CONCORD — Forget everything else.
All the half-screwed mascara tubes, the still-warm hairdryers. The little makeup pencils and brushes, and the hair products littered throughout the Las Vegas hotel room. Twenty minutes before NASCAR’s postseason awards banquet in November, none of that mattered anymore.
Just the phone call.
Samantha Busch picked it up. Doctors had the results of her blood work from earlier that morning — and delivered news she prayed would never come, but already sensed would.
Her baby girl, the one still burrowed in her belly, was gone. The miscarriage was official.
She grabbed her husband, NASCAR star Kyle Busch, and ushered him into the bathroom, away from their business manager and a hair and makeup girl still in the room. She relayed the news, and then, told him what she wanted to do next:
I don’t want to talk about it. I’m not ready. We’re not going to face it. We’re going to go downstairs and pretend everything is fine.
So that’s exactly what they did. They walked the red carpet, posed for photos. And every time someone came up to Samantha — Congratulations on the pregnancy! — she took it in stride and thanked them.
“It was hard to hear, but I also wasn’t ready to give it up yet,” Samantha told the Observer. “You know what I mean? I was still kind of in that mindset of, I’m not going to accept it yet. ‘Thank you, thank you,’ because I am still pregnant, but it was just a very weird state of emotions and shock.
“And I didn’t want to be separated from Kyle. Being alone in that hotel room would’ve probably killed me.”
So they sauntered to their seats and for the next two hours played make-believe. Pretended their world, which was crashing down, was fine. They clapped, congratulated new champion Joey Logano and his wife, Brittany, and sat through the entire ceremony. And then, as soon as they could, they left.
‘WHAT’S WRONG? WHY ISN’T THIS WORKING?’
For any couple, that November night would have been excruciating. Awkward. Painful. But for Samantha and Kyle, because of the journey they’d gone through getting to that point, it was more.
When the couple was still dating, before their marriage almost 10 years ago, they talked about the possibility of one day starting a family. Kyle wanted to continue the Busch bloodline, and Samantha had always thought she’d like to be a mother one day. They wed on New Year’s Eve in 2010, but wanted to wait a few years before starting their family.
“We just felt as though four or five (years) would be a good enough time for us to have fun, do what we want to do, travel the world, do crazy things, whatever it might be,” Kyle said, “and then settle down and have a family.”
“It was just the next step in our life,” Samantha added.
And so the joyous process of starting a family began. Or at least, that’s what it was supposed to be.
“The first few months (of trying) are really fun, you’re all hyped up about it,” Samantha said. “Then a few more months go by until you start getting the apps and the at-home tests and Googling everything, and you’re like, ‘OK, what’s going on?’ But you’re still not concerned yet.
“And then a few more months go by, and now it’s kind of frustrating, and everybody else around you is getting pregnant, and it becomes a lot harder. And then a few more months go by, and then it’s just more of a job, and it becomes an obsession then of, ‘What’s wrong? Why isn’t this working? What are we doing wrong?’”
After a year of trying unsuccessfully, Samantha went to see a fertility doctor, who diagnosed her with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) — a hormonal disorder that affects fertility — and prescribed her a few medicines.
More months passed, and with nothing to show for their efforts, the couple was running out of places to turn.
“At that point, it wasn’t that joyous, ‘We’re trying, we’re going to be a family’ anymore,” Samantha said. “It was a very hard, kind of depressed time. A lot of, ‘Why me? Why us?’”
‘IF IT WORKS, THERE’S A SOLUTION’
Kyle urged Samantha, if she was really serious about wanting children, to continue searching for answers.
That eventually led them to the Reproductive Endocrinology Associates of Charlotte (REACH) clinic, where both Kyle and Samantha underwent fertility tests.
And finally, they got the answers they had craved.
Both Kyle and Samantha had different fertility issues, making natural conception impossible. Their only option to have a family?
In vitro fertilization (IVF), which neither of them knew much about. And yet, finally having answers was something to celebrate.
“It’s kind of a relief,” Kyle said. “Like, OK great, there’s something wrong with me, but fine! We have answers, and there’s possibilities.
“And if it works, there’s a solution.”
HOW IVF WORKS
In the simplest possible terms, IVF works like this:
A woman has her eggs removed, and her partner provides a sperm sample. Then the eggs are fertilized with that sample in a number of separate dishes. The eggs are monitored daily with the hope that sperm will penetrate the eggs’ outer walls, turning them into growing embryos. (After five days, the embryos that survive can be sent for voluntary genetic testing to determine their sex and long-term viability.)
Then, the embryo is inserted into the woman’s uterus, where — if all goes successfully — it will grow into a healthy baby.
About one in every eight couples will struggle with infertility, but fewer than 3 percent of those cases require advanced reproductive technologies like IVF, according to the REACH clinic. Also, 47.5 percent of women under 35 (like Samantha) successfully give live birth after IVF treatments, according to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Samantha had 34 eggs removed.
“Sometimes, (the embryos) just stop growing. They just fall away. They quit,” Kyle explained. “So we keep getting weeded down, weeded down, and after Day 5, we had 16 embryos still going. Then we sent them off for genetic testing — A, to determine whether or not all the chromosomes are right, and B, to determine whether they’re boy versus girl.
“When those came back, there were some that weren’t right. They didn’t have full chromosomes. Like, they would tell you, this one here, it would probably make it to Week 12 in the body and then it would die off on its own. This one here, you could probably make it to your third trimester and then it would die off, it wouldn’t make it. This one here, it would probably make it to delivery, and you would have a son or a daughter with Down syndrome.
“They could tell you all that.”
After opting for the voluntary genetic testing on their 16 surviving embryos, Kyle and Samantha ended up with eight potential options: five boy embryos, three girls.
They opted for their healthiest male embryo — and come May 2015, Samantha gave birth to the couple’s first child, Brexton.
‘WOMEN NEEDED TO KNOW’
During her pregnancy with Brexton, Samantha realized she had an opportunity.
“Even five years ago, I feel like IVF was a little more hush-hush, a little more secretive, or people didn’t voice it as openly. There was a little stigma around it, and there still is,” Samantha said. “We felt like we were going through this for a reason. I just felt like women needed to know they weren’t alone.”
That led Samantha to start openly blogging and posting on social media about her own journey with IVF, including everything from her first trip to the doctor to how to less painfully take necessary shots.
Soon, the emails and messages began pouring in from women — race fans and otherwise — from all over, asking for tips or merely just sharing their own stories. Even husbands began reaching out to Samantha, looking for pointers for their wives and girlfriends.
In a short time, Samantha built the community she had so hoped to.
But more than that, Samantha wanted to offer families something more tangible.
That led her and Kyle, in conjunction with his foundation, to start the Samantha and Kyle Busch Bundle of Joy Fund in 2015 — a monetary award for in-need families struggling with infertility, awarded through the same REACH clinic in Charlotte.
IVF typically costs at least $20,000 per family, but can be even more with the optional genetic testing and other procedures/medicines. Considering most insurance providers do not cover IVF treatments, and most states do not have laws offering financial assistance — North Carolina does not — there are financial burdens.
“It’s not fair to tell a couple, ‘This is your only option, but sorry, unless you’re loaded, you can’t do it,’” Samantha said. “Most people don’t have $20,000 sitting around for a rainy day, you know?”
Including the Bundle of Joy’s recent $100,000 grant in January, the foundation has raised over half a million dollars so far and helped 37 different families undergo IVF.
WHEN ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE
In October 2018, Samantha and Kyle had another announcement to make:
They were trying again, only this time for a little girl.
And the second time around, Samantha figured, would be much different.
“The second time, it wasn’t like, ‘Is this going to work?’ It was like, everything was so fine the first time, let’s do as much good as we can,” she said, “because in our heads, this was going to be the last time we were going to go through it.”
That meant more explanatory videos, more social media posts, more blogs offering tips and tricks. Even as doctors and Kyle urged her to take things slowly, Samantha was steadfast in her desire to spread goodwill.
“She was like, ‘Look, it’s not fair to those who go through IVF who still don’t have children for us to only post about the good of it and it working. I think we should go through, no matter how it happens with the girl, and post everything — the whole story from Day 1,’” Kyle said. “I told her, you understand there’s a chance you’re going to have to give really, really, really bad news? I hope it doesn’t happen, we all pray it doesn’t happen, but there’s a chance.
“She’s like, ‘Yeah, I hope it doesn’t happen, but there’s that chance.’”
But in the early stages of Samantha’s second pregnancy, all went well. Incredibly well, actually. After her positive test and second round of blood tests, doctors told her she could skip her third round and wait until her first scheduled appointment.
The NASCAR season ended in mid-November, and Thanksgiving followed soon after. All was well … until the following Tuesday, two days before the Cup Series banquet in Las Vegas.
“I was at home playing with Brexton,” Samantha said, “and that’s kind of when all hell broke loose.”
Still in a robe after her final dress fitting for the NASCAR banquet, Samantha was on the floor playing with Brexton when she felt something.
“Instinctively I put my hand down,” she said, “and when I brought it up, there was blood.”
Not wanting to scare Brexton, Samantha told him Mommy had cut her finger, and to run to get Daddy.
“Kyle comes rushing up thinking I’d cut my finger off, and then he’s kind of looking at me, like why am I in the bathroom crying?” Samantha said. “Then he kind of put two and two together, sent Brexton out to play, and said, ‘You have to call the nurse.’”
After a short back-and-forth with the nurse, Samantha started cramping badly, and nurses told her she needed to come in to see the doctor right away. With her parents unavailable to watch Brexton, that meant he was coming, too.
After fighting back tears the entire car ride there — she didn’t want to scare Brexton — Samantha underwent blood testing with the doctor’s to check her various levels.
The results should have been in the ten-thousands, having doubled since her last visit. Instead, they had only increased by about 500.
Then, the scare.
“They’re like, ‘You’re most likely miscarrying, but we have to do additional bloodwork,” Samantha said, “and you have to stay on all your IVF medication (just in case).
“From that point, in Kyle’s mind, it was like don’t be negative, everything is going to be OK. It’s just a scare, it’s going to be a story for later when she’s born. It’s going to be OK. Where in my head, instinctively I’m like, ‘It’s not OK.’”
Samantha finally stopped bleeding by Tuesday night, and the family traveled to the banquet in Las Vegas. On Thursday morning, the day of the banquet, Samantha underwent more blood tests to see if she — and her baby girl — were going to be all right.
Hours later, in their hotel room, they got the call they hoped they never would.
“When you have the healthiest girl embryo that you have and you put that in and it doesn’t work, there’s no answer for that,” Kyle said. “There’s no consoling that”.
‘SHE’S GONE, SHE’S WITH GOD’
The morning after the awards banquet, Kyle, Samantha, and Brexton woke up early and went to the sand dunes just outside of Las Vegas — Brexton’s favorite place.
“If you’ve ever seen the sand dunes, it’s just you and the sand,” Samantha said. “So it was really nice because we got to cry, and grieve, and be upset, and have all those ugly emotions away from the world … and that’s where we told Brexton.
“Brexton was involved from the start. He knew we were trying for his baby sister, and his baby sister was in my belly, but the interesting thing was, Brexton really wasn’t phased. He was like, ‘I know, she’s gone, she’s with God.’ Even to this day, he tells people he had a baby sister — he named her Doinkey — and he says, ‘My sister Doinkey went to God.’”
And while Brexton, still just 3 1/2, grasped the news as well as he could, both Kyle and Samantha are still struggling.
“She’s still kind of broken about it,” Kyle said. “She feels like she lost her little girl, and a life within her, and in my mind, I agree with her.
“It sucks. It’s sad, it’s disappointing, it makes you mad, it makes you wonder why, but in all reality, everybody always tells you, ‘There has to be a reason.’ Samantha doesn’t want to hear that. She wanted that girl, that baby girl — and she’s not with us.”
Days later, Samantha knew she had to somehow tell the world what had happened — just as she intended to from the very beginning. After following former U.S. Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson on social media, and seeing her share her own video about having had a miscarriage, something resonated with Samantha.
“It didn’t necessarily make me feel better, and I felt bad for her too, but just watching somebody and knowing she got through this … I don’t know, I was kind of just searching for answers,” Samantha said through tears. “I remember sitting there watching that, thinking, ‘Oh, that’s really powerful,’ so I grabbed my phone and I don’t really know what I rambled.”
She recorded an emotional message, quickly showed it to Kyle for approval, and then posted it.
She hasn’t watched the video since, and she doesn’t plan to.
The only thing about it she does remember?
“A few days before, we had done our Christmas card photos, and Brexton had this ‘Big Brother’ tee shirt on, and this pink present there,” Samntha said, “and he was such a proud big brother. We had just gotten them in the mail that morning, and we were thinking, ‘Oh this is so cute, I can’t believe we’re really doing this’ — we looked so … happy.
“Even though it wasn’t something important, to me it just made it hurt even more. If anybody sent me a Christmas card this year, I feel really bad but I didn’t open any of them. I threw them all away. It was like, I just can’t. I started opening them and it was people and their kids, people and their babies, and I was like, ‘We’re done.’”
So, what’s next for the Busch family?
Plenty. Kyle’s season begins on Sunday with the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s most prestigious race — and also one of the few he’s never won. There’s still an empty slot in his trophy case at Kyle Busch Motorsports (which Samantha co-owns) specifically for the 500 trophy.
The couple also recently announced their eighth round of Bundle of Joy grants, although Samantha has much grander ambitions for the fund that that.
“My ultimate goal, it’s kind of a three-step process. Bundle of Joy is the grassroots, with the clinic we went to, helping couples on the ground,” she explained. “My next goals over the next few years are working with more private insurance companies to get companies to have benefits for their employees, and then ultimately to go to the state level.
“There are some states that do fertility packages in helping to cover (treatments), but most don’t. Also, most major corporations don’t.”
And then there’s the other, more sensitive matter for Kyle and Samantha:
Will they try again for a baby girl?
“We’re definitely not giving up,” Samantha said. “They actually had told us we could start trying basically a few weeks after it happened, but we weren’t ready yet.”
The couple doesn’t have a firm timeline for when they will start trying again, but considering Samantha is still dealing with a lingering health issue from the miscarriage, those plans are on hold for now.
But Brexton still wants a baby sister.
Kyle said that Brexton still asks lots of questions about Doinkey, which he does his best to answer. And when strangers ask about her, he always tells them how excited he is to be a big brother.
At that, Samantha chimes in to correct him.
“He’s hoping to be.”
To donate directly to the Samantha and Kyle Busch Bundle of Joy Fund, or to find more information about the fund’s history or IVF, please visit their website.
SOURCE: Brendan Marks, The Charlotte Observer