Sunday marked the start of National Infertility Awareness Week and second lady Karen Pence is just one of many women opening up about the realities faced by those who have difficulty conceiving.
Pence, who rarely gives interviews on anything other than her work with art therapy, spoke with the Federalist about her far-from-unique experience. (According to RESOLVE: the National Infertility Association, 11.9 percent of American women have received some kind of infertility treatment in their lifetimes and 1 in 8 couples have difficulty getting pregnant.)
For Pence — the wife of Vice President Mike Pence — it took six years to become pregnant, a time period that was marked with “heartbreaking” moments like being asked by a niece, “Auntie Karen, why don’t you have any babies?”
She said that at times, she thought that perhaps the Pences were “just not going to be a couple that has children.” For Karen, who’s an evangelical Christian, this made her question her faith. “I didn’t care about fame or fortune, big house, fancy career, nice car — none of that has ever been important to me. I just wanted to be a mom,” she said. “And so my main thing was, how could God put this desire in my heart and not bring me kids?”
As an alternative way to starting a family, the Pences explored adoption. The couple found out they had been matched with a birth mother shortly after realizing they were pregnant with their first child. Karen said she “felt like it wasn’t right for us to still be on that list of parents who wanted to be considered by the birth parents” after being able to achieve pregnancy on her own, and withdrew their names.
Still, she would “encourage anybody who is struggling with infertility and considering adoption” to do so, saying that even though she harbored reservations about the process, she was “100 percent in” on doing so “once we prayed through it.”
Eventually, Karen was able to conceive on her own and had three children in three years. However, her memories of the fertility battles she went through that she believes made her a better parent. “I would have moments where I’d think, ‘Wait a minute, you almost didn’t get to have this.’ And I think the fact that I realized I might be someone who never could have children, that I cherished the fact that I was able to have children, and really valued that a lot more.”
While she’s happy to share about her past struggles with infertility now, Karen understands how hard it is for those currently experiencing infertility to do the same. She admitted that she hid her own trials from family and friends largely because she and her husband didn’t want others “to feel like they couldn’t share their joy with us when they got pregnant. We didn’t want any of our friends or family to say, “Oh, how are we going to tell Mike and Karen?” So we said, let’s just keep it to ourselves.”
She continued, “I would never presume to tell people that if they’re going through it that they should be more open, because at the time, it’s just very difficult. And I think for them just to know there are people out there who understand and get it might just be a little bit of encouragement to people.”
Still, she acknowledges, “when you go through a procedure, and you spend $10,000 and it doesn’t work, it’s really frustrating. It’s really, really frustrating. People just need to go through it in their own way and in their own time.”
Karen’s openness, even years later with her children grown, still has a major impact. Barbara Collura, the president of RESOLVE, tells Yahoo Beauty, “Anytime someone in the public eye talks … candidly about their infertility experience, it breaks down the stigma surrounding this disease and the issues that face so many.”