because his eyes are scarred from the chemotherapy regimen and the transplant. His stomach is not as strong as it was before treatment. But he is in remission. He is alive, perhaps never more so than now, as husband and Dad to two amazing children. After their daughter was born, Kevin and Amber got pregnant miraculously on their own. They are now parents to a 10 month old baby boy too.
“I have nothing to complain about. I am here and I have a family,” he says.
In Alberta, Generations of Hope has helped to build 104 families through their fertility assistance fund. That’s 104 families overcoming adversity and battling infertility with Generations of Hope support. Generations of Hope also advocates for infertility awareness and public funding for IVF.
If you want to get involved, if your family has been impacted by infertility, or if you were touched by this infertility story, and you live in Alberta you can make your voice heard by contacting your MLA. Here is a helpful guide to generate an in person meeting with your MLA.
Why Support Matters
This is an issue that deserves so much more support than it gets from public officials. Funding IVF is the right choice. These are the five reasons Alberta should help fund IVF treatments.
I am a member of the Generations of Hope blog team. I am also their community manager and as such I receive compensation. This is a cause that I wholeheartedly support. Infertility is a complex health care issue that deserves support.