Friday, April 8, 2011

Something to Talk About: Infertility and the Media

The other night Husband banished me to the bedroom while he watched 60 Minutes on DVR. As I flipped through the channels, I stumbled upon the premiere of Pregnant in Heels.

This show is, in a word, ridiculous. Wealthy, connected, and pregnant New York City couples hire a woman named Rosie Pope who dubs herself a "maternity concierge". She helps them decorate nurseries, choose names, and basically anything else they need to prepare them for the birth of their child. In the first episode, a couple insisted upon hiring a group of experts, empaneling a focus group, and throwing a dinner party for friends...all to choose a name for their son, who they claimed would most certainly be on the Presidential ballot in 2056. In the end, the couple ignored everyone's advice and settled on a name that no one liked...which they totally could have done for free.

I was ready to start flipping again when a particular scene caught my attention. Rosie Pope, the maternity concierge herself, holding a Follistim pen.

A Follistim pen, like I have in my refrigerator right now!

At first I thought perhaps she was branching out and helping women who were not yet pregnant, then her husband appeared on the screen and it occurred to me that in a tremendous bout of irony the maternity concierge was battling infertility.

Lately it seems like infertility is everywhere. And I don't think that's because I'm going through it.

Many years ago, my mother's doctor suggested that she have a mammogram. Nothing was wrong, but my mom had hit an age where it was a good idea to do one. So she agreed and while she awaited the results, she traveled to the beach to visit her brother's family. While there, she called me in a panic:

Mom: There is breast cancer awareness stuff everywhere here!

Me: What do you mean?

Mom: Everyone's wearing pink...and there was a parade this morning. I think it's the universe trying to tell me something.

Or it was October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Say what you will about television shows like Jon & Kate Plus Eight and other families with high order multiples, but I really do think they are at least partially responsible to bringing the subject of infertility to the forefront. People love twins, triplets, quadruplets. The more babies, the better. And beyond triplets (which occur in only the rarest of cases), these high order multiples do not happen naturally.

Soon, I was noticing that other reality shows were dealing with infertility issues. Giuliana & Bill suffered a miscarriage followed by a failed IVF cycle right around the time Husband and I did. And the Little Couple hasn't even been able to complete a cycle of IVF due to complications arising from Jen's small frame.

As silly as it sounds, but I feel a bit of a kinship with women like Giuliana and Jen: Giuliana is a successful television personality and Jen is a doctor. Both set goals for themselves in life and then achieved them...until now. Suddenly there's this huge thing that seems so easy for every other woman and yet it turns out we're woefully inadequate in that department and there's nothing we can do to change it. Seeing other women experience that out-of-control feeling doesn't necessarily make me feel any better, but at least I know I'm not alone.

Here's the thing though: it's one thing to discuss IVF when cameras happen to be following you around and documenting every detail of your life. It's another to just come out and start talking about it. Not because there are cameras. Not because anyone is going to find out anyway. But just because it's something that happens to women and to couples that isn't shameful. It's not something we need to hide in the corner and be embarrassed about.

Recently it seems many celebrities have begun discussing their experiences with infertility and IVF. Elizabeth Rohm, best known from Law and Order, found out at age 34 that she couldn't conceive naturally and underwent IVF. And Elizabeth Banks, currently appearing on 30 Rock, and her husband had a baby via gestational surrogate.

Perhaps it is just that I've become super-sensitive to matters of infertility. As I searched for the two stories linked above, I came across several sites listing dozens of well-known celebrities who have experienced infertility. I still can't help but think that many of those celebrities "came out" about their struggles in response to an accusation by the media. A celebrity has twins and the first assumption is that there must be a non-genetic reason for it. That turns the revelation into more of a, "Yes, fine, we did IVF. Are you happy?" than a open and mature dialogue about the fact that there are couples out there who simply cannot conceive naturally, but luckily science has stepped in to allow many to achieve what otherwise would be impossible.

When Husband and I were undergoing IUI, we didn't tell anyone save our immediate family. When we had our first miscarriage, we didn't even tell them until months later. That whole period was awful: I felt like I was lying to everyone about everything. Our response to IVF has been totally different: we've been completely open about it because we're not doing anything wrong. Why should Husband lie to his high school friend about why I might not be attending his wedding in June? The truth is that if I have doctor's appointments three times a week, I won't be able to travel.

Does that mean I'm not happy for him to be getting married? Of course not.

Does it mean that I wouldn't love to be there? Sure, granted the wedding is in Nebraska over my 30th birthday weekend, but Husband is definitely going and I'm never one to turn down a great party!

Being truthful is just easier and as expected, Husband's friend understood and wished us luck.

Part of the problem, I think probably the biggest problem, is that people don't know how to respond to someone who is talking about infertility. It's uncomfortable to hear and not something that can be solved with some reassuring words. But sometimes, most of the time, the person dealing with infertility isn't looking for answers.

She's just looking for support. For a friend. For someone to be there for her and distract her with shopping or lunch or a day away from her HCG count or estrogen levels.

The one thing I've learned as Husband and I have navigated the last year is what amazing friends we have. Friends who call Husband to talk because they can tell we're having a bad day. Or friends who show up with cheesecake and movies to entertain me while I'm stuck in bed rest. They don't solve our problems. They don't even try. But they are there for us more than we ever realized friends could be.

Of course there's a difference between telling close family and friends what's going on and blabbing about it to the media (or on a blog!), but in order to get infertility out there as a non-taboo subject, people have got to talk about it. And become comfortable with it.

I'm glad to see that there are finally some younger celebrities and people in the public eye addressing this issue. Hopefully someday infertility won't be thrown around as an accusation and will just be another part of life.

In the meantime, Husband and I are continuing our quest to conceive and will be beginning a second cycle of IVF tonight. Thank you to everyone out there for all your support. I may not "know" you, but reading your comments and stories also makes me realize that we're not alone and I commend any of you willing to share your story on this blog!

Happy Friday!