Concord support group gives women a place to discuss personal experiences with infertility

When Chrissy Hanisco was struggling to get pregnant, it seemed like there were babies all around her.

During the first year of a three-year struggle to conceive, “it seemed like pretty much everyone in my office was pregnant,” the Concord resident remembered. Meanwhile, each time she took a pregnancy test, the stick came back negative.

“I found myself hiding,” she said. “You don’t want to sit at the lunch table when everyone’s talking about baby showers . . . That’s just not putting you in a good space.”

Infertility is a common problem; 1 out of 8 couples in the United States has difficulty conceiving.

Multiple things can cause infertility in both men and women, including age, low egg and sperm counts, and hormonal imbalances, according to Dr. Kristen Wright, a fertility doctor at IVF New England who sees patients in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
“Knowledge is powerful,” Wright said. “Many people are afraid to make an initial consultation with a fertility specialist. But we live in an age where there are many, many options to help people to build their families.”

Some things can be fixed with medication, but other couples pursue more complex options to successfully have babies.

The good news is that science has opened up many more ways to conceive, including techniques such as in-vitro fertilization, egg surrogacy and intrauterine insemination.

Still, the process is time consuming and expensive. While the majority of couples will become pregnant within a year of trying, the process can take multiple years for some.

And though it isn’t uncommon, infertility is a deeply personal subject that can be difficult for people to talk about and can affect friendships and relationships.

“We hear from a lot of people that they skip the baby shower and it ends a friendship,” said Kate LeBlanc, executive director of Resolve New England, an infertility awareness and support group based in Waltham, Mass.

Resolve New England has started volunteer-based support groups across the region to give women and couples who are struggling to have children a safe space to talk about it with other people who can relate.

There are two infertility support groups in Concord and one in Portsmouth.

Natasha Vaillancourt now leads the Concord support groups after years of attending the meetings.

“Being open has helped me tremendously,” Vaillancourt said. “It helped me to not feel alone and it made me feel somewhat normal.”

Hanisco also attended the groups during her attempt to get pregnant, which ended happily when she gave birth to twin boys a couple of years ago. She said the support group helped her immensely, providing a space where she could talk openly about the emotional ups and downs.

“I really looked forward to that Monday night, knowing I could get things off my chest,” Hanisco said. “Infertility is a disease, it’s not just a condition. That’s why it’s important to talk about it.”

Vaillancourt likens her ongoing attempt to get pregnant to an emotional roller coaster, hoping each month that a positive pregnancy test will occur.

She, Hanisco and Leblanc all compare the disappointment and sadness that comes with not getting pregnant to a grieving process.

“You do have good times, good days or a good month, then out of nowhere something will bring back those emotions,” Vaillancourt said.

She and her husband have been trying to have kids for the past five years, a process that has included an in-vitro fertilization attempt and, most recently, getting an egg donor.

That’s when healthy eggs are retrieved from the uterus of an anonymous donor and fertilized by the partner’s sperm to create an embryo.

Embryos are grown in a lab and the two healthiest ones will eventually be transferred into Vaillancourt’s body. She hopes to then go through the rest of the pregnancy process normally, carrying the babies to term herself.

The process of picking an egg donor is sort of like online dating, Vaillancourt said. Couples select a donor based on criteria including physical features, body build and genetic background.

Getting donor eggs is also very expensive. It costs $50,000 just for the donor eggs, not including all of the other treatments Vaillancourt and her husband have tried in the past. For couples looking for a female surrogate to carry the babies to term, it can cost much more.

Unlike Massachusetts and Connecticut, there is no insurance mandate for infertility treatments in New Hampshire, so many couples pay for everything out of pocket.

“Financially, it’s insane,” Vaillancourt said.

LeBlanc said that while Resolve New England is committed to lobbying for insurance mandates, it can be a difficult thing to reform at a statewide level. However, her group tries to inform families of the ways to lobby for themselves, including going to their employers and insurance companies to ask what coverage options are available.

LeBlanc said she and her husband were lucky enough to have insurance coverage for the in-vitro procedure that helped them conceive their now 8-year-old daughter.

Her personal experience turned her on to dedicating her work to infertility advocacy and support groups.

“It feels like you’re the only person going through this,” when many other women and couples are, LeBlanc said. “It’s something that feels like it shouldn’t be so difficult.”

Concord infertility support groups run every second Tuesday of the month. Monthly groups and events can be found at
(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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