Why we need advocates and Advocacy Day

May 8 is Advocacy Day in the infertility community.  This is the day (because, we clearly only merit one day… I digress) where women and men inflicted with or impacted by infertility get to travel to Washington, D.C. and have their stories heard.  In RESOLVE’s words,

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 chance to make your voice heard. We will make your appointments for you and provide you with the training and information you need for this day of empowerment. Advocacy Day is a great opportunity to meet RESOLVE leaders and others from the infertility community who want to make a difference.

I want to make a difference, and I very badly want to go to Advocacy Day this year.  However, I also work at a college where early May is one of the most demanding of times of the year.  Combine this with a Wednesday event, a 7 hour drive-time to D.C., and the number of hours I’ve already missed this year for doctors’ appointments, and, unfortunately, it’s a non-starter for me.  I hold out hope the timing will be different next year, but at least I will be able to make it down to D.C. in June for the Walk of Hope.  (And, I know I’m becoming a broken record about this, but it was such an uplifting day last year!  If anyone is interested in donating to our team, btw, please use my contact form and I’ll shoot you a link to our public fundraising page.)

As a peer-led support group leader of a RESOLVE support group hosted in my old home state, however, I’m saddened to learn that even in that albeit small state that is a short drive or public transit trip away from D.C., no one has yet signed up to participate in this powerful and so very important event.  I understand the reasons of course (see the long list of my own above!), but reflecting on those reasons makes me worry, while also making me thankful that we have a group like RESOLVE that can keep this train on the tracks.  If you’ve learned anything from this blog, I hope it is that infertility is not kind to the soul, the social life, the schedule, or the bank account.  Relying on a bunch of emotionally run-down, lonely, sick-day poor, and cash-strapped women and men from across the country to travel to D.C. mid-week for a few brief moments with some Congressmen seems a hard way to effect change.  But, if there’s another thing infertility teaches us, it’s that often the hard battles are still worth fighting.  I’m so thankful that RESOLVE is leading this battle.  Come May 8 I will rest all my hopes and dreams (and angst) in the fully capable hands of those brave infertility sisters and brothers who have traveled and spoken for those of us who couldn’t.  Please know, for each one of you that walks through that door, down that hallway, and into a meeting with staffers and representatives, that there are hundreds of us standing beside you.

Last year Mr. But IF and I almost signed on for Advocacy Day, but we were so newly open about our struggles we didn’t know if we were up to the challenge.  We had never publicly spoken at length about our struggles, I had just founded the support group, and we were only in the early days of opening up to friends, relatives, and, ultimately, random strangers.  Looking back now I wish we had participated, but I won’t blame us for our hesitancy.  I understand and respect that hesitancy as part of the road that we had to travel to get to where we are today.  What I most regret is that we missed out on an opportunity to stand united with the powerful women and men that form this strong community, to experience the electricity that flows through one’s body when you know you are doing something important, and to, in essence, do something in this path to building our family that has so largely been comprised of endless, hopeless waiting.

Though I may not have taken the train to D.C. last year, I did write my three Congressmen, with incredibly mixed results.  And, I’ve decided, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t do a little politician shaming (and praising) every now and again.

U.S. Senator Chris Coons totally failed to respond to my letter.  His was the response I’m most used to getting, of course.  That awkward “look away quickly, she might be contagious or get hysterical” knee-jerk I’ve experienced first hand so many times.

U.S. Senator Tom Carper sent an entirely appropriate, if stilted reply.  A fine example of a legislative aide doing his homework and writing a thoroughly adequate constituent response letter.  The statistics employed were cribbed directly from RESOLVE, the review of existing and proposed legislation the letter offered was on point, and I was informed that, “Should my colleagues and I on the Finance Committee have a chance to consider the legislation, I will be sure to keep your views in mind.”  Well done, Mr. Carper.

Finally, U.S. Representative John Carney totally missed the point.  His response is the one that continues to add fuel to my fire.  Carper acknowledged my support of the Family Act of 2011 and the Adoption Tax Credit, Coons utterly ignored me, but Carney?  Well, he (his aide) sent along the most point-missing paean to the importance of family planning, access to contraception, and women’s health I’ve ever read.  Of course, because this is the way my luck works, my Gmail ate his reply, but, trust me, it was full of some gems I’d love to quote for you right now.1 Carney wrote (in part):

Let me begin by saying that family planning is a deeply personal and private matter, and I understand that Americans are sharply divided on issues from sex education to abortion. In my role as a Congressman, I am committed to helping ensure all Delawareans have affordable access to family planning information and preventative healthcare services. With proper access to such resources, we can prevent disease, death, unintended pregnancy, and pregnancy complications.

It took everything in my power not to reply to him (his aide) that birth control wasn’t my problem, you see, my body does that naturally.  Had I known I’d be moving out of his state (and to a fertility mandate state) in a few short months I probably would have let it rip.

So, when only 1 out of 3 elected representatives are actually taking a moment to have their staff prepare form responses to calls for infertility and adoption friendly legislation, clearly there is a need for increased visibility and advocacy on the part of this community.  Stand strong on May 8, everyone.

Post edited 5/8/2013: Gmail un-ate my email from Representative Carney so I’m finally able to quote it here!

1 Have any of you ever had this happen?  I still have the email in my Gmail archives, and when viewing it in a list I can see the text teaser for a much longer email, but when I click to load the email all I get is a blank page.  What the wha?  If it does ever reappear I’ll add to this post.

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