There are few things harder than bearing witness to suffering, grief, or pain. When we hear someone’s sorrow in their breaking voice, our hearts clench. Our eyes well up.
Empathy, the glue that holds humanity together, kicks in. Empathy causes us to ache in unison. We cast about, sometimes helplessly, to find a way to bring some comfort.
That’s certainly how I felt participating in Slate’s latest The Waves podcast: What I Wish I Knew Before I Started IVF.
(Note: My portion of the podcast discussion begins ~23 minutes in.)
Producer Cheyna Roth conveys her infertility and failed IVF story by turns with a journalist’s curiosity and then with poignant emotion. For more than a decade, I’ve known the best way to work through grief is to help someone else wrestling with their grief. It helps to hear someone else acknowledge and validate it, particularly when it’s infertility and IVF’s disenfranchised grief.
Cheyna’s recent embryo transfer loss and resulting heartache led her to questions about what to do next. Her voice echoed my own once searching anguish.
The lack of off ramps and social safety nets is one of the reasons I agreed to participate in this Slate discussion. Cheyna first reached out after coming across my latest peer-reviewed article. She requested a copy as part of her research and noted in our podcast discussion:
“Your piece, ‘An IVF Survivor Unravels “Fertility” Industry Narratives,’ is difficult to read in a good way in that I identified with so much of it; it is very powerfully written.
That was a relief to hear. I’ve had mixed responses to my infertility and failed IVF disclosures over the years. The knives came out when I first revealed my infertility and IVF ‘childling’ grief to The New York Times in 2008. There were more than a few empathy deprived comments.
My gut reaction, after I speak or write about this still taboo topic, is to assume a defensive posture. I instinctively wonder, with some trepidation, how new readers and listeners will respond to these sorts of stories. I know from experience, it’s best to channel the strength of all the resilient women I’ve known through the years — you who have walked in my shoes. With your support as my armor, I knew I could once again face any slags or judgements.
Back Into the Darkness
It’s not easy to revisit painful periods in our lives. There’s a rawness that grabs hold of our hearts. You can hear it in this soundbyte:
"When we went through loss with IVF, it was literally like being shut out of the world."
— Slate (@Slate) March 10, 2022
There are more confessions throughout our discussion, like the times we each saw adorable babies and toddlers in the grocery story soon after learning our children-to-be didn’t survive beyond the embryo transfers. Conversations on infertility impacts and IVF losses usually take place in carefully guarded spaces. You know, anonymous online forums, blogs, or whispered over tea — or something stronger — in a back corner booth.
With this new podcast, I hope a new generation of women and men hear their stories reflected in ours. I also hope the ‘fertility’ industry does some soul-searching about how to move from procedure-based to patient-centered care. As I’ve written before, false hope serves no one well. Whereas, empathy goes a long way …
My offer stands. Anyone who would like a copy of my full IVF Survivor peer-reviewed journal article (now behind a payment wall) need only reach out in the comments for a copy. And now, a few other posts that may help those finding this blog for the first time: