Millions of Americans struggle with infertility. They endure the relentless heart-wrenching pain of wanting a family and the soul-crushing reality that they are physically unable to create one. These struggles were once considered private matters between doctor and patient; wellintended questions from friends and family about children were met with tight smiles and inner anguish, but usually not the truth. Today things are beginning to change. Infertility is slowly becoming part of a broader dialogue—and much of that acceptance can be attributed to public figures opening up about their own battles. Sarah Jessica Parker, Brooke Shields, Courteney Cox, and even Hugh Jackman have all been open and honest about their painful journeys to becoming parents.
But few have been as outspoken and forthright as Academy Award–nominated screenwriter and actress Nia Vardalos. She may have stolen our hearts in My Big Fat Greek Wedding in the role of a bride struggling to blend two very different families, but in reality, she was enduring a struggle all her own. She and her husband, Cougar Town’s Ian Gomez, spent more than 10 years trying to have a child, including unsuccessful attempts at surrogacy and traditional adoptions. It was not until 2008 that the couple’s dream of becoming parents was realized. With the help of adoptuskids.org, a national listing service that arranges foster care and adoptions through partnerships with US government agencies, Vardalos and Gomez adopted a three-year-old girl.
Still, it is easy to imagine the shock that Philadelphian Becky Fawcett felt when Vardalos reached out and asked to become the spokesperson for HelpUsAdopt.org, a national financial grant program founded by Fawcett and her husband, Kipp. “Nia saw a piece on us and approached us about getting involved,” recalls Fawcett, one of the city’s original public relations powerhouses. “Obviously, I said, ‘Yes! Let’s do something together.’”
HelpUsAdopt.org is the result of Fawcett’s own heartbreaking experience with infertility. After enduring five harrowing rounds of in vitro fertilization and three miscarriages, Fawcett and her husband finally decided to adopt. It was while she was sitting in her lawyer’s office signing the adoption papers for her son, Jake (who is soon to be six), that she realized had she not had the financial means to pay the nearly $40,000 it takes to facilitate a private adoption, her situation would have been vastly different. “I just started asking the question, ‘What happens when you can’t afford adoption? What are the options available? How are people doing this?’” says Fawcett, who has also since adopted a daughter, Brooke. “The answers were very disappointing. Basically, many people were either going into financial ruin to adopt a child or living a childless life—neither by choice. We just thought, There has to be a way to help, there has to be a way to make a difference.”
Using their own savings and with support from family and friends, the Fawcetts launched HelpUsAdopt.org in 2007 and have since helped build 50 families by doling out more than $300,000 in financial assistance. Their adoption grant program helps couples and individuals (regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, marital status, and sexual orientation) with the costs of their adoptions— whether domestic, international, foster care, or special needs—by awarding grants from $500 up to $15,000. These can be put toward lawyer’s fees, legal and medical expenses for the birth mother, or orphanage and country fees in the case of an international adoption. “Becky is one of those rare people who truly cares about creating families, and that’s why I asked to be the spokesperson for her wonderful organization,” gushes Vardalos, who was also the national spokesperson for National Adoption Day in 2009 and 2010. “She is truly inspiring. HelpUsAdopt.org offers hope to so many people who may find the costs associated with adoption too daunting to take on.”
Fawcett’s ultimate goal is to award upwards of $5 million in grants a year. “Believe me, the need exists,” she says. “I’ve got the applications sitting in my office to prove it.” She knows she cannot do it alone, and that is where she sees Vardalos’s involvement going beyond being just a recognizable face and helping lead to a visible change. “Her voice is so strong and respected that she brings HelpUsAdopt.org a visibility that I just can’t bring to the table, and I am so grateful for that,” says Fawcett. “It’s a total dream, and I feel so fortunate to call her a friend. What a difference she is making in the lives of children around the globe and the families seeking to adopt them.”