Friends since kindergarten, Mollie Walker and Lauren Brown discovered a shared challenge that brought them even closer together in adulthood: infertility. Finding a lack of support groups to help them through the emotional trials that accompany that struggle, the dynamic Memphis-based women formed their own advocacy program to offer community, awareness, and education to families throughout Tennessee. Learning the legislation ropes, they’re making strides to ensure women across the state are eligible for infertility insurance coverage in the workplace. Please welcome our newest FACES, Mollie Walker and Lauren Brown, the founders of Tennessee Fertility Advocates.
What led you to start Tennessee Fertility Advocates?
Lauren: During her second pregnancy, Mollie reached out to me because she knew that I’d been a patient at a fertility clinic here in Memphis. Later down the road, we participated in a federal advocacy day, and we got the itch. Nineteen other states have coverage, so we were like, why not Tennessee? We started looking down that path to see what it would look like, and that’s how Tennessee Fertility Advocates (TFA) was born. It was a very organic thing that happened. We had a connection with our House Representative here in our district, and he started teaching us the ropes. We were like, “How do you write and pass a bill?” We’re very thankful. God placed a lot of people on our path to help us along the way.
What is TFA’s mission?
Mollie: We have our own journeys with infertility, and unfortunately, we’ve both experienced miscarriages that have been very devastating. There’s really no support community; when I was going through it years ago, Lauren was one of the only people that I knew about who was seeking treatment. For years, my mental health was at an all-time low; I’ve never been so depressed in my life. Then, when I was going through infertility, especially after having miscarriages, I was like, “Why are all my friends getting pregnant so easily? Why isn’t my body doing what God created it to do? So, our main mission is to be a support community, and we mainly do that through social media. We have a very engaged Facebook group, and we have over 7,000 advocates. The majority of them are in Tennessee, but we do have some out of state. Our mission is to support the community, raise awareness, de-stigmatize the issue and educate. We also highlight our advocates and give them a platform to speak, help advocates talk to their employers, and we’re working hard to pass legislation so Tennessee can be the next state to see coverage.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge that women with infertility face?
Lauren: The mental piece of it. You’re on a constant roller coaster, and there’s little to no support when you’re going through it. Mollie and I at least have each other, but many people don’t have any support, and their spouse and family don’t get it. There’s also the financial piece of it — most people don’t have coverage. Most young couples don’t have $20,000 to $40,000 saved for medical expenses.
Mollie: The mental toll and emotional rollercoaster of this disease are vicious and ugly.
What do you wish that more women with infertility knew to help them feel less alone?
Mollie: I think the biggest thing is knowing nothing is wrong with you — infertility is actually classified as a disease. Also, you’re your own health advocate. Nobody’s going to advocate for you [the way you are]. After the miscarriages, I didn’t even want to put one foot in front of the other some days. I wish I’d known to say, “Something’s off,” instead of waiting a few years and being too scared to ask questions or get a second opinion. [Instead], I let it get worse, and then mentally, I wasn’t stable. Finally, I came to a point where I was honest. Seeking a therapist was the greatest thing I could’ve done for myself, but it took time because nobody ever said, “It’s okay to ask for help and be honest that you’re struggling. This is probably the hardest thing you’ll face in this season of your life.” I did everything “right” — I went to college, got married, and I’ve wanted to be a mom since I was a kid. I would still do anything — sell my house, take out a loan — but we shouldn’t have to do that for this disease. I wish I’d been a stronger advocate for myself at an earlier stage, and I also wish I’d been more open and allowed myself to be vulnerable so I could’ve connected with other people who were struggling. I waited too long because I was so embarrassed.
Lauren: I wish I would’ve sought a therapist sooner because this is bigger than you can wrap your head around. There are so many feelings and hormones, and there are so many aspects of your life that this affects.
What is one thing that’s often misunderstood about the infertility struggle that you wish you could help “outsiders” understand?
Mollie: I’m actually going to say two things. One, this isn’t a female-only issue because there’s a lot of male-factor infertility. We’ve had a lot of legislators say, “This is a female issue.” It’s not; this is a male issue, too. The second thing is about what to say and what not to say. People will say things like, “Are you not trying enough?” Or “Stop stressing about it; it’s going to happen” and “If it’s in God’s plan, it’ll work out.” Lauren and I are both Christians and believers, and we do believe that, but at the same time, it’s a disease. People say some very ignorant things. You’ve got to give them grace but also acknowledge it.
Lauren: This is a disease. We so often hear (from people in opposition or even our legislators), “Why don’t you just adopt?” Adoption is a great option for a lot of people, but it’s not a treatment for the disease of infertility. The women in this group are truly amazing people who want to have a family of their own, but they have a disease. Unfortunately, it’s not recognized as that.
What is the first step that someone can take to get involved and help you advocate?
Lauren: First, they can visit our website and fill out the survey. It can be anonymous; it’s just so we know what part of Tennessee they’re in, what they’re struggling with, and if they want to be connected with other people who have similar issues. That way, we can match what district they’re in and their house reps. It’s also so we can welcome them into this community. It doesn’t have to be just the people who are struggling with infertility. It can be family members, friends, neighbors, and people who support you and the mission.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Lauren: Be true to who you are, and be honest. If you do the right thing, God will bless and take care of you. Also, be a hard worker no matter what! If someone asks you to take out the trash, take it out the absolute best way you can.
Mollie: One thing that has really impacted me is this quote a customer gave me: “Go the extra mile; it’s never crowded.” Being a working mom, struggling with the disease and leading a grassroots group to change legislation in a conservative state … going that extra mile is so worth it, even though we come across stumbling blocks. This last year of starting our grassroots effort has probably been one of the hardest seasons emotionally. But then we read stories of people experiencing infertility situations and how hopeless they feel, and that weight sticks with us. It makes us want to do more.
Outside of faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Lauren: Self-care, coffee and my job.
Mollie: Journaling. I have journals of prayers and feelings written out from when I was alone and wasn’t vulnerable about my story. I haven’t become an expert, but I’m really working on taking time to rest and breathe. And the last one is the enneagram. I’m obsessed! I think everybody should do the test. I’m a three, wing two.
Thank you for sharing your stories, Mollie and Lauren, and thanks to Lindsey Ford Photography for the images.
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