Megan Smalley received yet another baby shower invitation.
Of course, the mother-to-be would have known of Megan’s year of infertility treatments. Most of the shower attendees would as well. The year of shots and tests and hormones skyrocketing off the chart. The procedure to transfer IVF embryos, the phone call from the doctor to communicate that not one of the three transferred had implanted. Megan’s blurred memory shouting, “I don’t even know what you’re saying!” when the doctor clinically explained she was not pregnant and would need donor eggs.
Megan attended a few baby showers until the pretense became unbearable. “I wasn’t jealous because my friends had something that I didn’t. I just felt this immense pressure to be something I wasn’t. I felt like every eye in the room was on me, watching for my reaction,” says Megan, owner of the exploding Scarlet & Gold, a lifestyle and gift brand seeking to fulfill a mission to create, give and inspire.
In 2015, she and husband Blake, the varsity basketball coach at Handley High School in Roanoke, had embarked on a grueling infertility journey after three and a half years of trying to have a baby. Megan suffered intense hormone instability during her first round of IVF, often finding herself in a complete meltdown over mundane things like what to wear. “We went in blind the first time. We didn’t know what to ask. We trusted our doctor and just did as he told us to do.” The couple spent more than $15,000, of which insurance covered none, in the failed IVF attempt. After the loss of their three babies, the couple decided to take a year off to recover emotionally, physically and financially.
“There’s so much loss in infertility. In addition to the babies, you can easily lose friendships when expectations are put on you that are outside what you are capable of. I needed to feel the freedom to feel what I needed to feel and grieve how I needed to grieve. And in that freedom, I had to let some friendships go that were not life-giving to me in that season. I took a year off to recover, and I started to live my life by finding joy in the midst of a really hard season,” says Megan. And learning to give grace freely to herself and others which became the overarching message during that season of life.
“I was coming off a year where I’d fight every day to survive. I had to give myself grace. For my body to bounce back from all of the hormones. To detox. I needed grace because I wasn’t the kind of friend I needed or wanted to be. Blake and I started this journey with the vow that our marriage would always come first and that we wouldn’t let this hardship drive a wedge between us. We also decided to live fully in the season, enjoying every second of no responsibility. The time together became so sweet,” says Megan who began to tell her story to others outside her family.
Megan, 30, feels as if loss is universal, and the more she shared her story, the more people opened up to her. Women often feel like failures if they’re unable to conceive. During trials, community becomes vital for survival. “I began to encourage women to share their story with one person other than their spouse and to look for joy in the season of struggle,” says Megan who began to write down a list of blessings to maintain a grateful heart and to eliminate the comparison game.
Koral Dean, the creative director at Scarlet & Gold, tossed out an idea to create products through S&G to raise money for another IVF treatment. Although Megan’s heart had experienced many days of sadness, thankfully she had never slipped into complete darkness. She and Blake knew they were ready to try again, but also needed this next step to be bathed in the message of grace. Finances were the only thing holding them back. They researched facilities and found one in Denver, Colo., although the waiting list was extensive. Megan fully credits God with the next steps. Her sister was dating a guy from Denver whose dad was in a Bible study with the fertility doctor. “We not only got an appointment, but had a free place to stay that felt like home,” says Megan. “My entire experience at CCRM in Denver was night and day compared to our first round locally. I just knew things were different this time.”
Although the treatments produced the same number of follicles as the first time, the team retrieved 31 eggs of which 21 were mature. Fourteen fertilized, and six embryos made it to day five for transfer. The Smalleys elected to do a frozen transfer with two embryos. “Nine days after our transfer we went in for a blood test to determine if I was pregnant. The first beta numbers should be in the 100 range. Mine was in the 670 which meant I was ‘super pregnant’ according to the nurse. At six weeks, my local obstetrician, Dr. Kraig Smith, found two heartbeats,” says Megan. At 20 weeks gestation, the couple learned they were having boys, but Megan knew the haunting emotion of infertility did not end there.
“I want to create a foundation to help other families. Our overarching ministry at S&G is to love on those that are suffering. To encourage joy in every season. To lean on the Lord and dig into what he’s trying to teach you,” says Megan who began the Give Grace Campaign through the Scarlet & Gold website.
“Mother’s Day is hard for so many people. Social media is bombarded with images of the perfect families which promotes heartache for others. We want to ask the community to be sensitive to what others are walking through. To give grace,” says Megan. The business is giving away free “give grace” temporary tattoos, asking followers to take a picture and post to social media with the hashtag #givegrace. Today, through the Scarlet and Gold website, Megan and team continue to raise money and awareness about infertility. To learn more about Give Grace, visit www.scarletandgoldshop.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Every step of this journey, Blake and I were right where we were supposed to be. It’s hard to see that when you’re in the middle of such loss, but that’s when the community can step up and step in. It can lift you up when you can’t lift up yourself,” says Megan.