Military spouses Julie Eshelman (Armed Forces Insurance 2019 Unattached Spouse of the Year and 2022 Fort Leavenworth Spouse of the Year) and Cat Vandament (Armed Forces Insurance 2018 Fairchild Air Force Base Spouse of the Year and 2019 Scott Air Force Base Spouse of the Year) each faced infertility and hardships in family building, made all the more challenging due to their military lifestyle.
Frequent moves mean changes in providers and care, setting their families back to Square One each time, adding to both the emotional and financial toll. Finding no single hub with readily available information and support, they shouldered the burden to launch an organization to bring facts and hope to the 67% of military families who struggle to build their families. They launched Building Military Families Network in late 2022, starting with an online support group for anyone who is experiencing infertility or other challenges with family building. It extends beyond a single military branch, and is available to anyone who is military connected, whether active duty or veteran.
Since deciding to grow their family seven years ago, Julie has gone through intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF), had heartbreaking miscarriages, endured surgery, moved multiple times, spent upwards of $40,000, and now has a beautiful little girl. Still wanting to expand their family, they are now starting the process all over again. “We’re currently waiting for our two clinics to stop fighting with each other and decide whether or not they’re going to take my embryos,” she explains matter-of-factly, lamenting one other aspect of healthcare that is more challenging to military families. Cat underwent hormone therapy nine times in a two-year period (which included a deployment), enduring nearly three times the typical dose of medication before she was able to conceive her daughter in 2011. For their second child, they began the process of hormone therapy once more, doing three cycles before being told IVF was their only option. “For us the second time, it was very different. I knew what my body did [during the hormone therapy]. I knew how it affected me emotionally and mentally. We were going to get to a point where we’re going to say enough is enough.” After sitting in an IVF meeting where the provider couldn’t tell them how much it would cost besides a ballpark estimate of $40,000, Cat and her husband chose to adopt, which brought about its own set of challenges and unknowns.
Drawing from their own painful experiences and knowing what would have helped them during their hardest moments, Building Military Families Networks is a welcoming platform where families can come together without pretense. “We want to provide a space for those families to be able to come to get information, to ask questions, to connect with others that are going through the same ugliness and heartbreak that we’ve been through and wish we would have had,” says Julie.
In May, Building Military Families Network was chosen as a Semi-Finalist for the Military Entrepreneur Challenge pitch competition in Washington D.C. Julie and Cat were awarded a $1,000 grant, funded by the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program, which will be used as start-up capital to launch a website and grow the nonprofit.
Julie and Cat have created a beautiful group in Building Military Families Network, and they are committed to walking alongside military families during some of their darkest journeys and helping military and veteran families fulfill their dreams of building families. “The need is there for people to come alongside our families that just want to be able to grow their families. It’s the support group we have plans for: right now it’s a general infertility support group. We have plans for adoption, foster care, surrogacy, LGBTQ plus community. Even more so, we have plans for an educational library that will house information on what is covered and what is not covered [by insurance],” Cat explains. “My dream is to have this gigantic network or resource guide where we have connections to agencies nationwide that are military friendly that we can send our people to would be an ultimate goal one day.”