A few months ago, I started talking to some of my Twitter friends about attending RESOLVE's Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. Once I received my FET calendar and realized that the timing would work out, I immediately registered to attend this important day on Capital Hill. According to the RESOLVE website, "Advocacy Day is a RESOLVE event where women and men living with infertility come together in Washington, D.C. to talk to Members of Congress about issues important to our community. RESOLVE holds this annual event so you have the chance to make your voice heard."
Infertility affects 7.3 million Americans. A staggering number. RESOLVE presented me (and over 100 other Advocacy Day attendees) with the opportunity to speak on the behalf of so many Americans whose lives are affected by infertility. What an amazing, important, and empowering opportunity. I chose to attend Advocacy Day to share my story. My experiences. My struggles. I also chose to attend to bring awareness to the fact that infertility is a disease that should not be ignored.
Advocacy Day, in reality, was actually a two day event. I packed my bags on Tuesday morning and hopped on a train headed from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. Once I arrived at Union Station, I felt like my adventure had truly begun. I stood somewhat impatiently in a long taxi line because I wasn't quite sure how to find my way to an apartment that I had rented with a few girlfriends. After a short, ten minute taxi ride, I arrived at the apartment and waited for one of my fellow advocates to show up. Once my friend showed up, we set out to find the hotel where the Advocacy Day reception was being held.
From the moment I walked into the room where the reception was being held, I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging. I felt like I entered a safe haven where everyone in that room truly understood how I was feeling and why I was feeling all those emotions. They have been in my shoes. They truly understand the pain that I feel in my heart when I see a pregnant woman pass by me in a store. On the street. While sitting in the waiting room at my doctor's office. These women and men understand the heartbreak. The pain. The longing to be a parent.
The reception, which lasted two hours, was a great way to prepare for what was to come the following day. I had a chance to meet friends who have supported me from afar for so long. I got to talk to several women who attended Advocacy Day last year. It was an honor to listen to their own experiences and how attending this event last year made them feel empowered and even more passionate about their role as an advocate. Even though I was nervous about speaking in front of people whom I've never met before, I started to feel a sense of excitement. I felt like my words could truly make a difference.
As the reception came to an end, a group of us decided to head out on the town and have dinner together. We just so happened to choose a restaurant that had recently opened, so we received extra attention from what I believe was the restaurant's manager. We also had the opportunity to christen their private dining room, which accommodated the eleven of us perfectly. Being in the same room with so many strong women was an amazing experience. Just having the opportunity to hear about everyone's infertility journeys and how they handled roadblocks and difficulties was eye-opening. I came to realize that even though everyone's stories were a different, we all felt the same emotions. Even though the reasons for being part of the infertility community are less than ideal, I felt proud to be a part of the community.
After a wonderful dinner, my roommates and I headed back to our apartment and tried to prepare for the early morning wake-up. We failed miserably and ended up talking late into the night. The next morning, I woke up with my stomach in knots. I worried about how many meetings I would be asked to attend (RESOLVE presented with me with the opportunity to represent both PA and VA because of my military spouse status). I wondered if anyone else would attend my meetings with me. I wondered if I would be able to hold back my emotions as I shared my experiences with the staffers.
The nervousness continued as we approached the registration table at the hotel. As I was handed my schedule for the day, I looked down and saw that I would be attending six meetings throughout the day. I would speak to staffers for both states' senators as well as staffers for my district representatives. I thought to myself, "Wow. I have a busy day." Next, I joined my fellow advocates for a breakfast and training session in one of the hotel's banquet rooms. RESOLVE provided us with inspirational speakers and great information that would help us survive the day. I teared up as I listened to Senator Patty Murray talk about wounded warriors who she had met who couldn't have children without medical intervention. I cried as I listened to stories about pain and loss. I cried for the brave speakers. I cried for my friends who have been through the same thing. I cried for myself and for my husband. I cried for those who are yet to face infertility.
As everyone's emotions in the room were running high, we were given information about how the day would proceed. As the co-chairs of Advocacy Day presented their information, I felt a little more confident about my meetings. I knew the infertility statistics. I knew about the two pieces of legislation that would be discussed (The Family Act and The Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvements Act) Most importantly, I knew my story. I knew firsthand how infertility can change lives - physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially.
As the speakers finished up with the training session, I had the opportunity to introduce myself to fellow advocates from PA and an advocate from NC who just happened to live in the next town over. What a small world. My new NC friend and I headed out of the hotel for our first Senate staffer meeting at 10:30.
As we waited in the reception area for our first staffer meeting, the butterflies in my stomach started flying faster. As the staffer approached us and introduced herself, the butterflies flew even faster. But do you know what? The moment I started speaking, the nervousness melted away. As I shared the information about infertility and the pieces of legislation and my story, I forgot about being nervous. As the meetings continued, I felt an overwhelming sense of passion and purpose. I was there to speak on behalf of all the other infertility community members who couldn't be there to share their story. To make their voices heard. I had an important job. I had to show my passion. To make these staffers understand that these pieces of legislation could be helpful to so many people. To make them understand that infertility is a disease and shouldn't be ignored.
I think the highlight of my day was meeting and speaking with Representative Renee Ellmers. When we (my fellow NC constituent and I) showed up to her office, I expected the standard staffer meeting. I was wrong. We were whisked over to the Capital building where Rep. Ellmers was addressing other House members on the floor. While we spent most of our time with Rep. Ellmers' staffer, we had the opportunity to speak to Rep. Ellmers for a few minutes. After sharing our stories, Rep. Ellmers shared her own experience with secondary infertility. I felt a connection with her even though I was only in her presence for a few minutes. She was part of our community. She understands this pain firsthand.
While I'm not sure that I convinced all of these individuals to support the Family Act and the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvements Act, I felt like I poured my heart out. I showed how passionate I am about spreading the word about how infertility affects so many people on so many levels.
I felt so many feelings over those past two days. I was humbled and honored to be in the presence of strong women and men. I felt heartbroken for those like myself who have gone through so many treatments yet still do not hold that child that they've been working so hard for. The child that they want so badly. I felt joy and happiness for the individuals who have been blessed with a child or children whether it was through infertility treatments or through adoption. I felt grateful for these "resolved" individuals. They still feel like part of the infertility community and they wanted to spend their time advocating for others.
Even if you didn't attend Advocacy Day, there are still ways to advocate for these pieces of legislation. You can head over to the RESOLVE website and learn more about the Family Act (S 881/HR 1851) and the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvements Act (S 131/HR 958). You can write to your Senators and representatives and share your story. Ask them to show support for these pieces of legislation. Make your voice heard.
Thank you to RESOLVE for providing me with the opportunity to speak on the behalf of so many. To share my story. To meet so many of my supporters in person. This was an amazing experience. One that I will never forget. I feel like it changed me in some ways. It made me want to be more active in the infertility community. To give a voice to infertility. I'm already looking forward to Advocacy Day 2014 and to continue advocating for the disease that is ignored by so many. To give a face to infertility.