Inside Reproductive Health, Ep 19

The Impact of Culture in the Fertility Community: Caroline Harries, Infertility Advocate

In this episode, host Griffin Jones speaks to Caroline Harries, author and influencer in the infertility community. Harries’ blog In Due Time as well as her book of the same title reaches out to people who need encouragement during tough seasons of their life, and her support group, Moms in the Making, specifically reaches out to women at different stages of the infertility journey who are seeking support and encouragement. Jones and Harries discuss the place that Harries has carved out in the infertility community for people of faith as well as the importance of creating a continuously positive space within the community.

Griffin Jones: Today on the show, I’m joined by Caroline Harries, who has a heart for those who are facing hard situations or circumstances, especially those who are going through infertility. Her unwavering faith has made her one of the leaders and influencers in the infertility community, especially for the faith-based segment of the infertility community. She has a blog and a book, In Due Time, she’s also founded a support group called Moms in the Making, and in 2017, she quit her corporate job to volunteer for Moms in the Making full time. When she isn’t busy with Moms in the Making or In Due Time, she can be found traveling the world with her husband, or staying active by competing in triathlons. Extremely interesting person, and influencer in the infertility community, Caroline, welcome to Inside Reproductive Health.

Caroline Harries: Thank you so much, Griffin, I’m glad to be here today.

GJ: This has been a special segment for National Infertility Awareness Week, because our audience is mostly fertility practice owners, physicians, and practice managers. And sometimes people from the infertility community listen. But this week has been the first time that we’ve had people on the show that are from the infertility community, as opposed to the clinic side of the field. And I wanted to have you on, because we’ve done some work together, both with Fertility Bridge, for Fertility Bridge clients, because I often equate you and some peers like you as the media personalities of this space. And that’s pretty unfamiliar for a lot of the clinics that we’re consulting with or speaking to in the field. Kind of give us an idea of how this happened. How you become sort of like a personality in a community like this?

CH: So… it kind of just happened organically. I got married in 2011 and then my husband and I, we started trying to grow our family at the beginning of 2012. And really, it was birthed out of our own journey, which I’m sure many people aren’t surprised about, but in the summer of 2013, I just really had a heart to just get women together who were going through this struggle and create a safe environment for us to come together and kind of support one another and encourage one another in a journey that, obviously, to many is so lonely. So I had a few people over in my living room, and really that is what is now Moms in the Making. Now we have 23 locations across the United States of these support groups. And so, you know, with that, I also did start In Due Time blog, and just started sharing on social media. Griffin, as you know, social media is just kind of the way of the world now, especially for different groups and businesses and companies and even clinics grown organically and taking off.

GJ: How did Moms in the Making- how did all of these women end up in your living room? Were you already blogging at that point? Were you connecting with people on social media first, or did all that come first?

CH: That’s a great question. At that time, I was blogging, but I don’t think it was obviously anywhere-- I didn’t have the reach that I now have today. But at that time, some of it was friends of friends, it was mainly word of mouth. The fun part is what we find now- they’ll be women who either come to a group in my home or they attended one of our conferences, but 90% of these women are saying, “I found you on Pinterest, I did a Google search, I found you on Facebook, I found you using an INstagram hashtag.” Really, about 90% of the women are finding us on social media.

GJ: And how did that start for you? At what point did you say… was it because you wanted to share your story, because you found that cathartic, or were you looking to find the people first? Talk to us about how the social media journey went.

CH: Yeah, I have always been a very open person. Because obviously, so many women and men who go through infertility are silent. They don’t tell anyone, they don’t tell friends or family. So really, a week after our first initial diagnosis at the beginning of 2012, I just felt like I was to start a blog. AT that time, I didn’t really share it with many people, but what it turned out to be was just a place for me to share our updates with doctors and whatnot. Then, what it turned out to be, was really me encouraging women and men. I didn’t ever expect it to be where it is now, and it’s kind of funny- I joke a lot, because I don’t consider myself a writer even though I do blog full time and have a book, my background is in business it’s finance and marketing, And so it’s all been out of my comfort zone and a big stretch. It’s just … it’s just kind of taken off. It’s been five or six years, so I’ve put in the work to where I am today. It’s definitely not some overnight… it didn’t happen overnight by any means.

GJ: Was Moms in the Making simply because you wanted something more faith-based? You’re a very Christian woman, and you reflect that in your writings and your journey with your husband? Was Moms in the Making just because you wanted something more in that direction, or were there other segments that you felt were missing from existing support groups?

CH: That is a great question, because honestly, thinking back, I don’t think I ever sought out if there were already already support groups at that time. I think I just knew it was on my heart to start one. And again, I didn’t expect it to expand beyond those initial six girls who were in my living room that first meeting. And we do feel that we are different than a lot of groups out there, but there’s a place for all the groups.It’s not Moms in the Making versus Resolve, or Moms in the Making versus anyone else. But we are doing something different, and we’re definitely catering to an audience of women who are interested in the faith aspect of the journey as well.

GJ: So then how does In Due Time, the blog and the book, relate to Moms in the Making? Do you view them as sort of separate things that are related simply because of the topics they deal with? Or is In Due Time sort of become a media piece for Moms in the Making? Are they more separate than that?

CH: I get confused, too. And a lot of people don’t understand the difference. Really, what In Due Time has become is… my heart is so near and dear for women going through infertility and men too because that’s so much of my story and has been for the past seven years. But my heart is really that anyone who is in a hard season, who’s going through a divorce, who lost a job, whatever it is, could find encouragement if they came and read In Due Time. So while Moms in the Making is very specific to just women going through infertility, In Due Time is really a place where anyone can come and find encouragement. I kind of see In Due Time as the big umbrella, and Moms in the Making as kind of a sidebar of In Due Time.

GJ: If you had to pin it down to something, what do you suppose that these women and men are looking for when they’re either reading the blog or the book or probably more specifically when they’re looking for the community and the support network that Moms in the Making provides. What do you suppose that they’re looking for, because people really listen to you. We had you come to one of our clients to do a Facebook live with them, because we knew that was a great way to reach the community, just by having you in the office, that people would be interested in what you had to say, in the same way that media personalities are used to leverage other messages across fields of all kinds. So what do you find that people are coming to you for, that they’re searching? If you had to try to be specific about it?

CH: I think it’s hope. I think people have seen how I’ve lived my life over the last seven years, and that has been with a good attitude, that has been with this picture that, guess what. This is a struggle, and this is really hard, but I’m not gonna let it define me, I’m not gonna let it hold me back from living just a joyful life. I think people are hurting and they are longing to find hope, and perhaps they see that I carry that, and they can too access that, and I think that is what has gotten so many people to kind of opt in with what we’re doing with Moms in the Making and In Due Time.

GJ: We had Tia Gendusa on the show also for the National INfertility Awareness Week segment, and one of the things we talked about -- you say people are coming for hope and for connection, and inside the field, I often see what I call a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that I can show people the comments from social media of people connecting and what they say in videos or through the content they create, and people will very often say, our patients don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want anybody to know about it. And that is very often true, some people are extremely private, but I think that we are enforcing that as the norm by continuing to say that despite a growing trend otherwise.

CH: Yeah, I think so much of it, too, is people want community, but again what we kind of do when we set ourselves apart is we don’t say, hey, come sit on my couch and we’re just gonna whine and complain and just focus on the negative. We really set ourself apart by saying actually, there’s a lot of things we should be grateful for. How can we make the most of our marriage in this season. And how can we count our blessings in this season? So I think a lot of communities, the community itself is actually more dangerous than the disease of infertility, if you will, or whatever you want to call it. It’s like the culture that is built within a community becomes more toxic than actually going through infertility itself. And we just don’t partner up with that. We don’t partner up with just the hopelessness and the negativity, so while someone might come into a group or might attend a conference or might join our Facebook group and they’re hurting and they’re negative and they’re complaining, our heart is really to see a transition that they would again find hope and that they would find that there’s joy to be found, and that they can focus on the positive things.

GJ: So that’s really like group culture, like in the same way within my company or maybe some other organizations that I’m involved with. It starts from the top, in my opinion. Culture always starts from the top; whenever there’s an issue with culture, it’s because the top isn’t doing their job to set the example for the rest of the group. So what are some of the things that you do to say like this is who we are, we’re not people that wallow in the negative feedback loop, we are people who are solutions-oriented, who are gratitude-oriented, what are some of the things you do to set that culture so that it doesn’t veer into something that you don’t want it to be?

CH: Absolutely. You know, it’s as simple as with our leaders across the United States, we have them sign an agreement when they come on as a leader with just basic things that they’re agreeing to, but one of those is you will not complain, and you will not create an environment for women to complain. So we’re not saying that women can’t come into a group and say, hey, I”m currently struggling with XYZ, or hey, I just had a miscarriage. You can say those things. But if you sit there and you come in every week and you just talk about the negative and you're just upset because your friend got pregnant, we just try to flip it. Ok, your friend might be pregnant, but how can we see the good in this situation. Or hey, you might have just started your period, but how can we focus on the positive in this situation?

GJ: Is that tough love?

CH: I mean, maybe? I just am like, no one wants to be around a complainer, and I just feel like, I don’t know. I mean.. Yeah. I don’t know.

GJ: Do you find some people can’t get on board with it? With any hard thing in life, there is a certain point where it’s I’ve gotta grieve or I’ve gotta go through something, and there’s a certain point where, Ok, now we’re in a negative feedback loop, and do you find some people that just can’t get on board?

CH: What I’ve found, and I agree, there is a time to grieve, and I think that does look a lot different, but what I’ve found is absolutely everyone gets on board. What happens is that they will leave a night where we’ve had a support group meeting and they feel refreshed, they feel energized, and just feedback I’ve heard is hey, I tried a different group, and all they did- there was nothing encouraging, all the women did was just sit around and whine about their situations. And I felt worse leaving the group. And so although it might not be everyone’s natural tendency, it’s like it takes practice, right? And we’re there to help them as they’re practicing finding gratitude and focusing on the positive things. But honestly, Griffin, this is another reason why we have a Moms in the Making online Facebook group, it’s a closed group, and we have a closed wall, meaning we will create prompts but we don’t allow people just to post. Why? We know it would just be negative. So we create a prompt of hey, what’s a song that you’re listening to that’s helping you in this season. Hey, we just ended the month of March, what was one thing that you and your husband did together that was so much fun that helped you get your mind off of infertility. So it’s just little things to help create that practice, and sure, I’m sure there’s a small subset of people who are like this isn’t for me. ANd the reality is that Moms in the Making isn’t for everyone, and we totally bless and support the people that, you know, that it’s not a good fit.

GJ: You’ve had, in person, events beyond just the women in your house. You’ve had conferences.

CH: Yes. We’ve had two conferences, and our third one will be in October. Yeah, we’ve had over 200 women, our past conference people came from 33 different states. It’s pretty crazy.

GJ: They came from 33 different states.

CH: Yeah, and the first conference, we had people from Africa, someone flew from Africa, which I still can’t believe. Someone flew rom the Bahamas. That conference was from 32 states, so yes.

GJ: ANd… almost all of these people found out about your organization through social media?

CH: Social media. Yep. Yes, Yeah.

GJ: It’s incredible, because there’s so many people that are suffering in silence, and or just want more connection, more community, want some sort of feeling of being understood, and I’ve always looked at practices as the ability to be leaders for these communities, doing at least some things similar. I think they’re dubious of their ability to do that very often, and part of the reason is for the reasons that you talked about. They’re terrified of groups just turning into negative feedback loops and then just having a bunch of people together that are taking a dump on their reputation. And but I think that’s a legitimate concern, but the fear of that prevents people from pursuing this community building, of which they can be the leaders that you’re seeing people from different continents flying over for.

CH: Yeah. It’s pretty crazy. It’s that initial I think fear that people have, though. Just yesterday I got an email from somebody that’s already emailed me two or three times. She’s like, hey I live in the Dallas area, I want to come to your group. Ok, great, here are the details, can’t wait to meet you . And then I don’t hear back from her. And then, hey, I think I’m ready to come. ANd then I don’t hear from her again. ANd then yesterday, she’s like, Ok, I can’t take it anymore. Right? So it’s like people just have to understand that there’s power in community and there’s power in finding support, and it’s getting over that initial fear of going to a stranger’s home or connecting with people that I don’t really know ,but once they do, we become good friends. We’re doing life together. It’s exciting, although it can be nerve wracking at first, it’s exciting again that community has been built and friendships have been formed. And some of these women are honestly best friends, and I don’t say that or take that lightly. But they've met, they’ve connected, and they’ve just grown deep friendships through it all. And it’s beautiful.

GJ: So what’s next, either for In Due Time or for Moms in the Making? And your predictions for where the community at large is going. Where are we gonna be in two years, five years, ten years, both for what you’re working on and in the overall community.

CH: Yeah, so for Moms in the Making specifically, like I mentioned, we have 23 groups in different cities across the United States. We would love to have a group in every city, because we recognize that’s a need. That’s something that we roll out every six months. I hope that the next 2-5-10 years, we’ve tripled that number, clearly. Our problem with growing the groups is we know there’s a need, but we also know we need a good leader in place. We don’t just launch groups to launch groups, we’re very careful with making sure that we have the right leader on board, because it’s a lot to lead a group, and again kind of steward those conversations nad create a healthy environment. Specifically, for In Due Time, I’m actually launching a podcast myself within the next few weeks, it is a friend that I - guess what?- met through INstagram who has become one of my best friends. Her name is Jessica, and so we are launching a podcast starting soon, called a Cup Full of Hope, and it will be talking about that hope I mentioned earlier that I feel like we carry and can release out to other people who are looking for it. Other than that, you know, it’s just been a roller coaster ride, so I don’t know what to expect next, even for the community, but I'm always up for whatever I feel like is down the pipeline.

GJ: I think it’s so important for providers, practice managers, people that work in the field, to pay attention to what you’re doing and what other people in the field are doing, it would be like if banks just never read the Wall Street Journal. I mean, in so many ways, the communities and the blogs and the influencers of which you are among the head of the pack, are… it is the voice of the community. And I think for a field that serves this community, if they’re not participating in following these channels, then we’re so completely divorced from the people taht we’re serving.

CH: Absolutely, And that’s why I love getting to connect with the physicians and the different clinics and you know my opportunity to do that so far has been a little limited, but hI think there’s something powerful, because we need each other. The clinics need the support groups and we need the clinics. What’s always funis every time we have a group meeting, it’s like the first thing we ask, well what doctors have you seen because by this point we’ve crossed every Dallas doctor off the list, because I’ve had over 50-60 people walk through my front door. So yeah, we definitely need each other, for sure.

GJ: And that’s just one of the 23 cities.

CH: Yeah, exactly, Isn’t that crazy?

GJ: Caroline, what haven’t I asked you about that you’d want to conclude with, either about the faith-based segment of the community or about the influencers and the support groups that are popping up throughout social media or the community at large… what haven't I asked you about that you would want to conclude with?

CH: I don’t think anything specific. I would say, if anyone is listening who is a clinician or a physician or has a practice, just thank you for what you’re doing, because, again, we need you and we’re so grateful for how you help women like me. And for anyone who may be listening who may be going through infertility, just reach out. You can reach out to me, which I’d be glad to connect, but find a group, find a support group, find a place and a community outside of your husband, outside of perhaps a family member, but someone who understands. Because it is different talking with someone else and connecting with someone else who actually understands.

GJ: Caroline Harries of In Due Time and Moms in the Making, thank you so much for coming on Inside Reproductive Health.

CH: Thanks, Griffin.