In her job as director of communications for the Children's Advocacy Center of North & Northwest Cook County, Jennifer Djordjevic hears horrific stories of sexual abuse, beatings, torture and cruelty endured by the innocent children the center helps. Those sad tales add to her personal pain.
"I just go home every day thinking, 'Why can't we have a baby that we'd take home and love and take care of?'" says Djordjevic, 38, of Des Plaines. She and husband Eric Djordjevic, 39, figure they've spent about $10,000 on medical tests and failed artificial insemination treatments in the last four years. They believe that their dream of parenthood could come true if they had the money to try in vitro fertilization.
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Golf promises to give them that shot at parenthood. The Djordjevics are the chosen beneficiaries of Saturday's unique Birdies for Babies golf outing in Naperville that raises money to pay for fertility treatments for deserving childless couples.
"Thank goodness there are places like this," Eric Djordjevic says of Birdies for Babies. "They are giving us this opportunity, and we're really thankful for that."
Birdies for Babies founders Todd and Melissa Trader know the feeling. Having spent $150,000 out of pocket on their fertility treatments, the Naperville natives started the golf event in 2004 as a way to help pay for more in vitro fertilization procedures. Those treatments resulted in the birth of their daughter, Jordan, in 2006. Without additional fertility help, they added son Breckin to their family four years ago. But their Birdies for Babies charity continued.
"We wanted to help other couples become a family," explains Todd Trader, founder of Golf Invite, a Warrenville company that handles all the details of golf events from hole-in-one contests to complex tournaments. "We'd love to expand and help more couples."
Raising about $20,000 a year, Birdies for Babies already has funded treatments that have resulted in the births of nine children, he says. The board of the nonprofit charity selects each year's winning couple.
Jennifer Djordjevic, who has worked for local organizations such as Women In Need Growing Stronger and the Society for the Preservation of Human Dignity, used her marketing skills last year as a volunteer for Birdies for Babies. "I interviewed the couple from last year," she says. "They had a little girl, Piper. She's adorable."
Saturday's golf events start at 8 a.m. at Tamarack Golf Club, 24032 Royal Worlington Drive in Naperville. Tickets for golf, breakfast, lunch, a golf shirt and a one-hour open bar are $150. Tickets for the lunch, open bar, auction, raffle and reception are $50. Visit golfinvite.com/bfb for details.
The festive public atmosphere that will be provided by sponsor Tommy Nevin's Pub in Naperville should be in stark contrast to the torment infertile couples often face privately.
"This is hard. All of this is hard. There's the financial, the physical and the emotional stress. A lot of the worst parts come when you're watching a movie or lying in bed and thinking," Jennifer Djordjevic says. "But we just put one foot in front of the other. We choose to be happy and be grateful for the things (friends, family, jobs) that have been there in our lives."
As thrilled as they are for other parents, they admit it's still difficult to see younger loved ones become parents.
Eric Djordjevic was born in Austria and was 6 months old when his Serbian parents came to Chicago with two kids and $200. He graduated from Niles West High School in 1991, worked alongside his dad in construction, and now is project manager for a construction company in Lincolnwood. His wife was born in California, lived in Idaho and moved around with her mom and sister before coming to Chicago. A 1993 graduate of Taft High School, she graduated from National Louis University with a bachelor's degree in psychology/human services and a master's degree in written communication. They met while both were working at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge and married in 1999.
Illinois has a law mandating insurance coverage for fertility treatments, but it applies only to businesses with more than 25 employees. When she couldn't get pregnant, the Djordjevics used their savings to pay for medical tests that revealed no reason for their infertility.
"The 5-minute test determined no blockage, and here's a $2,000 bill," she says in recapping one typical doctor visit. Failed artificial insemination attempts only added to their stress.
"It was very mechanical. 'Eric, you've got to get your sample and put it in a jar so I can put that under my arm and take it to the clinic and then go to work,'" Jennifer Djordjevic remembers.
High hopes would dissolve in tears after every monthly failure.
"I couldn't even go to work that day, I was so upset," Eric Djordjevic recalls after one disappointment.
"I need something to take care of," says his wife, who responded to failed pregnancy attempts by adopting three cats and their dog named Louie.
This January, the couple received jarring news. "I had a mole that was bothering me for years," Eric Djordjevic says, explaining how he finally gave in to the nagging from his wife and mother and had it looked at. It was melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. After two surgeries, doctors told him on March 1 that he is cancer-free.
"I quit smoking and went on a mostly vegetable diet," he says, noting that he lost 40 pounds. "I feel a million times better. Now I have even more reasons to start a family. I feel God gave me a second chance."
All that's missing is the baby.
"There's a crib in my mom's basement. Are we ever going to be able to use that?" Jennifer Djordjevic wonders. The baby's room still has bare plywood flooring and needs a paint job to be fit for an infant.
"Either that or it's going to turn into my knitting room," she quips.
The Djordjevics say they plan to volunteer at next summer's Birdies for Babies.
"Lots of people still need help. There are so many hard stories," Jennifer Djordjevic says.
They hope they'll have a son or daughter in tow, and say they are looking forward to waking up before the sun and driving to the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago office in Gurnee for 6 a.m. appointments before work to make that happen.
Then maybe they'll have a reason to fix that picture frame hanging in their living room. While it boasts some photographs, other slots still display the blank cardboard backing.
"We're waiting for the pictures to put in it," Jennifer Djordjevic says, explaining how photographs of their baby would fill the blank spots in the frame and in their shared life.
"It is," Eric Djordjevic says, "the last piece of the puzzle."