An Interview with Elizabeth Austen, the Founder of ‘Fill Their Arms’
“…infertility has had such a huge impact on my life – I’m going to have a huge impact on infertility”!
Elizabeth Austen is the Founder of Fill Their Arms, a non-profit organization created to provide financial support for those struggling with infertility. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from California State University of Northridge as well as a certification in crisis counseling from The Women’s Coalition of Ventura, California. Elizabeth is married and has experienced the pain of infertility and miscarriage. We feel very fortunate to have been able to interview her about Fill Their Arms and hope you find this information helpful.
Fill Their Arms Mission Statement: We intend to eliminate the financial hardship that infertile couples experience by empowering family and friends to contribute and provide support. We strive to increase infertility awareness by educating the public and spreading truth.
Fairhaven Health: What prompted you to start a business like Fill Their Arms?
Elizabeth: There is a huge need! During my and Zach’s four year struggle with infertility, we found that our options were extremely limited. Fertility care and treatment was a struggle because of the expense; Adoption was completely out of our reach. Meanwhile, I observed how other foundations served people who had illnesses. I thought to myself, “What about infertility? Why isn’t there something for that?” I thought about how much easier things would be if everyone in our family and circle of support donated towards our efforts to become parents. As I began to connect with other couples in the same boat, I saw that there was a real need.
Fairhaven Health: And then you started Fill Their Arms?
Elizabeth: Well, not quite yet! For a long time, my goal was only to become a parent. Honestly, infertility has had a very negative impact on my life. Then when I finally did become pregnant, and ended up miscarrying the baby… it was catastrophic. Not too long after the miscarriage, we decided to stop trying to conceive altogether.
Fairhaven Health: A drastic decision, but understandable.
Elizabeth: I know. Infertility was really taking a toll. I can’t tell you how relieved I am since we stopped. I feel like I’ve been carrying a very heavy load for four years, and finally just dropped it. So much has been restored since we stopped trying to conceive. My faith in God has been restored, my marriage, my spirit… I have gotten me back, if that makes sense.
Fairhaven Health: It certainly does. We’ve heard this same sentiment from many couples who have decided to take a break, or quit trying altogether.
Elizabeth: When I finally came to this place, I said to myself, “Ok. I can’t have a baby. But as infertility has had such a huge impact on my life – I’m going to have a huge impact on infertility!” I didn’t quite know how at that point, but I knew that I was going to do something big. Then my good friend Rebecca suggested I start a non-profit business to help infertile couples. And that is how Fill Their Arms came about!
Fairhaven Health: So you mentioned donations. Why does there need to be a non-profit entity in place to track donations? Why can’t couples just ask their family and friends for donations themselves?
Elizabeth: It is very hard to ask people for money on your own behalf. There is no way I would get on the phone and call up every friend and every person in my family and ask for money. It is too awkward. This is where the sponsor comes in. If you and your husband had infertility issues, and you registered with Fill Their Arms, your first step would be to recruit a sponsor. A sponsor can be anyone in your support system that you are close to, whether it be a sibling, best friend, cousin, anyone. The sponsor is the person who asks for donations on your behalf.
Fairhaven Health: It sounds like it would certainly eliminate the awkwardness of asking for help, as well as the financial strain of couples having to do it themselves.
Elizabeth: Exactly! Another reason that Fill Their Arms is important is because there is so much misinformation out there regarding what infertility is really all about. Many people – even well educated people – unfortunately fall into believing those popular myths about infertility.
Fairhaven Health: Can you give an example of a popular myth about infertility?
Elizabeth: Sure. Many people believe that infertility is a psycho-somatic illness – meaning it is all in your head. This is why we often hear people say, “Don’t worry. Just relax and you will get pregnant,” in response to being told that a couple is infertile.
Fairhaven Health: And in your opinion, what is the truth behind this myth?
Elizabeth: Infertility is a medical problem. Relaxation is nice but it will not cure infertility. If a couple has infertility issues, they must be aggressive in obtaining medical intervention. If they “just relax,” rather than seek medical help – not only will pregnancy be unlikely, but a lack of medical care could lead to further health consequences.
Fairhaven Health: So the “Just relax and you will get pregnant” myth, in your opinion, may actually be having a negative impact.
Elizabeth: Yes, it is. Fill Their Arms seeks to educate the fertile population. In my observation, there are so many sites that exist in an effort to support infertile couples. And that is great. But the problem is that in supporting infertile couples, only infertile couples are being addressed. You need to address the fertile population as well, especially the family and friends of those suffering from infertility.
Fairhaven Health: Yes, understood. But why, specifically, is it important to address the fertile population if they don’t struggle with infertility?
Elizabeth: This is where public awareness comes in. Think of it this way: Approximately one in ten individuals have infertility problems. This means that nine out of ten people don’t. The fertile population is our support system. The first step to supporting a person who is infertile is to know a little bit about infertility. Fill Their Arms is a business that addresses the fertile population. We seek to educate them as much as possible. Our goal is to change their thinking, increase infertility awareness and demolish as many infertility myths as possible.
Fairhaven Health: So give us more detail about how this actually works. Do couples register with your site, and list email addresses to receive a message about the couple seeking donations?
Elizabeth: Fill Their Arms is not necessarily for “TTC couples.” It is for infertile married couples. The medical definition of “infertile” is any couple having had regular and unprotected sex for at least 12 months with no successful pregnancies occurring during that time.” So if a couple has been trying to conceive for less than 12 months, then medically, they do not (yet) classify as infertile. Also it is important to realize that the medical definition of a “successful pregnancy” is one which results in a live birth. So if any miscarriages occurred during those 12 months, the “infertile” diagnosis will still apply. If a married couple is infertile and they are needing some financial assistance in fertility treatment or adoption, they may apply through www.filltheirarms.com on the “register” page.
Fairhaven Health: Is the couple receiving donations from strangers, or just family and friends? How is this separated?
Elizabeth: The couples will receive their donations from their loved ones. The letter that their sponsor sends out has instructions in how their loved ones, family members, and friends may donate through www.filltheirarms.com. Everything is password protected in order to protect the privacy of the couples. No one will be able to access any information about the couple – or even know that the couple has registered with FTA – until they enter their password. The sponsor letters will contain the password.
Fairhaven Health: What if someone wants to donate in general, and not to a specific couple?
Elizabeth: Yes! People may donate in general. If someone wishes to do so, they may go to www.filltheirarms.com and click on the “donate” link. At the bottom of the page is an area which will prompt them on how to make a general donation. None of the money goes to me. 100% of their donations gets dispensed to the couples that are currently registered with FTA.
Fairhaven Health: Fill Their Arms sounds like a wonderful foundation. Besides education and public awareness, what else can be done in support of infertility?
Elizabeth: Donations are important. If you chose to donate to Fill Their Arms, 100% of your money will go toward helping infertile couples become parents. You can donate through the site at www.filltheirarms.com.
Fairhaven Health: Congratulations, Elizabeth! We wish you all the best and hope your organization will be a huge success!
Elizabeth: Thank you!