NMPA
c/o Bridget Holloman, Exec. Secretary
P.O. Box 500
Darlington, SC 29540
Phone: (843) 395-8811

Feature Writing
Second Place
Dustin Long, NBC Sportsworld

Sharing the Joy

Hope was all they had, and some days it wasn’t enough.

So they cried. They cursed. They questioned their fate. No matter how many pleas to God they made or comforting hugs they received, hope could not always shield them from the devastating truth that they could not have a baby.

“I felt inadequate as a woman,’’ said a wife who suffered nine miscarriages.

Another wife — with a prisoner’s dedication — knows how many days it has been since she and her husband began trying to conceive. The number exceeds 1,000.

“It feels like you get farther and farther behind as the world keeps moving on,’’ the husband said. “That’s pretty crushing.’’

Kyle and Samantha Busch know such distress. They tried for years to have a child, but NASCAR’s baby boom went on without them.

After yet another negative pregnancy test one day, Samantha collapsed and bawled on a bathroom floor as Kyle consoled her. They had a list of names, the color for the baby’s room and the theme selected, but no child.

“I just … felt like a failure,’’ Samantha said.

The despair lifted for Kyle and Samantha Busch after trips to a Charlotte, North Carolina, fertility clinic. In vitro fertilization, where an egg and sperm are combined in a laboratory dish and transferred to the woman, led to the birth of son Brexton in May 2015.

“His smile makes everything better,’’ Samantha said.

Not every infertile couple can afford the life-changing treatment, which can cost between $15,000 and $20,000. Insurance doesn’t cover every procedure. That leaves some financially shackled couples with little chance of having children.

Facing such odds, one wife admitted that she had a “hard time (seeing) the light at the end of the tunnel. It was like the tunnel was closed.’’

After Kyle and Samantha Busch made it through their journey to have Brexton, they wanted to give infertile couples hope … and help.

Sometimes the question comes on a couple’s wedding day. Other times it’s asked at gatherings with friends and family. Or it occurs at work, usually posed by someone with pictures of their children nearby. The response often is filled with laughs and jokes.

That only masks the pain.

Don’t be mistaken — it’s there. Some days the anguish can be buried and even forgotten, but it lurks, waiting for someone to ask: “When are you going to have a baby?’’

Then the searing pain returns, suffocating and boundless. It’s the fear of not fulfilling a long-sought goal, the anxiety of not passing along one’s genes, and the rage of not understanding why this is happening.

But few see that. Or the tears.

Fans, eager to celebrate another baby in NASCAR, often asked Samantha and Kyle Busch when they would have a child. More than a dozen children were fathered by Sprint Cup drivers in the three years before Samantha and Kyle had Brexton. It only seemed natural to fans that the couple, married on New Year’s Eve in 2010, would join the baby brigade. But when? So they asked.

“You don’t really understand the hurt you can actually cause someone by asking a friendly question about when are you going to have your children, when are you going to get pregnant or what’s the deal?’’ said Kyle Busch, the reigning Sprint Cup champion.

Samantha Busch could not understand why she and Kyle struggled to have a child. They were athletic, ate healthy and took care of themselves. But infertility is sinister. Appearances and attitudes don’t matter. That leaves couples to wonder what’s wrong as others celebrate births.

Infertile couples aren’t alone, even when they feel like it. About 12 percent of U.S. women between the ages of 15-44 have trouble getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In approximately 40 percent of infertile couples, the male is either the sole cause or contributing cause of infertility, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

As couples face the possibility they might not have children, they are often bombarded by news from those who have no trouble conceiving. It appears as a baby announcement on Facebook, a burgeoning belly on Instagram, or an emoji-filled message on Twitter.

Hannah Harris, who had nine miscarriages, said friends and family tried to hide their baby news from her.

“They thought it would hurt my feelings if they were happy,’’ she said.

Sometimes, friends and family avoided bringing their children when visiting Hannah and husband Damarlon, fearing that would upset them.
Hannah stopped that.

“That’s your kids,’’ she told them. “That’s your blessing. I’m happy for you. We’ll have ours whichever way it is, if it’s meant for us to have children or adopt.’’

Still, Hannah admits each time it was easy to question “Why me?’’

She didn’t show her feelings, but the pain was there.

• • •

Bundle of Joy Fund/Kyle Busch Foundation

Samantha Busch could not wait. Although she and Kyle had been told it would take about two weeks to find out if she would become pregnant after their in-vitro procedure, she couldn’t wait another four days.

She took a pregnancy test in their Chicago hotel room in September 2014, shortly before Kyle would leave for media activities surrounding the start of NASCAR’s playoff.

There, in the bathroom, they awaited the results.

Two lines appeared.

Pregnant.

Samantha sobbed. Kyle had tears in his eyes.

They called family, but Samantha was so overcome that she couldn’t talk to her mother. She handed the phone to Kyle to give his mother-in-law the news.

• • •

Three previous treatments had failed to help Will and Susan Carswell have a child. As they sat in a meeting with a financial adviser at the REACH Fertility Clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina, they were told that in vitro fertilization would cost between $12,000-$16,000. Their insurance would not cover it.

“How do people pay for this?’’ Susan said.

The financial advisor said that some couples seek a loan or withdraw some of their retirement savings to pay for the procedure.

Saddled with student debt and other bills, Will, a 29-year-old state police investigator, and Susan, a 30-year-old small business owner, could not afford additional loans.

Their path to having a child was blocked.

As they left to shed tears, Will saw a poster on the clinic’s wall. It was for the Bundle of Joy Fund, which provides grants to couples seeking infertility treatments but don’t have the money.

The grants are from the Kyle Busch Foundation.

Samantha and Kyle Busch started the fund after their struggles to have Brexton. They wanted to help infertile couples by providing financial gifts to pay for treatments.

As part of the application process, each applicant is required to write an essay on why they seek funding to have a child. The commentary can be poignant and profound.

“Every single one of those essays, you want to give them everything they want,’’ Kyle Busch said.

When they first awarded grants last September, they fulfilled the requests for all five couples who applied. The grants totaled more than $47,000.

Soon the need outgrew funding. There have been more than 50 applications each of the past two times grants were awarded. In January, five couples received more than $58,000 combined. In June, three couples received more than $34,000 total.

In each case, the needs of at least 45 couples could not be met.

“It’s not easy to sit there and help one family,’’ Kyle Busch said, “and then not be able to help another family.’’

• • •

Susan Carswell prayed on the 45-minute trip with husband Will from their Cherryville, N.C., home to the REACH Fertility Clinic in Charlotte.

They thought their June 22 meeting was for an interview for the Bundle of Joy Fund, another step toward possibly receiving a grant.

“I was just a bundle of nerves,’’ Susan Carswell said.

“I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to be better than the next guy,’” Will Carswell said. “’I’ve got to come up with something that makes me a little more noticeable.’”

Will is not easy to forget, with a barrel chest ready to pop out of his polo shirt, arms as big as a child’s thigh and an easy-going manner that Susan said helped her during her darkest times with infertility.

Before he could figure out what he could do to stand out, he and his wife were escorted to a room where Samantha Busch awaited behind an office desk.

“When I saw her,’’ Susan Carswell said, “I thought … ‘This is a good sign.’”

She started to cry.

“I’m so sorry you guys have been trying for so long,’’ Samantha told them. “I know what that’s like and it’s an awful time.’’

Susan and Will Carswell nodded.

Samantha Busch then told the couple they would receive $12,600 “to start their journey.’’

Will shook his head and bowed it, resting it on his right hand, as he tried to contain the tears. Susan lurched forward in her seat. Will embraced his wife and said to Samantha in a muffled voice: “Thank you so much.’’

• • •

Hannah Harris had never heard the heartbeat. Nine previous times, the heart in the child she was carrying had stopped when doctors checked within the first eight weeks of her pregnancy.

Hannah, 32, and husband Damarlon, 31, had kept trying to have children because, as Damarlon said, “We always wanted to be young with them and grow up with them and not have them so late that by the time they were teenagers or in their 20s, we couldn’t really do anything, go out hiking or biking or shooting ball and stuff.’’

Each failure brought more doctor appointments, procedures, hope and misery. It became a cruel cycle as constant as the seasons. They were told without in vitro fertilization, they would never have kids of their own.

“I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life,’’ said Hannah, who cried that day, aware that insurance would not cover such treatment and they could not afford a loan.

Hope returned when they found out about the Bundle of Joy Fund and applied, although Hannah recalled thinking: “Why would they pick us out of everybody?’’
They received a grant last September.

“I honestly don’t remember anything after they said $12,000,’’ said Hannah of the gift.

Her husband does, especially when they got back to their car.

“Oh my God! Oh my God! Can you believe it?’’ Hannah screamed. “Am I dreaming right now? Will you pinch me?’’

A month later, Hannah was pregnant.

At eight weeks, she went in for another doctor’s visit.

“We heard the first heartbeats,’’ Hannah said.

Twins.

• • •

Darmarlon II — Little D as he’s called — arrived first at 9:29 a.m. on June 4. His sister, Aniyah, followed a minute later. They were born at 34 weeks and two days. He was four pounds, 11 ounces and 17.5 inches long. She was four pounds, 15 ounces and 18.5 inches long.

The son was named for the father. The daughter, well, Hannah wanted a name that ended like her name. She came across a version of the daughter’s name that meant “God answers.’’

God had answered Hannah’s prayers.

The babies are the third and fourth to be born since Kyle and Samantha Busch began awarding grants through the Bundle of Joy Fund. Three other couples are expecting.

“It’s awesome to hear when a Bundle of Joy baby is born,’’ Samantha said. “I think what’s so great about it, Kyle and I look at Brexton and we think what these families are going to go through.’’

Will and Susan Carswell will get those experiences. After 1,095 days, they found out last month that Susan was pregnant.

That last day was the longest. She had tests that morning to see if she was pregnant. The results were expected early that afternoon but didn’t come until hours later.

“It was one of the worst days,’’ Will said of waiting for the test results “and it turned into one of the better days of my life.’’

Their baby is due in April.

“We’re just excited,’’ Susan Carswell said. “I’ve always struggled with patience. I want that baby here now where I can take care of it.’’

• • •

What starts with tears of despair turns to tears of joy for couples who receive a grant from the Bundle of Joy Fund. Tears return upon a positive pregnancy test. Then come the major milestones. Hearing the heartbeat. Feeling the baby kick. Seeing the child for the first time.

After the birth, the moments build — the child grabbing dad’s finger, gazing at mom’s face and mom and dad seeing their child’s personality unfold. Each day becomes a new adventure, a new experience and more reasons to be thankful.

Someday, Samantha Busch says, maybe son Brexton and all of the children born through the Bundle of Joy Fund can get together to “have a play date.’’

That’s her hope.