life, love, and maybe babies

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bravo! How One Television Network is Changing the Public's Understanding of Infertility

Confession: I dig reality television. Don't judge.

                 Image result for shrug gif 

It started as just a way to blow off steam, a fun little escape into other people's problems. Over the years though, I have come to realize that yes, I truly enjoy it. The (usually manufactured) drama, the silliness, the pretty people in 5" stilettos throwing wine on each other. It's all very, very good.

Way to make me a lifelong viewer, Andy Cohen.

While I typically enjoy reality TV for its entertainment value only, I am recently discovering that it is more topical in my life than I ever could have imagined. Currently on the Bravo network alone, there are several infertility stories being told. My fave's are:

Flipping Out: Jeff Lewis and his partner Gage are pregnant through IVF/Surrogacy. Meanwhile, Jenni is hoping for a successful IUI experience to become pregnant with her second child.

Real Housewives of Orange CountyHousewife Meghan King Edmonds is utilizing IVF to become pregnant due to her husband Jimmy having had a vasectomy years ago. In addition, Meghan's cast mate Heather Dubrow went through IVF for three of her four children, and discusses her experience very openly on the show and her podcast, "Heather Dubrow's World."

I know you're all like, psuedo-celebrities having fertility treatments? Please. Why should I care?

I care. And I think you should too.

For one thing, look how far we've come. This side of 10 year ago, if you saw anything relating to infertility on prime time, it was a rose-colored glasses, punch-line driven version. Remember when Phoebe used IVF to get pregnant with her brother's triplets on "Friends"? She had the transfer, took a pregnancy test 5 hours later and had a positive result. Voila!


Cuz that happens.

While I'm grateful that shows like"Friends" brought infertility to the forefront, the reality (pun intended) is that a sitcom was never going to gain any real empathy from its target audience. Infertility was always just going to be an obscure plot device that resolved itself in 22 minutes so the main character could start wearing cute maternity clothes (that you could purchase right now) and joke about how she felt fat in a size 4.

The introduction of reality television is beginning to change that landscape. Yes it's still through the lens of an ultra affluent, magazine-glossy reality, but at least it's being represented. And if you think about it, infertility is the ultimate in guaranteed drama, which is what reality shows need. The sufferer can promise screen time of pain, suffering, and uncertainty. That's TV gold.

In a recent episode of "Real Housewives of Orange County", we watched as Meghan King Edmonds stood in front of a mirror, pinched a (nearly invisible) piece of fat on her stomach and injected herself for the first time with her IVF medication. It took her over 10 minutes to get the courage to do it.


As an IVF survivor, I was instantly transported right back to my first injection over Thanksgiving weekend of 2014. As I watched Meghan's eyes fill with tears of happiness when it was over and she had done it, I felt mine well up too. In subsequent episodes, you hear Meghan discuss her stomach painfully bloating as the eggs grew, the agitation and raging hormones she's feeling - all of it. It's real, raw, and very necessary that people see how this works.

That doesn't mean it's all rainbows and puppies, though.


I do have a teeny, itty bitty problem with Meghan documenting her IVF journey through the lens of infertility. After all, infertility is a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. In Meghan's case, her husband had a voluntary vasectomy years ago and therefore Meghan must use her own eggs and his frozen sperm to create a baby. 

Am I splitting hairs? Or cutting my nose off to spite my face? Probably. But still. The biggest issue I have in the portrayal of Meghan's journey is this.  

She didn't go through the hell that many women and men do to discover her infertility in the first place. 

Meghan knew from Jump Street that IVF would be her path to pregnancy. So to say she struggled with infertility  feels at best inaccurate and at worst a little exploitative. It downplays the emotional heartache that one must typically go through before even thinking of going the IVF route. (Unless there is more to the story than she is sharing, in which case, I would rethink my statement.

That doesn't mean I don't feel for her or am less proud of her. IVF is a tough, tough deal. And from what I've seen on the show, Meghan is basically going through it on her own, as her husband doesn't seem to show a great deal of interest in the process. I'm simply not a fan of her using the word "infertility" to describe her experience. 

But I'm just judging from behind the safe space of my computer and TV screen. I'd welcome a conversation with her, because in the end, she is bringing a very difficult and emotional experience to the masses, and for that I appreciate and love her for sharing.

Moving on...

Meanwhile, can I just say how much I love Jeff Lewis and his partner Gage going the surrogacy route to achieve their baby?
Watching Jeff and Gage give their specimens, choose their surrogate, and eventually wait to hear the results from the embryo transfer make me as weepy as the day I first heard we were pregnant.

When Jeff's bestie, Jenni, holds her legs up to her ears after an IUI, willing that sperm to get on up there and do its thing...I am transported back to my IUI. Sitting in a cold gown. Waiting. Wishing. All in the hopes that this time would be different.

So the net is, reality TV is making me a Crybaby McWeepy. But it's all good. If nothing else, infertility is getting exposure, however imperfect that exposure may be. After all, these are hundreds of hours of footage cut down to 42 minutes. But this format is giving people a small glimpse into the life of an infertile, and if that can create a little more understanding and empathy, I'm all for it.

I don't know if Jeff and Gage's baby will make it. I don't know that Jenni will ever get pregnant with her second baby. Maybe things will work out, and perhaps they won't. Maybe one of these stories will end with adoption, or a couple giving up altogether. But it's all being told. In HD quality.

And for now, I'm okay with that. It can only get better from here.

Let me know if you want any of my input, Andy Cohen. I'm always around.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Close to the Chest: Why Infertiles Don't Always Talk About Their Jouney

I get a lot of questions about my infertility journey (and for the record, I love getting questions). They usually range from "how long did it take before you went to the doctor?" to "how much did the medication injections hurt to take?" But every now and again, I get a question that's a little more difficult to answer. 

"Why are you just now sharing your story?"

Since I "came out" on Facebook, I have been so pleased with how many friends/colleagues/acquaintances have reached out to me to share their stories. It makes us all feel better and stronger knowing that someone else has gone through the same thing. They understand how difficult it is to publicly state what you're going through. But when someone who isn't in the infertility world asks me why I took so long to share (or why I did my blog anonymously at first), I sometimes find it difficult to explain.

But I'll try. Here are the top reasons (I feel) that women and their partners are too afraid or too intimidated to tell what they are experiencing.

1. It's not easy to admit

I've discussed this before, but even saying aloud "I think we might have a conception problem" is not easy to do. For one year or more, you and your partner have been having a great time trying for a baby - but after the 9 or 10 month mark, you start to truly wonder, could something be wrong? If you're like me, you went ahead and shared with your friends, family and dentist that you were trying for a baby, acting under the assumption that it would take three months max. So now, everyone stares at your belly every time they see you, or pays close attention to what drink you order on Saturday night. To admit to yourself and potentially a lot of other people that you might need help getting on the baby train is a huge downer. It takes the wind out of your sails, the air out of your get what I'm saying.

2. You don't want to jump the gun

Once you've admitted to yourself that you need assistance getting knocked up, that's just the beginning. You still have to find a doctor, assess your health and your cycle, figure out what insurance covers - it's overwhelming and not something that you feel like screaming from the rooftops. Besides, maybe there's a quick fix, right? If you thought you had cancer, wouldn't you first rule out a nasty cold or the flu? You wouldn't go around telling people "I'm pretty sure I have cancer" without info to back that up. Same with infertility. There are a lot of tests to go through before you are truly considered an infertile. 

3. Fear of backlash/judgment

When I was about eight months into fertility treatments, we were nearing the point where IVF was clearly going to have to be the next option. I was feeling overwhelmed and wanting some support and thought about posting something on social media about my struggle. But randomly, two days later, I saw something on Facebook that was posted by a relative. It wasn't aimed at me, but as we all know, Facebook statuses go to everyone on your friends list...and that included me. This relative has very strong feelings about adoption and babies and I knew that. I just wasn't prepared.

Like I said, it wasn't specifically aimed at me, but it didn't matter. I was feeling vulnerable and scared about what we were facing, and this felt like a knife straight through the heart. I deleted my Facebook two weeks later for a period of two months. In addition, any inkling I had of sharing my story went right out the window. How many other people felt this way that I wasn't aware of? Who would I potentially offend by admitting we were considering IVF? It was certainly a deterrent to telling anyone else outside of my close circle.

A lot of infertile's face this. Religion, personal opinion, ignorance...people can be very quick to judge and throw down their opinions without thinking about how it affects the person going through it. 

4. We heard what you said about us or someone like us

This is basically a continuation of #3, and it happens more than you think. You're sitting in the break room, minding your business and pondering whether your most recent check to the fertility clinic is going to bounce, when you hear Carl from accounting say to the copy repair guy, "Did you know they're giving some chick on the 3rd floor two weeks off so she can go make some fancy shmancy science baby? I guess they're paying like, 40 grand to get pregnant. Hell, she can have one of my kids!"

Maybe Carl wasn't even talking about you. Maybe that chic on the third floor is someone you've never even met. Who cares? People throw their opinions around about things like IVF and infertility without stopping to think about who might be listening - and hurting. It's just one of those subjects that the general public isn't familiar with unless they've read an Octomom story. The education level surrounding infertility is super low...ironically, because not a lot of women talk about it. It's a vicious cycle - and round and round we go.

Keep in mind this is also true for infertiles who have dealt with miscarriage or still births. For some reason, the general consensus is you can have three days to recover physically and then, like, get over it. I mean, you were only 8 weeks. It's not like it's a big deal.

Wrong-o. Until you've walked in those shoes, shut your face.

5. We're afraid to jinx it

You will never meet a group of people as superstitious and paranoid as infertiles. Every cramp is a sign. Every song that comes on the radio with the word "baby" in it is a sign. Every billboard is a sign (literally and figuratively). We take it all very, very seriously. So it should come as no surprise that when it comes to our treatments, we don't want everyone to know. Even if we have that gut feeling that this time it's going to work, we're terrified that even whispering that little layer of hope out loud can make the whole house of cards come crashing down around us. Is it logical? No. Do we care? Not really. It's survival. And so we sit quietly, scouring the internet for signs that pregnancy occurred this month, freaking out every second of every day. But we don't dare tell you what we're doing. Because dammit, you might jinx it, and we just can't risk it.

So if you have a friend that's finally admitted to you that she is having a hard time getting pregnant, be honored. We don't usually tell many people unless we're sure we can get the support we need from you. Listen to our story, tell us it sucks and then offer to get us the biggest decaf mocha frappucino money can buy. What do you get out of it? A fantastic friend. Not to brag, but infertiles really do make the best buds. We're super patient, we rarely complain, and since we usually can't drink alcohol we can be your DD for the night. Win win for everyone.


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