#RNE16 Recap: Resolve New England conference

A week before the Resolve New England conference, I decided to go. RNE hosts an annual conference that is the largest consumer education gathering in the country on infertility, donor choices, and adoption. It is held just outside of Boston. This year it was in Marlborough, Massachusetts.

Scroll to the end for Key Takeaways. Otherwise, let me take you through my day. The conference was one long day (8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.).

Going Solo

Going alone felt a little daunting, though turns out it’s the best way to meet people.  For a second I wished more people from the support group were going too. We’d spread word about the conference a couple months prior, and Anne, my co-host, said she would totally go if she had not just adopted her infant son this year!  For sure, finances and distance are an issue when people are spending so much already on treatment and supporting therapies.

The cost barrier to entry was cleared for me to go. I had met Kate, the executive director of RNE, on Advocacy Day in DC, and she’d extended a personal invitation to check out the conference, offering to waive the registration fee (RNE offers scholarships as well). I have friends and relatives in the Boston area, so I didn’t need a hotel, and United Airlines still had flights available for the lowest threshold of frequent flier miles. I just felt in my gut that I should go while I have the time freedom and the opportunity to attend on Kate’s kind gesture. I felt that just being there to absorb knowledge would help me (and the regional hosts I share it with) to better support our groups. Also, years ago, when the Washington chapter of RESOLVE had a staff and budget, the Seattle area hosted an annual conference. I wanted to see what one looked like.

So the Saturday before the Saturday, I reserved flights and selected workshops to attend. I invited the support group to recommend workshops they were interested in, and asked my state advocacy partner and another advocate for workplace infertility support to send me on investigations for information.

Going in, I knew a couple people giving presentations: another friend from Advocacy Day, Lisa, patient advocate from RMACT, as well as Eric from SSB, who’d pinch-hit for us on audiovisuals at RESOLVE Seattle’s anniversary. That made me feel like I could go alone and not feel like a complete regional outsider.  And as I’ll share later, I engaged some of the fellow attendees beforehand so that connections could only deepen in person.

Keynote Highlight

A stand-up comic and blogger of “The Two Week Wait,” Jay Palumbo, was the keynote speaker. She was hilarious as she narrated her journey through IVF. It was raw and funny, a little jarring I think for some before 9 a.m. (I noticed that I was the only one laughing appreciatively at my table). BUT I totally got Jay’s sense of humor and the inherent message that humor helps get people through tough times. Jay has been at Advocacy Day and we know a lot of the same people, but this conference was the first time we met in person.

Workshops

#RNE16 offered 40 workshops over four sessions. Besides the networking, I attended three workshops that I felt would most benefit the Seattle support group community:

  • Egg Donation, Adoption, or Both?
  • When is Enough Enough? Knowing When to Stop Treatment
  • Pregnancy Loss: Emotional Issues and Coping Strategies

I’m looking forward to sharing handouts and resources with the group, especially for upcoming meetings around these themes.

Lunch Table Topics

There were lunch table topics such as Surviving the Two Week Wait, Considering Adoption, and Secondary Infertility. The table breakout discussions were a great idea for connecting people and building community. I have not tried to conceive since my daughter was born (though I have tried to freeze eggs), but I’ve been contracted by two parenting magazines to write upcoming articles on secondary infertility.  So I decided to attend the lunch table on secondary infertility to learn and listen. There were two couples at the table, along with a RNE support group leader from a secondary infertility group with me. The group leader and I connected around exchanging ideas for a future secondary infertility group in Seattle.

Books

I brought home two new books: Love and Infertility, on surviving the fertility journey with a partner, and the other called The Baby Decision, whose author co-led the workshop on “When is Enough Enough?”  Both authors offered to send extra copies of their books to our support group’s lending library, a wonderfully supportive gesture.

Maximizing the Day / Connections

To really make this trip worth it, I reached out to a San Francisco fertility professional named MaJa of Opionato, with whom I’d exchanged a few emails earlier in the year. She and I arranged to meet for breakfast. I ended up using her vendor booth as my home base for the day, which she liked because she also came alone to the conference and felt that way she had a buddy. She and I ended up going to dinner with Lisa at the end of the day.

MaJa’s booth was right next to Fertility Within Reach, which was perfection, because I had long conversations with the woman there about securing a state insurance mandate on fertility treatment for Washington, and literally wrote down pages of suggestions to bring back to the state advocacy team. It will be a long fight, so it was great to find a willing coach who has blazed trails in other states.

I also reached out to a couple other exhibitors– researchers with Organic Conceptions were particularly warm, and invited me in advance for tea. (I ended up skipping the last workshop session of the day to chat with them.)  I had a great conversation with the marketing coordinator of Fertility Solutions about her job marketing a boutique clinic. TTC Greeting Cards was fun to connect with, as I’ve seen their transfer socks with witty sayings and empathetic infertility cards on Instagram. Progenity, a genetic screening company, was also there– and I had recently had breakfast with their Seattle rep, so she’d told Tony, their New England rep, to look out for me. He was very chatty and friendly, so I didn’t mind that he was essentially trying to sell me on their stuff. 😉

Another woman I met came from Florida to help at the Mercier Therapy booth. Her husband is in the military, and she told me they’ll be moving to Port Angeles in about four years. She currently meets with Miracles Over Miami, an infertility support group.  We got exclamatory about that because we have two mutual friends in that group!  Small world.  Now, I don’t know where any of us will be with RESOLVE in four years (!), but it got me thinking that the Olympic Peninsula could really use a support group, so that people get support conveniently, without long drives or ferry rides. I can imagine the military wives living with infertility who especially feel isolated in their communities. I’ll be sending vibes out to the Olympic Peninsula for a support group host to rise up.

On the way into the conference at the top of the morning, I met a couple whose wife was Thai like me, and as the day wrapped up, I was happy to hear that they had found encouragement during the day. The wife wrote to me after the conference and wants to stay in touch. She had started practicing fertility yoga from a DVD I’d handed out at the conference (courtesy of Seattle instructor Lynn Jensen, who’d dropped some at my house for the trip). Lisa, by the way, mentioned at dinner that she is thinking of offering an East Coast fertility yoga teacher training, which is what Lynn plans to do– I think there may be a partnership connection here!

I don’t think I’ll ever attend another conference without reaching out to people first. It really makes a difference!  At the end of the day, many of these people had become new friends.

Key takeaways

I was very impressed with the infertility resources available to people in New England. From their pioneering Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, to the over two dozen support groups in the region, to the well-organized resource directory that RNE publishes every year, I believe the New England region is well-supported. This annual conference is another fruit of the well-established tree. It gave me something to look up to in helping establish and expand support for those in Washington.

I was impressed with the efficiency of the conference (they’ve been doing it for two decades!), and the high quality of presenters and information shared. I am happy to have received resources to share with our Seattle support group and fellow hosts in our region, so that we can support our community even better.

I don’t know that I will go back to this conference again for awhile if ever, because of the distance; however, I wouldn’t rule it out for a day when Seattle comes closer to organizing a conference of our own. Resolve New England, of course, has paid staff and funding to host such a conference, something that we no longer have in Washington State. So I would project a conference of similar scale to be years down the road, when we have an army of dedicated and invested volunteers interested in giving back.  However, attending RNE16 gave me a taste of what is possible.

If anyone in our community has the time and resources to attend, I would recommend going for the sense of community and empowerment you can get in one day. It was a well-run conference from a great organization.

Click here for more information about the RNE annual conference.

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