In April last year, we visited the gorgeous Kaitlin Tait at home with her son, Finn, just ahead of her first ever Mother’s Day.
After a difficult road to motherhood, it was a time of understandable joy and celebration for Kaitlin and her family.
This year, the mood remains undoubtedly joyous, but almost certainly more challenging. As well as her impressive career (as the co-founder of the incredible not-for-profit, ygap, and its offshoot yher, which supports female founders) and the demands of young parenthood, Kaitlin and her husband, Aaron, are also undergoing IVF in the hopes of expanding their family.
“It’s been a really bumpy road this year,” said Kaitlin. “With all the uncertainty, scheduling challenges, medication, supplements and emotional toll, it has often felt like IVF has taken over our lives but we have managed to stay positive and focused on the next step in the process.”
It’s a sentiment so many parents (and parents-to-be) will be familiar with, so we wanted to speak to Kaitlin more about her experience. We talked meaningful work, the impact that IVF is having on her life, her child and her career, motherhood and so much more. It goes without saying that with every word she spoke, we left a little more inspired.
Can you tell us a little bit about your own childhood?
I grew up in Northern California and have pretty idyllic memories of that time – lots of time outdoors, on bikes, lemonade stands, pool parties, and the excitement of San Francisco’s city lights and cable cars. My family moved around a fair bit so I also spent time in Kansas City and Chicago and had attended 7 schools by the end of high school.
Did you always want to be a mother?
I think I have always had the desire to experience motherhood and have a family, but I was in no rush and definitely went through periods where I questioned whether it was the right path for me. Ultimately though, when I hit my 30s, it was a pretty primal urge!
At what point did you decide it was the right time to start trying to have a family?
We got married at 25 so on our honeymoon we agreed we would assess where we were at when we turned 30. At the time, we were pretty busy building up a business and non-profit alongside lots of travel so we felt it could wait. We took a trip to Greece with friends for our 30th and followed it with some time in Santorini, just the two of us, where we opened a great bottle of red and decided we were ready.
Can you talk us through your journey to motherhood? What led you to IVF, and what that experience was like?
Once we decided to start trying we were pretty relaxed about it but after about 6-8 months of trying we went in to see a specialist to find out if there were any issues. It was lucky we did as it turned out IVF was our only option and before all the testing was done, it wasn’t clear whether we’d be able to have children together without the help of a donor.
That was a really rough time waiting for those results and probably the most emotional I’ve been on the journey so far. At the time, the fact that our kids might not share both of our genes was such a huge blow. Much further down the track now and having had our son Finn, I now understand that the experience is so much more than genetics and if we had to go down a donor/adoption route, I would be much more open to it now than when we started the process. The uncertainty of that time was super challenging but we tried to stay optimistic that there would be good news.
How did you find the process of IVF? Was there anything you didn’t expect?
We were lucky in a lot of ways with our first experience of fertility treatments. Firstly, that we were able to go ahead with the process without a donor and felt really well supported by our fertility specialist and clinic. Secondly, that I didn’t have too many physical side effects from the drugs – for me it was the emotional rollercoaster and logistics of scheduling scans, blood tests, and appointments around busy work schedules and travel that were the hardest. And finally, we were lucky that on the second embryo transfer of our first cycle we fell pregnant. Coming up on a year into treatments for baby number two, I have a whole new level of appreciation for how lucky we were.
I think the biggest surprise for me has really come this second time around, in realising that at least for us, IVF is not a silver bullet solution. Initially, we went into it thinking ‘ok, we can’t get pregnant naturally but IVF will definitely work for us.’ And it did, thankfully, but it doesn’t for everyone. It has been significantly harder this time around and we don’t know for sure whether we’ll get there.
Did you tell people about what you were going through at the time? Who did you lean on for support?
We have been pretty open with all our friends and family throughout the process. I had another close friend who was also going through fertility treatments at the same time which helped me feel a little less alone and we actually ended up falling pregnant within 3 weeks of each other. We also had a close family friend who had a long IVF journey to conceive her 3 kids and she was and continues to be such an amazing source of support. She has always encouraged us to see each step in the process as one step closer which has become a useful little mantra for us.
Did you find it difficult juggling work/life/family/etc with the demands of fertility treatments?
Yes! The first time around I thankfully had an understanding and flexible work situation which allowed me to make the early appointments, scans etc. without too much stress but trying for baby number 2 with a toddler in tow, my husband often traveling for work and living further from the clinic has made things significantly harder. There have definitely been times when I’ve felt I had to sacrifice bringing my full self to work and I’ve worried about letting my team down, but at other times, work has served as a helpful distraction from the disappointments.
How was your pregnancy?
Pregnancy was a dream for me. I had a little morning sickness but then felt better than I ever had and really revelled in the opportunity to be growing this life we finally managed to create together. I also loved connecting with his little spirit along the way and really enjoyed using the time to educate myself on labour/birth and parenting.
What about Finn’s birth?
His birth was a marathon labour of nearly 60 hours! I went through a midwife program at the birth centre in Randwick which was fantastic. While the labour was incredibly long and exhausting, it was such an empowering experience and I did manage to have the positive birth experience I had hoped for thanks to the amazing midwives, Aaron, my doula, my mum and the awesome education and pain relief techniques we learned through She Births.
What was your experience like of new motherhood?
I actually went into labour the day we were moving out of our place in Bondi. We had a few weeks with our family in Sydney after the birth and then spent most of his first year travelling. Everyone told us our travels would stop when we had a baby, so in a way felt we wanted to prove that wouldn’t be the case but were also eager to take advantage of the freedom and time off work.
I had a lot of support the first couple of weeks from the grandparents so that was a huge help as we found our feet. The early months were definitely a hazy whirlwind but I really enjoyed the variety the travel brought to our days and it also helped to mark each month in a unique way in my memory.
How have you found the challenges and joys of motherhood have shifted over time?
I have found great joy and challenge in every stage so far. The challenges just keep shifting – just as one thing gets easier something else gets harder…but I’ve found the joy continues to grow as their little personality and relationship with you emerges. They keep you on your toes and constantly learning, growing and evolving as a human being.
Can you share a little bit about your work and yher?
I am a co-founder of Melbourne based charity ygap which supports social entrepreneurs in Africa, Asia, Australia and the Pacific who have come up with solutions to the challenges their communities are facing. For the last few years I have run yher which is specifically designed to support female founders as they launch and grow their social businesses.
The global landscape for female founders has been dominated by male run programs that often fail to attract women – one of the many reasons women-led businesses often struggle to raise investment. We wanted to provide a more feminine approach to accelerating their businesses that provides a safe and welcoming space (breastfeeding babies are welcome) for women to openly address the unique challenges they face.
I’m always blown away by what happens when you bring a group of women together and provide the space for them to be vulnerable and connect deeply with each other. In addition to yher, I’ve also recently launched Matressence, a creative retreat for mamas designed to support women through the transformational ‘matrescence’ period, and to provide a chance to pause and explore how their identity and desires have changed since becoming a mother.
How do you manage the juggle between such important work and motherhood?
The juggle has been tough and I really struggled with feeling so much less ‘productive’ professionally. Like so many mums, I can get a lot more work done in a short space of time – my focus has sharpened and I don’t stress about the little things anymore but having just 2-3 days where I used to have a full week was a tough transition to get used to. I absolutely adore the days I spend with Finn but I also really enjoy my work so I suppose I have had to get comfortable with sacrificing a bit on both ends.
Do you feel mother guilt? If so, how do you cope with it?
I can’t imagine there are any mothers out there who don’t feel this! I 100% feel it – I just try to remember that chips at the pub for dinner or a bit of TV never killed anyone and if it means I am less stressed or have more time – to spend with friends, to focus on my work or do something else that fills my cup, then ultimately that balance will allow me to be a better mum.
How do you take time for you? Do you have any self-care practices?
With Aaron traveling a lot for work and no family around, this can be tricky for me but I make sure at least once a month I have a full day off – to read, journal, work on a new business idea, go to yoga, get a massage. And then of course I try to squeeze that stuff in throughout the week wherever I can when Aaron is home!
Tell us about your decision to grow your family.
We always knew we wanted a second child, so when Finn was approaching his first birthday, I started slowly weaning him with the intention to jump back into fertility treatments once he was fully weaned. We did our first cycle for baby number 2 last November, so almost a year ago now.
What lies ahead with your fertility treatments and how are you feeling about it?
Over the last year we’ve done three cycles. We had three unsuccessful embryo transfers from our first cycle then decided to change clinics. We had Finn through a clinic in Melbourne but had recently moved up to Byron so decided to find a clinic closer to home. We found a great specialist on the Gold Coast who suggested we do some more investigation to rule out things like endometriosis, uterine fibroids and Natural Killer Cells. We then went into a second cycle which unfortunately failed, followed by a third which gave us two embryos. One transfer failed and the other embryo came back from genetic testing as abnormal. It’s been a really bumpy road this year. With all the uncertainty, scheduling challenges, medication/supplements and emotional toll, it has often felt like IVF has taken over our lives but we have managed to stay positive and focused on the next step in the process. We are doing one more cycle before the end of the year and then looking forward to a break over the holidays.
Is there anything you’ll be doing differently this time around?
This time around, just by the nature of having a toddler and still working part time, I have had a lot less time to focus on self-care (exercise, diet, acupuncture, rest) which I often worry will have an impact on the results. At the same time, not having the time and headspace to stress so much about the process and what I should/shouldn’t be doing has also probably been helpful! I’ve tried to focus on work and be really present with Finn.
What tips would you give to any woman thinking about undergoing IVF?
To take advantage of the great resources and podcasts that exist out there now (I loved discovering a few new ones here ) – they are hugely helpful in realising you are not alone and also educating yourself. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and suggest things to your specialist – you know your body better than anyone else. Do look into alternative therapies like naturopathy, acupuncture and Chinese/herbal medicine. As much as possible, try not to put your life on hold (much easier said than done!) Prepare for a long journey and hopefully you’ll be surprised by a short one.
How do you take care of your relationship in these times?
It’s definitely a challenge, I think we are both pretty optimistic so we support each other by staying determined and positive but we also have moments where we do just let ourselves sit with the sadness. Carving out time for just the two of us is something we weren’t doing enough of for a while and have recently made a much bigger priority.
How long do you plan to continue treatments for?
It’s not actually something we’ve thought a lot about yet. To be honest, when we started, I didn’t think giving up on treatments would be an option we would have to consider, but this year has definitely shaken that confidence a bit. Our specialist still seems to think we can get there so I think we will probably stay in the game a bit longer until we hear otherwise.
How are you feeling physically and emotionally?
If you had asked me about a month ago when I found out our latest round didn’t work, I would have said exhausted, depleted, and probably the lowest I’ve been since we first found out we might not be able to have children together. But with a bit of space and in the midst of our 4th cycle, I’m actually feeling ok. I’ve had a lot of energy for work which is keeping me distracted and after the initial disappointment subsides, I always seem to come to terms with whatever my new reality is. As is the nature of the IVF rollercoaster, I’m sure I’ll be somewhere else completely in a few weeks once we know results of this cycle, but for now I’m enjoying the optimism and putting my trust in the fact that perhaps this baby simply hasn’t been ready to join us just yet.