Kathy Fountain knows well the ups and downs of Mother's Day.
She has a son, a recent college graduate. But she also has struggled with infertility.
Now the former TV news anchor is a mental health counselor specializing in helping infertile couples assess and work through their options. So she sees the national celebration through many different prisms.
"While some may dismiss it as a greeting-card holiday, its meaning is clear: Motherhood is special,'' she says.
"But for those who are still hoping for the chance to become a parent, the day can be a bittersweet reminder — a time of pain mingled with hope.''
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It has been more than a year since Fountain left WTVT-Ch. 13, where she was a popular news anchor and talk show host for 24 years.
But a decade before she left television, Fountain started preparing for a new career, both academically and personally.
"I knew I would leave TV and eventually do something else where my job wasn't dependent on my age or how my hair looked," says Fountain, 60. "I was in my 40s and thought my career was going to be over soon."
While at dinner one evening with a reporter friend, Fountain found her future calling. "He wanted advice on how to balance marriage and a TV career," she recalls, "and while we were talking he said to me, 'You should be a counselor. You're good at this.' "
Fountain went back to school on the weekends, earned a master's degree, became a licensed mental health counselor and started seeing patients part-time.
As she was earning her degree, Fountain fell in love with her colleague, news anchor Frank Robertson. Fountain, who had a son from her previous marriage, wanted another child with her new husband. But as aware as she was about how age would affect her TV career, its impact on her fertility still came as a surprise.
"I saw celebrities on TV having babies in their 40s, so I figured I could, too," she says.
What those new moms weren't saying back in the 1990s, she learned, was that many of them were using donor eggs or surrogate mothers to have children. Fountain did become pregnant, but miscarried.
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She set aside her hopes for new motherhood and channeled the experience into her counseling work.
After additional training, in 2004 she launched Kathy Fountain Fertility.
As part of her general mental health practice, Fountain conducts physician-ordered psychological evaluations of couples seeking infertility treatment.
Her work with those patients showed her that many couples need professional guidance to cope with the options, decisions and emotional turmoil that come with fertility problems.
Fountain offers the Mind Body program, a 10-week series of evening classes for couples dealing with infertility, three times a year.
"We don't promise pregnancy," she stresses.
"But we can lead you to resolution. Whether that's in vitro fertilization, using donor eggs or overcoming some of the barriers to pregnancy, like stress, so you can become pregnant on your own, or maybe it's adoption.
"Within a year of completing our program, 9 out of 10 couples know how they are going to become parents." Or not — Fountain says that she also helps some couples make peace with the decision to forgo parenthood.
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There may be no more effective way to upset a woman who can't get pregnant than to tell her to just relax.
In fact, stress does have measurable impacts on the body, including its ability to bear children. But managing stress is far easier said than done.
"We know stress can cause the release of hormones that can interfere with fertility," says Dr. Sandy Goodman, an infertility specialist with the Reproductive Medicine Group in Tampa, who has referred patients to Fountain's program. "Taking positive action to diminish stress can change how hormones are released and may have an effect on fertility."
Beyond its physical effects, stress can affect couples' ability to wade through difficult decisions and emotions, and can even break apart marriages. Fountain says many women are too stressed to stick with demanding fertility treatments and their roller coaster of hope and disappointment.
In the Mind Body classes, participants learn about deep breathing, yoga, the power of positive thinking and the value in humor. Fountain's business partner, marriage and family therapist Janet Salyers, works with the couples to keep their relationships strong.
Cristina Francois, 31, of Tampa, went through the program after more than two years of not being able to conceive. She and her husband credit it with helping them to decide to go for in vitro fertilization — and cope with the wait to find out if it had worked.
"We got very lucky," she says. "Our first IVF cycle worked, and we got two children in one round of treatment." Her twin boys were born in February.
Patti Peña was trying to get pregnant in her mid 40s. After several procedures, her only pregnancy ended in miscarriage. She decided to try donor eggs, but became frustrated with the time-consuming protocols involved.
After two cycles of IVF, Peña did get pregnant using donor eggs and is expecting a boy and a girl in late June or early July. She says the Mind Body program gave her a more positive outlook and the support of other women. It helped her husband as well.
"He learned, 'I'm not alone, and my wife isn't the only crazy one,' " says Peña. "The men also learned how to communicate with us. Now my husband knows exactly when to say, 'You need some time with your girlfriends.' "
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Fountain advises her clients to look out for their own wellness, and does so herself.
She is an avid rower and trains with friends on the Hillsborough River several times a week. She also practices yoga regularly, as she has since college.
She spends time with her son and her mother, who lives in Lakeland along with much of her family. And she's the No. 1 fan of her husband's new career — since retiring from WTVT, Robertson has taken up performing in community theater and as a standup comic.
When she thinks back on her 30-year journalism career, the woman who gave up TV for counseling says she thinks more about her colleagues than the news. "I miss having the inside scoop, but I really miss the people,'' she says.
She plans to celebrate Mother's Day with her own family, and thinking of the women she counsels.
"My desire for them is to see the disappointments as steps on a journey,'' she says. "And to know that if they truly want to become a mother that someday, somehow, they will."
Irene Maher can be reached at [email protected]