Katie O’Connor, founder of Shine: A Light on Fertility, recently sat down for a Behind The Brand interview. We’re excited to share her answers and to remind you about their event at Dailey Method Bucktown.
Tell us about Shine.
1 in 8, or over 7 million people struggle with infertility, yet no one knows about it or is educated about it. Infertility, and talking about one’s fertility is a subject in the dark, no one likes to talk about their period, let alone their fertility, and especially no one talks about struggling to get pregnant and going through infertility treatments. This silence makes the struggle very lonely and isolating. We are working to change that!
How did Shine get started?
Shine was born from my personal journey through infertility. When I was going through my own struggle, I realized what an island I was on. I wasn’t a part of the pregnancy groups and I also wasn’t a part of the new mom clubs, I was stuck in the middle, alone. I thought there needs to be a group for the “secret sorority” of women struggling through infertility.
The waiting room at my fertility clinic was packed, yet no one talked, no one shared stories of struggle or success. It was depressing. I was lucky to reconnect with an old high school friend who was also going through infertility and we were each other’s support system (along with our husbands).
I thought when going through a difficult time, it helps to talk through it with others experiencing the same thing. I developed Shine as one part support and one part education on overall women’s health and fertility. Since growing into a non-profit we’ve added in the advocacy part! Our first event was in June of 2012, we hosted a panel of women (my friends) sharing their personal stories of overcoming infertility, their advice, their successes and their hard times. It was amazing, from that the group grew, and the rest is in the past!
What is your main mission with Shine?
The mission: Our mission is through support, education, and advocacy; to create a community, empower through knowledge, and be the voice for those affected by fertility challenges.
The goal: Educate women to be proactive with their fertility health and for no one go through infertility alone.
Why is female fertility such an important topic for you?
It’s very personal for me, I was clueless on my fertility health when we started trying to get pregnant. I didn’t know what hormone levels meant, what FSH stood for, about my egg quality, how many eggs I even had left, and so many other things. When we started having issues we blindly went into the reproductive endocrinologist and listened to his recommendations but didn’t know what questions to ask. I want that all to change for women, I want them to understand how their body works and what questions to ask their obgyn, to be proactive AND educated!
What does a typical day look like for you?
Wake up before my daughter (usually 5:45am), enjoy a cup of coffee and start the day reviewing my to-dos, replying to emails, and a little Good Morning America during breakfast!
After I drop my daughter off at preschool, I usually go for a run, or take a workout class (I am currently training for the Chicago Marathon raising money for Shine), or teach a fitness class (I am currently an instructor at The Dailey Method and On Your Mark Training). Then I squeeze in as much work as I can before it’s time to pick her up around 12/12:30!
Then we either go to a class together or run errands, by the time we get home, she plays while I get more work done, writing a blog post, working on programming, generating new partnerships, and strengthening the partnerships we already have. I wear many hats for the organization (founder, president, treasurer, and administrator running the website, our non profit contact forum, newsletter, blog, etc!).
Before you know it, it’s dinner-time and bedtime, we are reading a story, talking about our day, and it’s time to get ready to start the day all over! It’s a balance daily of me time, mom & daughter time, husband & wife time, and WORK!
What are some of the ups and downs of working in this field?
I remember when I was debating turning Shine into a non-profit. My advisor educated me on the pluses and minuses. Pluses being now it wouldn’t just be “me” it would be my board and we would have more opportunity to partner and grow the organization. The minuses being I was accountable to the government (preparing reports, and financial documents), and that Shine was no longer “me” it was an organization. It would always be my 2nd “baby” but now it was something greater than just me and my story. I jumped into the non-profit process with both feet, it’s been a learning curve, learning how to be and run a non-profit. We’ve been an official 501c3 now for a little over a year, and it’s been amazing (and a whirlwind) ride.
However the biggest “up” is the success stories of our graduates, this testimonial is why I do this!
“I was at an all-time low…But when I went to my first meeting, I met other women that were at different stages of their journey. This was a place where I found myself finding it easy to finally release and cry, in front of women I didn’t know, about my struggles. And, they understood. And cried with me. It was a venue where I could mourn for my past losses and cry for my helplessness in going forward. I wanted to give up, but leaving these meetings, I knew I couldn’t. The meetings are casual and welcoming, and they bring in fabulous guest speakers. In fact, I met my fertility doctor who I found success with through Shine. I am thankful I was introduced to Shine, it was exactly what I needed. It made me realize I wasn’t alone, and gave me the strength to keep going.”
If someone has questions about their fertility what would you recommend they do first?
Have an honest conversation with your obgyn about your fertility health. If your doctor brushes it off saying you are too young, or not to worry, find a new doctor who will talk to you about fertility health and family building options. I recommend women start taking control of their fertility health at an early age, the thought of being a mom or getting pregnant could be the farthest thing from their minds, but their fertility health is part of their overall health.
Women (and their partners) can get a Fertility Check-Up from the Fertility Centers of Illinois for only $90. The test includes a blood work-up (which measures your Estradiol level and FSH level) and ultrasound for the women and semen analysis for the men.
What other female organizations/missions do you admire?
The Bright Pink organization is amazing – Lindsay, the founder, is a local Midwest girl, and started the organization in Chicago, what she has done for young women’s education on breast and ovarian health is incredible, if Shine could grow into something like that, I would be in awe.
Do you work with other organizations?
Yes! We work closely with Chicago area women’s health professionals, including reproductive endocrinologists, obgyn’s, alternative medicine practitioners, as well local fitness studios and health professionals.
Do you have a dream organization to partner with?
We would love to have an official partnership with Resolve.org, the National Infertility Organization on a national level, locally, partnering with the Women’s Health Foundation who focuses on pelvic health and Bright Pink who focuses on breast and ovarian health, seem like natural partners in the future!
Which entrepreneurs do you look up to?
Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, she took what little life savings she had and invested in her dream, 6 months later she was on Oprah, and now they do $250 million in sales a year, that is incredible! I admire someone who lays it all out there for their dreams and their passions and makes things happen, not letting anything get in their way!