Samantha Busch never imagined that starting a family with husband and NASCAR champion Kyle Busch would be so complicated. But in their quest to have a second baby, the couple of 11 years has battled long-term fertility struggles. Now, Samantha's goal is to make the journey a little less lonely for other women.
"There are so many women out there searching online, 'Why am I not getting pregnant — what's happening?' and I want them to hear other people’s stories," Samantha, 33, a lifestyle blogger and author of the book Fighting Infertility (published in March), tells Yahoo Life. "When we speak about our stories openly, it helps to normalize this conversation." Through the Samantha and Kyle Busch Bundle of Joy Fund, which they launched while undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF is the process of fertilizing eggs with sperm outside the body), to conceive their 6-year-old son Brexton, the couple raises fertility awareness and helps families pay for the procedure through grants. To date, their efforts have culminated in more than $750,0000 and 30 babies.
The couple met in 2007 when Samantha, then a psychology student at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., was working at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a promotional model. After the now-NASCAR Cup Champion offered to spin her around the race track, they began a relationship and married in 2010. When the couple began planning their family, they assumed that pregnancy was inevitable. "We were young and healthy," says Samantha, who details her infertility journey on her website and Instagram. "All our friends were having kids and it was a very exciting time."
However, after trying for about six months, the couple did not conceive. "I was told [by doctors] not to worry until it had been a year," says Samantha. According to the Mayo Clinic, infertility is the inability to get pregnant for at least one year, despite having frequent and unprotected sex. For women older than 35, that timespan is six months. However, Dr. Chandra Shenoy, a gynecologist and reproductive endocrinologist, tells Yahoo Life that women under the age of 35 with risk factors for infertility such as endometriosis (a disorder in which endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus), irregular menstrual cycles or a history of surgery on the ovaries or uterus, may seek help medical assistance sooner.
Samantha was worried but she hesitated to see a fertility specialist. "I thought you needed a referral from an ob-gyn," she says. "And I'll be honest, I was a little embarrassed to talk about my periods and our sex life, so I just rolled with it even though I was very frustrated."
In her book, Samantha admits that in her desire to become a mother, "Sex became a chore, something Kyle and I both dreaded because it wasn't fun; it wasn’t done as an act of love or pleasure or connectedness anymore. It was all about procreation, all of the time. There was no lovemaking; this was sex with a different purpose, and it was driving Kyle and me apart." Intensifying Samantha's stress was the baby announcements that populated her timeline and social events that made her dread potential questions about when she and Kyle would have a baby.
At the same time, Samantha’s body began changing — she grew acne and facial hair — and a medical test revealed she had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that can impact fertility. She began taking Clomid, a medication that alters female hormonal balance and induces ovulation in preparation for pregnancy. However, after months of trying to conceive without success, the couple visited a fertility clinic.
When doctors inquired about Kyle's medical history, "We both looked at each other. I said, 'No, I have the issue,'" says Samantha. "They said, 'Please tell me you didn’t take Clomid without having your husband’s sperm tested.'"
Testing showed additional reasons Samantha wasn't pregnant: Kyle, 36, had low sperm count and poor morphology, which is when the size or shape of the sperm hampers its ability to penetrate an egg. Although it was a shock to the couple, one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive problems, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. While one-third is caused by female reproduction problems and one-third by both or by "unknown factors."
With Kyle's support, Samantha shared the diagnosis with her 190K Instagram followers. "He wanted people to understand that male infertility is nothing to be ashamed of," she says. "It's just a body part that isn't functioning correctly, like any other that needs medical attention."
Doctors recommended that the couple do IVF, which resulted in the birth of their son Brexton.
In November 2018, when the Busches decided to have a second baby, they embarked on a second journey with IVF and Samantha became pregnant with a girl, news they shared in gender reveal footage on Twitter. However, Samantha ultimately miscarried, an event that happens at a similar rate among those who conceive naturally, anywhere from 15 to 25 percent, says the Mayo Clinic, noting that "the rate increases with maternal age."
At home, the couple was at odds, particularly over how they processed their grief, so they entered marital therapy. "When you look at people on social media, it's this nicely-curated happy account but we were at a really ugly point that needed to be addressed," says Samantha. "There were so many stressors — you never walk down the aisle, say 'I do' and then think, 'The next almost ten years of my life are gonna be filled with shots of medication, doctors appointment and side effects."
According to Hilary Hanafin, a Los Angeles-based psychologist who specializes in infertility and third-party reproduction, infertility can take a toll on relationships, both sexually and emotionally. "But it can also bring couples closer together as they walk through the struggles, loss and pain," she tells Yahoo Life. "A common issue is that people grieve differently and partners can misinterpret each other's processes; another is that infertility presents social identity issues, particularly for women, who tend to field more comments about pregnancy. And privacy issues can arise when couples seek support outside their relationship."
"There is no right or wrong way to go about it," says Hanafin. "But there needs to be communication" about boundaries. Therapy can help couples manage their grief and any shame brought on by infertility. "It can bring couples together, with good communication and a willingness to work as a team," she says.
Eventually, the Busches were ready to try IVF again, but in 2019, an embryo transfer did not produce a pregnancy. So they turned to gestational surrogacy, the process of implanting an embryo (using the eggs and sperm of the biological parents) into a third party who carries and delivers the baby. Although doctors described the surrogate as having "the most perfect uterus they had ever seen," she did not become pregnant.
Cases like the Busches, while emotionally painful, are not uncommon. "Some women need multiple cycles to fully build their families," says Shenoy. "We always feel for patients because it can be a heart-wrenching journey." In order for pregnancy to occur, "Everything must come together in a perfect storm: the right embryo, the right uterus and the right time of month. In general, we believe that multiple attempts at IVF are good, but to a point — with three failed cycles, we usually evaluate the likelihood of success." However, says Shenoy, there is no absolute endpoint depending on the couple's goals.
Earlier this year, the Busches decided on IVF again, with Samantha hoping to carry a pregnancy on her own, but in April, two sacs that doctors identified as potential fetuses did not develop, what they suspected was a blighted ovum. "I feel like we did everything right," Samantha tearfully said in a recent Instagram video. "From new embryos, supplements, acupuncture, diet and this has been the hardest round."
Samantha tells Yahoo Life that she and Kyle are still mulling fertility options, with no immediate plans to retire their dream of a second child. “We are taking time to heal, grieve and regroup as a family before we decide what our next steps will be," she says. "We have an amazing team of doctors and I know they will guide us in the best direction."
Read more from Yahoo Life:
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.