Friday, October 22, 2010

Facebook and Why It's an Infertile's Worst Nightmare

I know I'm not alone when I thank the great minds that have allowed us to virtually connect with one another. I know many talk about "the good old days" but I can't imagine having to cope with infertility, which already drowns us in public silence, and not be able to share our fears and joys with a community of women/men who truly understand what we're going through.

Some of us connect in anonymity, via blogs, Twitter and even take that leap to become friends in real life. But the one virtual connector that seems to always come up in conversation is Facebook -- and not in a good way. Most of us are on it, willingly or by peer-pressure. The idea of reconnecting with long lost friends was certainly the appeal for me. But once infertility barged into my seemingly pleasant life, I started avoiding FB like the plague (although the sadistic side of me managed to drag me back to it too many times). Filled with pregnancy announcements, ultrasound pictures, and the latest "Oh Jr. just said the cutest thing today!" I cursed its dubious inventor.

What enraged me most was being surrounded by people who were over-sharing the lamest details of their lives, while I, who was actually experiencing something real, could not complete the "What's on your mind?" box honestly. I knew that if I did, it would either lead my so-called friends to stage an intervention or wonder if I had Tourettes. During those day, you had the option to "Dislike" something (Why did that ever go away?) and my little arrow had brushed over it many times. I knew I would probably get chastised for "disliking" an ultrasound picture, so instead, I would get online and within minutes have the support of countless people about the evils of Facebook.

Facebook seems to know so much about us and the various life stages we're experiencing -- "Boost your fertility in 60 seconds," "Go back to school mommies," "The best new sex-toys" (Not that I ever saw that one!) -- and yet, it's incapable of shielding us from the types of updates that would make us want to throw something at our beloved computers.

For all the filtering and customizing available, why can't we have a "Hide" button for that kind of news? And I don't know about you, but it seemed that other peoples' "baby news" always came at the worst possible time -- a "Sorry, not pregnant again. You looser" day, a "This cycle isn't going to work" mood day or a "My husband hates my guts for forcing him to have sex with me today" day.

I don't have hundreds of friends -- I never understand people who "friend" someone they've just met -- so during my pregnancy and my son's first year, I tried to stay away from anything that might hurt those I knew were coping with IF. Today, they are all either pregnant, expecting or parents. But every time I do post something, I take a second to remember how lucky I am that I can go on Facebook and not completely regret it.

UPDATE: Is the Washington Post reading my blog? I think so. I'm flattered, really.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Infertility on Reality Television: Giuliana & Bill

I never quite understood the whole reality TV craze. To me, it's like a watching a giant train wreck: it's horrible to see and yet you can't look away. Of course, being the jaded consumers that we are, we know that so-called reality shows are not truly real (unnecessary drama will be added to the mix to keep it all interesting). Especially those that involve pseudo celebrities making fools of themselves. Whether they "invite" us into their homes or show off a few dance moves, we enjoy watching them unravel. Behind the bleached-teeth smiles and meticulously managed personas, they are like just like us: flawed in every way.

So when the Giuliana and Bill show started (now in its third season), I seriously had not interested in watching yet another celebrity couple vanish into the failed-Hollywood-marriages-heaven (or hell). Giuliana DePandi, host of E! and "Apprentice" winner Bill Rancic brought in cameras to follow them as they learn the juggle their public careers, a young marriage, all while flying back and forth between LA and Chicago. Well, I wished them good luck and moved on. 

Then I started hearing about their struggles to conceive and finally saw them speak out about it on "The View" during a show dedicated to infertility. So much about that episode bothered me but I'm not going to go into details here. What stayed with me was Giuliana and Bill's appearance and their openness about their difficulty to conceive. I was pleasantly surprised to see them be so open about it and glad that they didn't shy away from pointing the finger at their fellow Hollywood crowd for creating the perception that one can conceive whenever, with whom ever -- Giuliana talked about feeling duped by it all. 

Again through the rumor-mill teasing this season of the show, I came to find out that they had made their first attempt at IVF and that they had experienced a miscarriage. That's when I finally set my DVR to record the show and observe how the process of IVF, early pregnancy and miscarriage would be handled on national television.

The first episode of this season was their first foray into the world of IVF. There were genuine moments of fear, love and pain. What hit home (as I'm sure it will for you as well) was the part when Giuliana and Bill were trying to figure out their schedule to start IVF, and Bill pointed out all the conflicts he had with his speaking engagements/appearances. Giuliana then confronted him and reminded him that they need to be in this together and that the success of cycle must come first. I saw that this couple was for real -- Bill explained himself (wanting to provide for his family) and cleared his schedule. You get a gold star, Bill.

As they started their cycle, there was the shock of the amount of medications (read, injections) involved with an IVF cycle. Unfortunately, you never saw them taking the shots, nor could you even fathom how many are involved to make a cycle move along. Then there was the egg retrieval and embryo transfers. Perhaps because of their celeb status or maybe they have an ultra-friendly RE, but all the kisses on the cheeks and the warm smiles and the extensive personal attention took away from the clinical and austereness of the IVF experience. Maybe I'm just jealous that the most I go from my REs were sympathetic smiles from across the desk during my WTF meetings. 

Watching the show kind of reminded me of TV shows that misrepresent the way some careers work in real life; like how advertising agencies or hospitals function. You get a taste for the drama of it all but if you're in that field, you shake your head and say, "That would never happen!" So I go back to my initial point, reality-TV is not real. It's dramatized, edited and simplified for the masses. While Giuliana and Bill Rancic teased the show by openly admitting their infertility, the show in the way it depicted an IVF cycle wasn't nearly as real as it should have been. Certainly this is not an IVF documentary but an entertainment show (it's on The Style Network!), but here's a chance to televise a young couples journey through infertility and the physical (and financial, for many of us) toll of IVF was treated like an underpaid extra. 

What was genuine and felt un-dramatized were the emotional reactions of the Rancics, especially Giuliana's. Her fears were very clear. After all it is her body that will experience the hormonal upheavals. She unabashedly craved the attention she deserved during her recovery period. As a couple, they had to come clean to their families (or at least to Giuliana's mom) about the cycle. And after the transfer, there was that naive hope that we all have experienced after our first foray into the world of A.R.T. -- what should we name the baby/babies? OMG, what if we have twins! Let's get a baby name book! Let's buy a house in the 'burbs.

What made the announcement of a positive pregnancy test most heart breaking is to know how this all ends for this young couple. Like a train wreck, it's awful and yet I can't look away.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

RESOLVE Peer-led Support Group - NY Area

As what feels like a natural progression of what this blog is intended to do, I have decided to volunteer my time to lead a RESOLVE support group. We will discuss general infertility issues, along with any specific topics that may be affecting you at the time.

The objective of the group is to get together with fellow women and men who are coping with infertility in complete anonymity. 

I want to encourage you to come to find strength and comfort in a safe environment where you will be free to talk about anything that's on your mind. 

This group will be in New York. Before I nail down specifics (meeting place and time), I would like to know how many of you would interested to join. 

I can lead the group in NYC (UWS) or in Westchester, depending on the need. So please, either comment here or feel free to shoot me an email ( and let me know your preferences. 

And please, help spread the word. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Always Hope but Never Forget

In our shared journeys through infertility, most of us will experience loss. Loss comes in so many forms: loss of hope, loss of belief, loss of embryos, loss of a pregnancy, and worst of all, loss of a child. So today, on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, I took a few moments to think of the three babies-to-be that I lost along the way. I thought of the months of treatment leading to each pregnancy, the ambivalent joy I felt at the news, and the ineffable sadness that stayed in my heart as I slowly picked up and dusted off "hope" from the rubble of my life.

When you're dealing with infertility, it feels like everyday is a loss remembrance day. But as we try to keep our chin up and fight through the pain, it's important to have a day when we can allow ourselves to feel again; to think of the what-ifs of pregnancies lost (and even cycles waisted).

Like the differences of our infertility paths, we have differences in our losses. We isolate ourselves and forget that there are countless others who are or have experienced a similar loss. The I Am The Face campaign is a visual reminder that we are one of thousands of individuals who share a pain that only those who have lost can really understand.

While the loss of my early pregnancies crushed me, I cannot even begin to imagine the loss of a late-term pregnancy and/or the loss of an infant. Once you feel that baby moving around and then actually hold him/her, a piece of you and of your heart must die with them. To look at my son today and imagine losing him at any point makes my heart ache. So when I look through the wall pictures on I Am The Face, I wonder what kind of pain is behind most of those smiling faces. I wonder how they experienced the loss. Where they are in their journeys. How they are remembering those little embryos/babies/infants.

If you're stopping by, I'd like to hear your stories of loss so I can think of you individually today.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Nobel for IVF, But Not Much Has Changed

Apologies for the long silence. It's very unlike me... A few of you have written me asking if everything's ok. I can't tell you how touched I was to hear that I was missed. Virtual hugs to all.

So, the other day, when the big news broke that Dr. Edwards was receiving a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for developing IVF, I thought it will be the perfect topic to discuss. Surely many of you had heard the news and were probably jumping for joy over this long overdue acknowledgment -- or like Julia at A Little Pregnant, you created a unique artwork to express your excitement; really, how can you top that?

But then, I decided to wait things out and see what the comments were going to be on the news sites. It seems that most Nobel prizes never go without some controversy. Someone somewhere just isn't going to be happy about it. So I sat there by my computer watching the comments pouring in. It was no surprise of course that right out the gate, the comments were negative and critical. Some blamed IVF for over-populating of our already over-populated planet (What about the countless unwanted pregnancies/babies?); others suggested that it went against "God's design" (Then when you get cancer please don't seek out medical treatments -- like stem cells, because it seems to me that "God" wanted you to die, plus we're over-populated anyway); while many went straight for the "why don't you just adopt" route (Really? I'd never considered that option. Thank you for enlightening me). The Vatican of course was apparently "perplexed" by the award, not that I expected any other reaction from them.

Eventually, voices of reason and sanity trickled in from people who were in one way or another affected by IVF. Considering there are about 4 millions babies out there as a direct result of A.R.T., I'd say the comments boxes should have been flooded with congratulations and thanks.

While I pondered how to tackle this news and the reactions that ensued, I started reading opinion pieces from respected writers and bloggers. I think this Op-Ed piece by Robin Marantz Henig (author of "Pandora's Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution") exemplifies the overall perception of where our society stands 32 years after the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was conceived. The piece declares (and it's not the only one) that we have come a long way and that "our attitude toward Dr. Edwards's research has completely changed: I.V.F. is now used so often it is practically routine." (She does point out that some skeptics are still out there, but that the numbers are marginal.)

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that we've come along far enough. While I can't imagine anyone still believes that IVF babies will come out with genetic defects (or some kind of monsters), as long as people and even the press continue to callously use "test-tube babies" to describe the progenies created via ART, I think it's pretty clear that the stigma persists. (Plus not a single test-tube was ever used. Petri dishes sure, but no test tubes like in your high school chemistry class.) That terminology is incredibly dated and yet thrown around today to categorize our kids -- "Oh, yes, so-and-so also has a test-tube baby. You should meet her" -- as though our kids are somehow abnormal; part of some grand experiment.

Even if I manage to move beyond this hair-raising terminology, I cannot get past the comments suggesting that we don't deserve to have the family we want. Whether it's the "playing God" comments, the "just adopt" comments or "we're already over-populated" comments, they all point to one thing: If you're infertile, you should not have kids. And if you want kids, then adopt. But only if you're of a certain age, married and not gay. Our society, as progressive as we believe it is, still establishes the boundaries of what it deems to be right and wrong according to some archaic set of believes that predate our abilities of rational thought and tangible scientific progress.

Awarding a Nobel Prize is a wonderful step in the right direction, but the fact that it took them more than three decades to grant this acknowledgement (and thus, robbing Dr. Steptoe who passed in 1988 from being celebrated) is nothing to boast about. The Nobel committee claims that they need proof of the legitimacy of the scientific discovery before awarding a prize. Establishing certain benchmarks is certainly necessary before honoring someone with a coveted prize. But 30 years is not an acceptable measure in this case since the committee in no time honored scientists like Fritz Haber, Antonion Moniz, Johannes Fibiger*all of whom were proven wrong shortly after their prizes were handed out.

Winning a Nobel Prize for pioneering modern day ART has allowed for the science that is for many of us our only hope to receive front-page placement in the news, but it isn't doing much to shed light on the personal heart breaking journeys that too many of us have taken/are taking.

Where do you stand on this matter?

* Thank you Mel at Stirrup Queens for pointing those out to us.