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National Infertility Awareness Week: Addressing the (Pink) Elephant in the Room

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National Infertility Awareness Week: Addressing the (Pink) Elephant in the Room

A note from Katie at Mindr: Almost every mother I know either (a) knows someone who has had a miscarriage or (b) has undergone one herself, present company included. Much is the same with infertility, another emotionally distressing but often not-discussed issue many women face.

One would imagine that these shared experiences of grief and loss would compel us to connect with one another for support. Unfortunately, this is often not the case, and those of us who have experienced miscarriage, pregnancy loss or infertility feel alone in navigating through this challenging time.

After experiencing miscarriages themselves, Australia-based Samantha Payne and Gabbi Armstrong connected, identified the dearth of support for women – and men – who have faced this distress, and together founded the Pink Elephants Support Network. In recognition of National Infertility Awareness Week (April 21 - 27, 2019), we spoke with Samantha, Pink Elephant’s Co-Founder and Managing Director, about her path to cofounding Pink Elephants and its impact.

Tell us about the extraordinary Pink Elephants Support Network and your journey to founding it.

We founded Pink Elephants after experiencing our own journeys of loss and infertility. I had just had my second miscarriage. I was heartbroken, and no one seemed to understand. I was met with platitudes and well-meaning comments that were unintentionally hurtful. I found Gabbi via a Facebook post about miscarriage she had replied to, and it seemed she just ‘got it.’ I reached out, we had coffee, and there and then decided that a support network was needed. 

That was over 3 years ago. We started by researching to ensure the need was what we thought it to be, and then started to create content for our website and resources while applying for charity status. We self-funded the first year and began to fundraise the second, and we still hold fundraisers to date as we find they are a beautiful way for the community we have supported to be able to give back to other women who go through miscarriage in the future. Like paying it forward. 

We now have corporate partnerships with great companies looking to support their customers and their employees. This is a great avenue for us as it increases our reach in a relevant way in addition to providing revenue.

We are still very much a grassroots organization, where it is all hands on deck. Each of us often performs several roles in each day to ensure that we are efficient with our limited funds. This can be difficult and challenging as the demand for our service grows. However, we know we are creating a legacy, a support network that will go on past us and support thousands more couples each year. 

How did you decide upon the beautiful and unique name “Pink Elephants”?

We considered a lot of names. But we then came across the following in a story online: “When a mother Elephant loses her baby the other elephants form a circle around her and each place their trunk on her, a silent unwavering circle of support.” This gave us goosebumps and we knew instantly that this was our vision for the support network we wanted to create.

Your organization addresses the common but still relatively “taboo” topic of miscarriage and pregnancy loss. How can we help facilitate the cultural shift necessary to ensure that women and their partners who have experienced miscarriage have a voice and can get the information, support and reassurance they need?

We need to open up the dialogue around early pregnancy loss, validate it as real grief, and emphasize that miscarriage matters.

A huge part of what we do is raise awareness that miscarriage has a real impact on the couple. According to the British Medical Psychiatry Journal, miscarriage can bring on a period of significant psychological distress. When support is not provided, symptoms of anxiety and/or depression can manifest. Couples have privatized and buried their grief for too long, leaving them to feel isolated and unsupported. By validating early pregnancy loss as true grief, we allow couples to openly seek support. We also educate friends and loved ones in how to support someone through this time of need, providing practical tips and things you can say to show your support. Research highlights that people often say nothing for fear of saying the wrong thing, which is a huge shame. 

How do you manage the emotional toll of the work you and your organization are doing? What strategies do you utilize for self-care?  

To be honest, we haven’t been great at this. Our drive to continue has come from the increasing number of messages we receive from women every day. These messages thank us for giving them a safe space to have their grief heard, allowing them to connect with others who have been through a similar type of loss, and giving them the knowledge that even one other woman felt the way they did. These messages have kept us going.

For me, creating Pink Elephants was cathartic. It was my way of grieving and processing my losses. In hindsight, I can see how it has triggered more anxiety. Reading stories of miscarriage when I was pregnant again was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

We are getting better. As our organization grows, we can hopefully raise enough funds to hire staff this year to share the workload and the emotional toll. However, I can’t lie and say we have lots of strategies for self-care, as probably our biggest weakness is putting the needs of others before our own. No matter how hard this feels on some days, the grief and isolation I felt after the loss of my babies was far more painful. 

The Pink Elephant Support Network provides critical support and resources for the partners of those who have experienced miscarriage, an often-overlooked group. What have you found to be most helpful for partners in managing their own grief while supporting their partner’s physical and mental health needs?

Most helpful for us has been learning and acknowledging that men generally grieve differently than women. They are more ‘transactional’ in their grieving, as they want to do and fix. However, this does not mean that they are not grieving. There is no right way to grieve.

Couples often struggle with open communication after early pregnancy loss and during infertility. We work closely with counsellors on strategies couples can use to keep talking and to ensure they feel heard by one another. Our Partner Brochure helps to explain to the partner of the woman who has lost the pregnancy what she may experience and what support she needs. This is one of our most downloaded resources. 

What are your hopes for the Pink Elephants Support Network and its potential impact in the larger community? 

We truly hope to achieve our mission that no couple faces the journey of early pregnancy loss alone. We always say that miscarriage is an individual journey but one that should not be walked alone. The wider we can reach, the more we can validate the impact of miscarriage, the more couples we can offer the support and empathy they deserve.

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Friday Five

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Friday Five

Too busy chasing littles to keep up with the news this week? We got you.

  1. Parenthood is hard — even for Beyoncé. This mama megastar released her documentary Homecoming on Netflix, accompanied by a live album of her Coachella 2018 headline performance. In the documentary, the mother of three opens up about her difficult pregnancy and emergency c-section with twins, along with having to adjust her work schedule as a mother to young twins and a six year old. 

  2. Commuting to work during pregnancy is risky business. A new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Lehigh University found that a long commute for pregnant women may raise the likelihood of risky pregnancies and low-birth-weight babies. The study looked at data from New Jersey, and the researchers hope that their work will lead to policy change to expand prenatal leave and remote work.  

  3. There are more funds for mama founders. Serena Williams just announced publicly that she launched her own venture capital firm in 2014 (how she kept this a secret is beyond us)! Serena Ventures invests in companies with diverse leadership, such as founders who are women, mothers, and people of color. 

  4. Unicorns are real. Speaking of start-ups, both female founders Emily Weiss of Glossier and mother of 1 Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway have both recently joined the Unicorn Club, a small pool of startups that have reached a 1 billion dollar valuation. Only 14 female founders have joined this male-dominated club so far.

  5. Voters are becoming less biased over time. With more women gearing up to run for President of the United States than ever before, it turns out that only 13% of Americans believe men are better suited emotionally for politics than women. We want this number to be 0%, but keep in mind that, according to research from Georgetown University, in 1975 about 50% of Americans doubted women were emotionally fit for politics.

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Teaching the littles to give back with SupercommunityLIC

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Teaching the littles to give back with SupercommunityLIC

As parents, we want to instill in our children the importance of generosity and ‘giving back’ to others, but are often unsure how to do so or where to start. #MindrMama Julz Donald took her desire to involve her community in giving back to an entirely new level in founding SupercommunityLIC, a Long Island City-based organization which provides opportunities for mamas and their littles to volunteer and make a difference in their own backyard and beyond. We asked Julz to share with us about her organization, its upcoming Mothers’ Day initiative, and how the Mindr community and their babes can roll up their sleeves and get involved.

Tell us about SupercommunityLIC, and your path to founding it.

SupercommunityLIC has the mission of celebrating our community and facilitating ways of giving back. There are a few core team members who organize and drive our efforts, but hundreds in Long Island City (LIC) and beyond help us make a difference.

I founded SupercommunityLIC after having a baby and then leaving my “big job” in the city nearly 5 years ago. I love living in LIC and wanted to carve out more space and time to give back — something I have always felt strongly about but hadn’t dedicated enough time to. I knew lots of my friends and neighbors felt the same way and many of them were in a similar situation.

How has parenthood influenced your work with your organization?

As soon as I had my daughter, life changed forever. I prioritized different things in my life immediately — and interestingly, I became more productive. I started putting more time and energy into my community work, which has made me a happier person. I also believe in involving my daughter in as much of my community work as possible. She and her friends know they are very fortunate, and donate to those less fortunate regularly. They also volunteer at our SupercommunityLIC events.

You have a Mother's Day partnership coming up with the Floating Hospital. What is the concept behind the collaboration, and what drew you to this particular non-profit?

I met The Floating Hospital at the same time as setting up SupercommunityLIC, and learned how they help those in need in our community. They have been providing free healthcare to the NYC homeless community for over 160 years, and are just a remarkable organization of incredible human beings! Part of what makes them amazing is they provide so much more than just healthcare. They had started to do Mothers’ Day makeovers for homeless women, and we suggested we could do more by also gifting beauty bags to these moms. This has grown over the years, and last year we managed to gift over 800 beauty bags to mamas living in shelters. These gifts mean so much to these mamas who rarely get anything for themselves. It makes them feel so special and really boosts their self-esteem.

 We partner with The Floating Hospital throughout the year but also support other charities and causes including #plasticfreelic, American Breast Cancer Foundation, the Queens-based Shareing and Careing, ThriveNYC and our local public school.

In what ways can fellow mamas help contribute to and become involved in your efforts?
All we do is on our FB page @supercommunitylic! If you are reading this before May 1st, 2019, we would love some help with our upcoming Mothers' Day Appeal.  There are a few ways mamas can support:

·        We have an Amazon Wishlist through which you can donate items that are shipped directly to us, so super easy!)

·        We are also collecting new toiletries (shampoo, body wash, lotion, etc.) in hotel or full sizes, make up, fragrance, and costume jewelry which will be used to fill the beauty bags. We are looking for donations of any size, but it would be amazing if anyone has corporate connections and might be able to help.

·        Lastly, we are hosting a volunteer community event to assemble the beauty bags on Sunday May 5 from 11am-3pm at the New York Irish Center in LIC. Kids are welcome to come help! Please see the events section of our Facebook page for more details. 

What impact do you hope SupercommunityLIC will have on your community?  
SupercommunityLIC is about creating a place where people can celebrate community and also explore and experience ways of giving back. We know the work we do has a positive impact on so many people, but also facilitates ways in which people can really get involved and suggest new initiatives. We hope it continues to provide positivity and inspiration to many. 

Do you find it important to involve children in giving back? How can parents get their children involved in doing work with and and for their communities?

My daughter and other children in the community actively help with a toy drive at Christmas. As part of this, when they check in, we intentionally talk about why we are collecting toys and who is going to be getting the gifts. Allowing the children hands-on experiences with events like these helps instill important values at a young age.

We are always collecting diapers and other baby and new mom items for the Floating Hospital. My daughter loves bringing up the bags and boxes of donations to help count and sort the items before sending them to the homeless shelters. 

SupercommunityLIC has worked hard to involve kids and created a number of kid-specific opportunities throughout the year. As parents, we want kids to understand what it means to give back, why we do it, and to experience it firsthand. There are many ways in which parents can get kids involved. We have done events like stocking filling for kids living in shelters, family bingo fundraisers, #plasticfreelic community discussions (which are among our most popular events).

 

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