Six weeks ago, Lisa and Ray Brackett of Coal City became the proud parents of Rhylan Marie, a baby girl born full term with 10 tiny fingers, 10 little toes and bright, smiling eyes.
Rhylan is her parents' joy and their gift. The newborn is the answer to the Bracketts' long prayers, and she is the miracle of Angels of Hope.
An Angels' fertility grant allowed the Bracketts to conceive their baby through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
Angels of Hope's contribution was more than financial, though. Members doted on the Bracketts, offering advice, support and, mostly, hope.
Ray and Lisa were the organization's first grant recipients, and their happiness is Angel of Hope's success.
"Rhylan is our miracle girl, that's for sure," said Angels of Hope's Jamie Lavezzi. "She's not just Ray and Lisa's baby, she's our baby, too."
Angels is a local support organization for parents who have suffered the loss of a child. The Bracketts became familiar with Angels of Hope early last year after the deaths of their twins, Raygan and Reese.
Born prematurely, at just 23 weeks, Raygan and Reese lived only an hour. Their devastated parents mourned the loss of their babies and, at the same time, prepared for a future without children.
After 10 years trying to conceive, Lisa became pregnant with the twins by means of IVF. A second, costly IVF round was not a financial option for the couple.
Lavezzi heard about the Bracketts' grief, and she understood exactly what they were feeling. Lavezzi, herself, gave birth to early-term twins who died within hours of birth. As the Bracketts buried their twins, Lavezzi and fellow Angels members visited the family, offering whatever consolation they could give.
"We went over there just to listen and let them know they're not alone," she said.
Like Lisa Brackett, Lavezzi conceived by means of IVF. She knew the devastation the Bracketts were feeling.
The average cost for just one IVF cycle is over $12,000. Statistics show only about 40 percent of IVF patients are successful in conceiving.
"People just don't understand what these families go through. To get so far and feel so blessed and then have this loss - it breaks your spirit," Lavezzi said.
For an average couple, like the Bracketts, it is not feasible to make multiple attempts at IVF conception. Besides being expensive, the procedure is physically and emotionally taxing, as well.
However, when Lisa and Ray learned Angels of Hope would begin offering financial assistance for fertility treatment, the couple jumped at the opportunity.
"I wasn't going to give up, and we were going to try one last time for our little miracle," Lisa Brackett explained.
"Having Rhylan with us now, we owe Angels of Hope our whole lives."
Rhylan Marie was given the same middle name as her sister, Raygan. Marie is the middle name of their mother and grandmother.
Brackett said Rhylan is beginning to resemble Raygan, as well, even though Rhylan favored Reese at birth.
The newborn will carry the connection to her departed siblings throughout her life.
"She has a little angel brother and sister," Brackett said. The heartache and physical trials the couple endured are set aside when they hold their newborn baby.
"It was extremely emotionally tough," said Brackett, "But Rhylan is here now, and she's perfect."
In fact, the Bracketts have found their lives are much simpler since Rhylan was born. While most new parents are slightly overwhelmed by the demands of a new baby, the Bracketts have been able to slow down now that Lisa's pregnancy is finished. After intensive IVF treatment (sometimes IVF requires up to 150 shots per cycle), a precarious pregnancy (Lisa had to travel to several different doctors every week) and a difficult labor, Lisa is content to spend time at home with Rhylan.
"She's uber-spoiled," Brackett said of her new daughter. Rhylan loves to be held, and she's taking walks and visiting.
Rhylan has had a lot visitors since she was born, many of them members of Angels of Hope. The group's support has made all the difference for the Brackett family.
Right now, three more Angels of Hope grant recipients are expecting babies this year. With the successful IFV rounds for all four of its grant recipients, Angels has seen a higher than average pregnancy rate for the treatment.
Studies show a physical-emotional connection in the success of IVF treatment. Couples with better financial means typically fare better with IVF. Struggling, financially-strained couples have lower IVF pregnancy statistics.
Lavezzi explained stress is an important factor in the fertility procedure. IVF's physical demands require all of a patient's energy and focus, and she shouldn't be worrying about outside factors.
Support from Angels of Hope gives women more than financial assistance. Having a network of people to give encouragement, calm fears and share experiences is just as significant as monetary help.
"It was through the goodness of God and through the goodness of people that Rhylan is here," Lavezzi explained. "It really is a miracle we cannot explain - this child was so loved and so wanted even before she was conceived."
Lavezzi thanked the many Angels of Hope supporters who contributed to the Creating Miracles Grant.
"Your money helps give these people a dream," she said.
Contact Angels of Hope by calling Jamie Lavezzi at (815) 634-8139 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.