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Sandy • It was going to be the best Mother's Day Tiffany Alleman had ever given her family.
After struggling for years to get pregnant, Alleman was finally expecting, and planned to tell her mom to start preparing for her first grandchild at a special Mother's Day brunch. But the Friday before, Alleman began spotting, and by Saturday, her doctor could no longer hear the baby's heartbeat.
Five miscarriages and two successful pregnancies later, Alleman is on a crusade to bring information, and hope, to others struggling to build a family. In May, the Sandy woman was crowned Mrs. Utah United States, and is hoping to use her position to open a dialogue about infertility and pregnancy loss, including a series of seminars for couples struggling to conceive.
It's a subject many people want to avoid, said Alleman, 31. Those with fertility issues are often unsure how to share their experience with family and friends, and can get awkward questions and unfeeling comments when they do.
"It's a very isolating, guilt-ridden form of silently suffering," Alleman said. "I don't mind sharing my trials, because it's worth the joy in the end."
It's a struggle shared by many. An estimated 10 to 12 percent of couples face fertility issues, said Matthew Peterson, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah, and an infertility specialist. While the topic has become much less taboo over the 30 years Peterson has been practicing, "it's nice that those in the spotlight are bringing more attention to this issue."
Many people don't know what infertility really is, Peterson said. True infertility is much more narrowly defined than just a delay in becoming pregnant. Peterson recommends seeking help if women younger than 35 have had unprotected sex for a year without conceiving. Women older than 35 should wait only six months.
And women aren't the only ones affected. Many men have their own fertility issues or are left feeling helpless when their wives miscarry.
"I think that usually as the guy, you feel like you're the one that has to be stronger," said Alleman's husband, Jon. "It's such a hard subject for men and women you suffer from both sides."
Jon Alleman recalls feeling helpless and lost as his wife grieved over her lost pregnancies, unsure of how to comfort her or himself. Luckily the couple was able to talk openly about their feelings, he said, but many couples may need extra support to see them through.
That was the main motivator for the series of free seminars Tiffany Alleman is hosting throughout Utah in the coming months. The seminars, co-produced by the Utah Fertility Center (UFC), aim to educate couples on why they may be having trouble conceiving and the multitude of options available.
"Our community and our society is very family-oriented, so it hits us very strongly," said Diane Fletcher, clinic liaison at UFC. Understanding the science of what is happening inside the body to prevent pregnancy can be empowering, Fletcher said. Knowing the options for treating infertility can give families hope.
"Once they have a diagnosis, they know which direction to go," Fletcher said. "They understand it, and know what they can and can't do about it."
That knowledge has been helpful to Erin Jensen, of Herriman. The 30-year-old has tried in vitro fertilization twice and has shared her experience with family, friends and Facebook.
"That's opened a lot of lines of communication with people," Jensen said, adding she now participates in several infertility discussion groups online. "A lot of people don't know where to go for help."
American culture, especially in Utah, is so focused around the family, it can be hard to maintain your identity without children, Jensen said. She worries neighbors and extended family think she and her husband don't want children, when nothing could be further from the truth.
The Allemans are still hoping to add to their family, Tiffany said. She'll be wearing her swimming suit as Mrs. Utah in the national pageant in Las Vegas startingSaturday, but plans to start taking fertility drugs as soon as she gets home.
"The crown is just an opportunity to talk about this issue," Alleman said. "Anyone who wants to be a parent can be, but we can reach out and help the ones who aren't yet."
Learn more about infertility
Tiffany Alleman is hosting several seminars on infertility and pregnancy loss, including one Wednesday, July 27, at 6:30 p.m. at the Riverton Community Center, 12830 S. Redwood Road. Alleman is also launching a website that will list future dates and provide more information, including an "Ask the Expert" feature with infertility specialists. To learn more, visit thegiftofmotherhood.org.