HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — They made noises, happy grunts, screams and squeals as they ran, climbed, swung, jumped and bounced around as toddlers do.
A few others too small to play, including one born July 31, rested in the arms of their parents and were admired by others.
Four years ago none of these adults would have been at this children’s gym and didn’t know if they ever would have a child. Infertility issues left them unable to conceive and the costs for treatments were beyond the means of many.
Tuesday night, they gathered as one big family, recipients of grants from the Bundle of Joy fund. Kyle and Samantha Busch started the Bundle of Joy fund after their struggles to have son Brexton, who was born May 18, 2015. They wanted to help infertile couples by providing financial gifts to pay for fertility treatments.
Since the program started in September 2015, the Bundle of Joy Foundation has distributed nearly $400,000 and had 14 children born with two more on the way this year.
All but one family, which moved to Colorado, that has had a child through Bundle of Joy grants were together for their first play date Tuesday, something Samantha Busch said two years ago she hoped they could have some day.
“I don’t think words can explain this,” Samantha Busch told NBC Sports on Tuesday. “Having them all here together and just seeing them all playing and interacting and the parents sharing their (In Vitro Fertilization) battles and journeys, this is what I always hoped for. This is why God had us go through IVF because look at all these families that are created through it.”
Among the newest couples with a child there was Ashley and Jeremy Rhoney with daughter Karoline, who was born May 9.
They had tried to have a child for five years. Doctors couldn’t explain why they were unable to conceive. Their lab work looked good but they still weren’t able to have a child.
Making it more difficult was that for the past four years Ashley has been a nursing assistant in the labor and delivery department at the Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory, North Carolina. There she had seen the joys of childbirth while unable to experience that herself. She admits it got to a point she considered switching jobs because of the constant reminder of what she couldn’t have.
They tried various treatments, including one that cost more than $5,000 that didn’t work. The next alternative was In Vitro Fertilization, which would cost Ashley and Jeremy more than $20,000, money they didn’t have. Then they heard about the Bundle of Joy fund and completed application just before the deadline.
When Samantha told Ashley and Jeremy that they would receive a $15,000 grant for additional treatments, Ashley could not speak. She cried when she got to the car.
Last September, she and Jeremy waited at home for lab results to determine if the treatment worked and she would be pregnant. Eventually they had to go to work. As they drove, Ashley got a phone call. She immediately declined it so it would go to voice mail when she saw the number. She waved her arm out the window to her husband in the trailing car, pulled over and called him to come to her car and listen to the voice mail. Even now, Ashley admits when she passes that patch of land on her way to work she thinks about the phone call that told her she was pregnant.
Also playing on Tuesday was Willie Lee Carswell III — call him Lee. He arrived April 12, 2017, ending a years-long journey for Will and Susan Carswell to have a child.
Three treatments had failed. The costs were escalating for Will, a state police investigator, and Susan, who owns an embroidery business. They applied for a Bundle of Joy grant and received $12,600. When they found out Susan was pregnant, she noted that they had waited 1,116 days for that moment.
No moment can compare for Susan then when she held their son for the first time.
“My worst fear was … I thought oh my gosh, they hand me this child and I can’t get him to quit crying?” Susan Carswell said. “What am I going to do?
“As soon as they put him down on me and I said, ‘Hey baby, I love you,’ he quit crying immediately. It was like he knew I was his momma. I just could not believe that he could sense that I was his momma already and he knew that he was safe laying on my chest. That was the greatest feeling in the world that I’m his momma and he knows it.”
Will calls fatherhood: “Absolutely the best thing in my life.”
They both laugh as they recall when Lee was born and the first thing Susan said after seeing her son.
“We have to do this again,” she said.