National Infertility Awareness Week kicks off on April 23rd, but it’s a topic that Pamela Hirsch is thinking about every day of the year. Hirsch has helped bring close to 150 babies into the world through her nonprofit Baby Quest Foundation. She sat down with Jessica Abo to share her story, how you can get involved and her advice for people trying to conceive. Click on the video above to watch the full interview.
Jessica Abo: Pamela, your foundation has allocated more than 2.8 million dollars in grants to people trying to have a baby. What inspired you to start Baby Quest?
When our younger daughter was 28, she and her husband decided it was time to start a family. First, it was a miscarriage, which you kind of expect because that happens usually one in four times. It wasn’t terrifically unexpected. And she started with Clomid, progressed to IUIs, and then that didn’t work, and went to IVF. She did several rounds of IVF and each was successful. Each round resulted in pregnancy; but, unfortunately, ended the eighth or ninth week in a miscarriage after hearing a heartbeat. Obviously, that was a long period of upset and tears and frustration because nothing seemed to be working.
Fortunately, our family was blessed financially and we were able to say, “We will help you with hiring a surrogate.” And that was what enabled her to have a child. And now she has two, each carried by a surrogate. She actually owns a surrogacy agency Abundant Beginnings now after going through this experience. I realized that many, many people are not as fortunate to be able to help their daughter or son have a child when they reach an empath. And infertility treatment is so expensive and not generally covered by insurance. So that is why I started Baby Quest to, hopefully, pay forward our good fortune having seen our daughter become a mother.
What inspired you to go from being a supportive mom to the founder of a foundation?
I had just come off a career, a very active career with several hundred people who worked for me. I really was kind of at a loss personally. My family had just moved to Los Angeles. Our daughters were grown. One had two children already. The other had graduated from college a few years before. It truly came at the right time. It filled a personal void for me having something to do, and I latched onto it. The more I did work with Baby Quest and did the work involved, the more motivated I got to make it successful.
How does Baby Quest work?
We take in money and we give out money. It’s as simple as that. It’s a grant that people receive. We send it to the clinic, to the pharmacy, to the family formation attorney, to a psych evaluation if it’s a surrogacy, and to any entity that needs to be paid. People look at our website, there are two application cycles per year, and the people apply. They tell us about themselves. They tell us their professional history, their medical, their financial, their educational. And then there are several committees. The first one is a committee of seven, which happens to be women, many of whom have gone through in vitro or surrogacy themselves. They look at the applications. Then the ones that get passed through go to a financial committee and then those get passed on to the medical committee. It is extremely difficult. It’s painful to try to select applicants. But it takes us four to six weeks and hopefully, we come up with the most deserving viable as far as pregnancy possibilities that we can give grants to.
What can you share about some of the applicants?
I’m really proud of the candidates for grants who we have selected as grant recipients throughout the years. They are amazing. They are teachers, nurses, firefighters, social workers, and hardworking people — people who have struggled in order to have a child, which has been their one big dream. They have been totally frustrated with their inability to proceed with treatment after having devastated their savings and still not having a child. The applicants are amazing, the stories that I’ve read of same-sex couples, transgender couples, and people losing children because they didn’t know they had a genetic condition that was fatal. So many amazing people who are just struggling. And they’re not celebrities, they’re not famous. They’re amazing down to earth people who need help.
How does Baby Quest support cancer patients and members of the military?
Each time that we do a grant selection, we always select an applicant as a recipient who served either past or present in the military, whether it’s the female or male. We also try to select a recipient whose fertility has been affected by cancer. That does not necessarily mean a woman. It could be a man who had testicular cancer. It’s really sad. With the military, we have funded several applicants in the past who have been wounded in action. And even having been wounded in action, they do not receive infertility benefits. Fortunately, we’ve been able to step in and provide fertility coverage for them.
At what point did you know that you were making a difference?
When I see how many applications we got in this last cycle. I know there are still so many more people to help. I really don’t want to feel like I’ve reached a certain end or goal or whatever. And I really feel the motivation to keep expanding and keep growing the foundation to help more people, till everybody has insurance coverage.
How can people support what you’re doing?
The recipients are really great about planning pizza nights or hikes. We’ve done some SoulCycle, Peloton classes, things like that. Little fundraisers, little luncheons. We always need help with these. Sometimes it’s people who come to us and they say, “Oh, I have a company that makes t-shirts. I can help you do that.” Or other ways people can help. If you have a birthday coming up, if you have a baby’s birthday coming up, there have been some very, very generous people who have written in their invitations and they say, “Instead of giving gifts, please donate to Baby Quest.” Especially with baby showers, maybe perhaps these are people who have been successful in their IVF journeys or surrogacy journeys and they say that they would like to pass along their good fortune to other people who can’t afford paying for in vitro or surrogacy. And so they do it through donations. They ask their guests to donate.
There are several women who have jewelry companies and they designate a Baby Quest day and they say if you buy something that day, they will donate a portion of proceeds to Baby Quest. So we are really fortunate in that way. And that’s how we can raise money to give to recipients.
Several celebrities support Baby Quest, too. Who are some of the people who have gotten involved?
One of my first celebrities and now friends who helped was a woman named America Olivo and her husband Christian Campbell. They were amazing. Bridget Marquardt, who was on Girls Next Door, chronicled her infertility journey at the time. Chris Mann, who was a contestant on The Voice, who has done a lot and entertained at several of our galas. There’s Erin Cummings, who is an actress. There’s Jaclyn Misch who has been on Survivor. Kenya Moore, Real Housewives of Atlanta, has been extremely generous and gracious, gracious and a donation that now has enabled two recipients from her hometown of Detroit to become parents. Another is Kristin McGee, who is a Peloton instructor, and a yoga instructor who will be starting a series soon called Fertility Friday, where she’s going to be talking about fitness and fertility. Those are just some of the ambassadors that have worked with us and we’re hoping to add more this year.
Finally, Pam, what do you want to say to the person out there who’s struggling to have a baby?
Try to put yourself in the best place as far as being as healthy as you can, check out the reputation, and the status of the clinic that you’re going to, and find the best possible source of professional help. And doing your research, trying to find the best options and hopefully researching loans or grants. Because without funds and without insurance, unfortunately, it’s difficult. And yet there are options out there. It’s so frustrating to me when we have a grant deadline and people will email and say, “I just found out about you.” We are not a big enough charity to have a huge advertising budget and buy pages and pages of ads and newspapers or on the radio or TV. So people find out about us through word of mouth. It’s frustrating when people who need to know there’s a grant program don’t know about it. So the more exposure that we can get, the better. The more people will know about us and be able to apply and donate.