In recent years, celebrities like Giuliana Rancic and Khloe Kardashian have brought the topic of infertility to a national audience by openly sharing their personal stories on television. More and more, we are hearing about this medical condition that affects 7.3 million Americans regardless of race, economic status or age. This year RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, will hold their annual National Infertility Awareness Week April 21-27 to educate, advocate for and inspire those dealing with a diagnosis of infertility as well as theirs supporters.
In honor of this week-long event, we have gone local to interview Katie O’Connor, Founder of Shine Chicago, an infertility support group that offers meetings, information and inspiration to Chicago females dealing with infertility.
Cheeky: What led you to create Shine?
Katie O’Connor: My personal journey with infertility inspired me to create Shine. I had been open throughout a rigorous process, blessed with a beautiful baby girl and knew I wanted to do something to give back. Infertility support was and is something that is needed and something I am passionate about.
Cheeky: What is the biggest myth about infertility?
KOC: “Just relax, you’ll get pregnant.” If ONLY it were that easy!
Cheeky: Who is Shine for?
KOC: Women around 20 to 40 years old who are trying to start a family.
Cheeky: What can one expect from attending a Shine meeting or event?
KOC: Shine is a community where women come together to laugh and cry, celebrating the successes and battling the challenges of infertility, all the while supporting each other through this difficult process. Sessions are comfortable and welcoming where women can feel secure sharing thoughts and asking questions. Meetings provide peer support through open discussion and professional knowledge from guest speaker seminars. You can also expect to find nibbles and sips!
Cheeky: What happens if/when a group member becomes pregnant?
KOC: In order to be respectful to other members with infertility, members typically stop attending sessions once they are pregnant. Having been through the transition myself, I make it my goal to keep in touch with each member offering support for concerns during early pregnancy and beyond.
Cheeky: How long should you try to get pregnant before seeking out IF testing?
KOC: From Resolve: Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after 12 months of trying to conceive. If you are over the age of 35, the time of trying to conceive is reduced to six months.
Cheeky: What is one thing you wish everyone knew about IF?
KOC: You don’t have to suffer in silence. There is support. It will be a tough journey at times, but you will make it through the process as a stronger woman.
Cheeky: What is IUI/IVF?
KOC: IUI is the acronym for Intrauterine Insemination. It is the placing of sperm into a woman’s uterus when she is ovulating. It should not be painful, although some women report mild cramping.
IVF is the acronym for In Vitro Fertilization. IVF is a highly sophisticated, meticulously-timed procedure, involving removing egg(s) from the female’s ovary, fertilizing it/them with the best quality semen, incubating the dividing cells in a laboratory dish, and then replacing the developing embryo in the uterus at the precisely right time and right place.
Cheeky: What is it like to go through treatments for IUI and IVF treatments?
KOC: The testing and monitoring including blood work, ultrasounds and medications for stimulating or suppressing hormone levels can be physically – as well as emotionally – taxing. A strong support network like Shine is critical and can be instrumental in helping you stay “sane” throughout your journey.
Cheeky: Can you exercise during IVF?
KOC: Because each individual’s treatment is different, it is important to first heed your doctor’s orders. On my personal journey, low impact exercise like walking (alot of walking!) was of the utmost importance while going through treatments. I found exercise not only to be a stress release but it also helped my body prepare for a healthy pregnancy as well as childbirth itself!
Cheeky: How common is Male Factor Infertility?
KOC: About one-third of infertility cases are attributed to male factors. Another one-third of fertility problems are attributed to female factors. The other cases are caused by a mixture of male and female problems or by unknown problems.
Cheeky: What can a friend can say to support someone going through IF treatments?
KOC: I am here for you, I am here for whatever you need, an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on, I will be here to support you through the struggles, and be here to celebrate the victories.
Cheeky: What can a friend avoid saying to someone going through IF treatments?
KOC: “Maybe you just weren’t meant to have kids.” This is heart wrenching for someone who wants to be a mother.
Cheeky: Who did you turn to for support during your journey?
KOC: I had the support of many close friends who had also dealt with fertility issues and were successful in overcoming infertility. I also was lucky enough to reconnect with a high school friend during my treatments. Our cycles were identical and it was a blessing to go through it side by side [with her].
KOC: I don’t think you ever forget. It is a life changing experience that has tested your relationship, your faith and your physical and emotional strength. It’s like a badge of honor – something you can’t and don’t want to forget.
Cheeky: What do you do outside of Shine?
KOC: I am the uber proud mama to my 2-year-old daughter Gwen, wife to my husband of 10 years Bill, an instructor at the Dailey Method in Bucktown, a marathoner, coffee-a-holic, pizza and cookie lovin’, glass half full girl.
Cheeky: What is the Cheekiest thing you did this week?
Sporting my brand-new-somewhat-too-expensive Lululemon digs at Dailey Method class this week; a splurge that warranted a great workout!
She is fun, fabulous and fierce. She is chic, intelligent and in-the-know. But most of all, the Cheeky chick is the kind of woman who embraces, admires, respects, smiles at and opens her heart to other fabulous chicks. Now THAT'S Cheeky, darling!