An Infertility Fundraising Pioneer: Brandi’s Story

infertility-fundraising

Each week I interview someone who has experienced infertility firsthand. This week, I’m really excited to be interviewing Brandi Koske. Brandi blogs at Baby or Bust and in 2009 she was the first blog ever to use her blog to raise funds for IVF. I was so grateful that she agreed to share some wisdom about blogging and raising funds online. Enjoy!

infertility-fundraising

Q.  Tell us a little about yourself.

I like the brevity of my Twitter bio. I use that as a guide point to avoid the “Once upon a time…”. Focused on loving my life w/ @skoskie + Paisley, partner/content strategist @CraftedByClover, creator @BabyOrBust, cooking, wine, laughing, Sooners.

Life really threw me for a loop the last two years so I’m finally getting back to a place where everything fits and feels right and I’m not faking my way through happy. Today’s actually the one-year anniversary of our “Happy Summr” (not a typo). We took off last May for four months, drove 15,000 miles, and visited 27 states. It was the single best decision we’ve ever made. At the conclusion, we moved to Denver. Now we only wonder why it took us so long to get out here. I’m married to my best friend, coming up on 13 years. I get to be Paisley’s mom. She’s a clone of my personality so it keeps us both on our toes! In January I moved toward a major goal and formed a new interactive company with three partners and it’s off to a really strong start. I’m a content strategist and writer. It’s been very energizing to move my work in this direction. I really love to be in my kitchen, out on a hike, exploring the new brewery scene, or just doing something Funtaneous — that’s what we call just taking off and doing something really unexpected, unplanned, and having a great time! I guess Baby or Bust was funtaneous before we got around to calling things that.

Q.  How long did you try to conceive and what issues were you facing?

From the time I went off birth control (2004) until Paisley was born was six years (2010). We tried unsuccessfully for the first 18 months and then started asking questions. We were really young and really healthy and it didn’t make any sense!! In 2006 we made our way to the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Wichita and got the news that IVF was our only chance to conceive. And then we spent the next three years saving and planning.

I assumed I was the problem, naturally. I’d battled ovarian issues since high school, and before the IVF had already gone through one surgery for ruptured cysts and had gritted my way through month after month of horrifically painful cycles and ruptures. But after months of tracking BBT the doctor took mere seconds to look at my charts and say I was fine. So we had my husband’s sperm analysis done, and the doctor called to tell us “the lab thought this was a post-vasectomy sample.” I can only pin one other moment in my life that felt as dark and silent and empty as that one. Further tests revealed that he has a congenital absence of the vas deferens. So the tube that should take the sperm out is just a thin piece of tissue. Hormone tests confirmed it was likely he produced sperm, they just couldn’t get out.

Q.  In 2006, you started blogging and fundraising for IVF at BabyOrBust.com. How did you get the idea to blog and use it as a means for raising funds? 

Our first meeting with the fertility clinic yielded an estimate for $20,000…. cash! Because of our circumstances, we basically needed every service available. (The addition of the MESA surgery for my husband, ICSI for the embryos.) And, living in Kansas at the time, no insurance coverage was provided. We were less than a year into our careers post-college. Good jobs and decent salaries for getting by, but we didn’t have that kind of money. As we left the clinic I told Shelton I had an idea to start a blog where we could ask visitors for $1 donations. In return, I would blog our entire experience. I was already an “early” blogger and used to being more candid than is usually necessary, so it seemed natural (to me!) that I would share this whole story. I’d give people a real life glimpse of what infertility and IVF was like, and in exchange they’d help us reach our goal a dollar at a time.

About a year before this I’d heard of a woman who started a blog and asked people for $1 donations because she’d maxed out $20,000 in credit card debt buying luxury purses and clothing. It took her less than six weeks to reach her goal. I couldn’t help but think our cause was a little more worthy! So a friend (who is now my business partner) built the site and it went live July 1, 2006. Within the first two weeks we’d been on the cover of our local newspaper, did a round of radio interviews across the country, and did a live appearance on the CBS Early Show. It was an insane whirlwind!

infertility-fundraising

Q.  What specifically did you do to fundraise? Accept donation, auctions, sell stuff, etc?

We put PayPal and Amazon buttons on our site so that people had two options for online donations. And we opened a PO box where people could send checks. We just pushed really hard. We emailed everyone we knew and told everyone we could. This was pre-social media, so it was all very “traditional.” I was still 2 years out from having a Facebook page. One friend did offer to share it on her Myspace or Facebook, I can’t remember. I shrugged her off like she was crazy!!!

We didn’t do any other fundraising efforts. Well, sort of. We invested the money we did receive. Ultimately we raised about $7,500, invested that and turned it into $12,000, and then provided the remaining $8,000 ourselves.

Q.  You received a lot of media attention for fundraising on your blog. How did you handle the scrutiny?

At first, not well at all. I told my husband to pull the site after a few weeks because I couldn’t handle it. He said we were receiving threats via email and notes in our PO box. People are ridiculous. “I hope God never gives you any children,” “This is how evolution thins out the herd,” “Will we have to buy your diapers and food too?” and on and on and on. And those are probably the nicer statements. Some of this even came from the fertility community. It was just shocking that people could treat perfect strangers that way.

Then I decided to hell with them. I grew a thick skin really fast and it still serves me well. I knew what I was doing was honest. We were having fun with an otherwise dark situation. And it wasn’t like our hand was just out; people were basically paying for our content if they wanted to see it that way. We weren’t forcing people! Donate if you like, or don’t. We rarely got $1 donations; everything came in the form of fives and tens, a lot of 20s and 50s, and several over $100. One donation of $3,000 was a shock. One friend donated a Google search ad campaign!

We had offers to do our treatment at a steep discount, but we adored our doctor and clinic and that was worth the cost of admission.

We never did put ads on the site; I still turn down requests. We wanted it to be authentic.

Q.  What advice would you give to someone who is considering fundraising for infertility treatments online?

Grow a thick skin and don’t expect this to be the magic bullet. We faced a lot of hateful feedback — fortunately less than the positive — but it’s still something else to get through when you’re already going through so much.

You can’t expect this to fulfill your goal and you should be ready to supplement the donations with your own money.

You have to be special. We got so much media attention because no one had ever done this and it was an interesting hook and story. Now with IndieGogo, GoFundMe, and a number of other solutions, there’s rarely a day that goes by where I don’t see at least a couple donation requests for something in my social timelines. Really push the creativity, tell your story well, be honest, be transparent.

Be grateful. No one owes you this, no one. To this day I whisper a thank you out loud to the universe for every single person who put a dollar in our bucket. Our daughter wouldn’t be here without them, she just wouldn’t.

Read “Budgeting for Infertility.” We’re featured but we don’t get [any commission]. A lot of great advice and a variety of ways to get the money together.

infertility-fundraising

Q.  Your first IVF cycle resulted in the birth of your daughter, Paisley! Did your experience with infertility affect your pregnancy or how you view your daughter now?

Absolutely! I knew we were “one-and-done” going in. We’d agreed to do IVF one time and get what we get. I’m thankful every single day it worked out the way it did. We’d put in two embryos, but I’m never disappointed that we came home with one. Because I knew this was going to be my only pregnancy, I willed myself to enjoy it and appreciate it. It was not a pleasant pregnancy. Debilitating nausea, the worst heartburn for 40 weeks, I bled for 40 straight weeks, I had to pass a kidney stone at 30 weeks, I had insomnia, charlie horses… I could go on and on. But I willed myself to enjoy it and appreciate it because I didn’t ever want to look back and think that time was awful. The mind is a powerful thing and it worked! I loved being pregnant, I’d love to do it again, and I love that I got the opportunity to have that experience and share it with my husband.

It plays a role now for sure. There’s a gratitude for her that I don’t think “regular” parents have for their children. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a different experience/situation! I think IVF parents have an appreciation and gratitude and I fall back on that on the days when we’re like any other family. Terrible twos, threes, fours… haha! When I really want to pull my hair out I just remember what a miracle she is and take a deep breath, reset, and I can be a better mom in those situations where I reallllly don’t want to be!

She knows her story and we tell her more detail as she gets older. She’s seen her embryo picture. She knows it was hard for us to have her and because of that there won’t be siblings. She knows there’s something special about the way that she got here. I hope that doesn’t make for a tiny narcissist, but I just want her to know her story because it’s a wild one!!

Q.  Is there anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

I always tell people to laugh and smile and appreciate what you do have. Don’t dwell on what you don’t have. We never allowed ourselves to go to the dark place. We weren’t depressed, and our marriage didn’t suffer. Sure, I had my moments (baby showers were the worst), but overall, we didn’t let our infertility take some hold on our lives. It wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t the right energy for my body to carry a pregnancy, and it wasn’t us. In retrospect, I’m often grateful for those six years. It gave us so much more time together and we had so much fun! We were able to move further into our careers and really establish ourselves and make it so that we could care for her and raise her the best way possible. When we did finally start our IVF cycle, we were ready in every way possible.

Many thanks to Brandi for sharing her story AND for paving the way for many of us to do our own online infertility fundraising.  Please leave her a comment below to let you know you appreciate her!

  • Jessie

    Good for Brandi for bravely venturing into this area. Fertility treatments are so crazy expensive. It’s a shame that so many potentially wonderful mothers struggle to have babies, while others who are not good mothers have a boatload.

  • Ang K

    Well done Brandi for finding strength from so many setbacks. You’d think that facing difficulty conceiving would be enough to give people sympathy for you, but it was heartbreaking to read about how callous some responses to your fundraising were. Thank you for paving the way for others who need a boost on their way to motherhood!

  • Thank you for sharing your story, Brandi. My husband and I are much like you in that he requires a MESA. I don’t know anyone else that does this process. I love that you kept a positive attitude through the experience and didn’t allow yourselves to go to the dark place. I love even more that you appreciate your daughter so much. Your story makes me happy! Thank you!!