Comedian Tackles Infertility in Web Series

I’m happy to introduce you to Wendy Litner, a fellow infertility warrior I met through Twitter. She’s also a comedian who’s developing a web series called How to Buy a Baby. The trailer is a hilarious send-up of the more ridiculous aspects of the infertility journey. I love comedy and appreciate Wendy’s ability to infuse a trying situation with humor. My Q&A with Wendy offers insights into her project, the shame that many people experience with infertility, and the latest step on her path to parenthood.

Tegan: How did you get first get the idea to make a web series about infertility?

Wendy: My husband and I have been dealing with infertility for years now and I have been writing about my own personal experience for places like Today’s Parent and Mamamia. While I started out as a personal essay writer, I have been trying to stretch my writing muscles and have become increasingly interested in script writing over the years. I felt like infertility just wasn’t getting enough air in popular culture, despite the statistics suggesting that a large portion of the population has struggled with it. I really loved the idea of being to explore a couple going through infertility. Webseries, while still difficult to make, have become increasingly accessible and popular and I liked the idea of having a larger story told in these smaller vignettes about a marriage under pressure. Also, I am so inspired by people like yourself who have taken their experience with infertility and turned it into something beautiful for other people. I wanted to lend my voice to this as well.

Tegan: I watched the trailer for How to Buy a Baby. It’s really funny and cheeky. Why did you decide to talk about these issues using humor as the lens?

Wendy: I believe there is humour in everything! Sometimes you have to look really, really hard but it’s there. I come from a really funny family who have always handled adversity with humour and I have tried my best to apply this to infertility as well. It doesn’t always work. I am a comedy writer and so I try and tell things in a funny way, even if it’s dark comedy. I was really inspired by Tig Notaro and her Live performance, where she jokes about her breast cancer. She showed so much strength and humour and resiliency and I thought if she could laugh at that, I could laugh at my inability to have children. I have gotten emails from other people struggling with infertility who appreciate being able to laugh at their awful experience and I will feel like somewhat of a fraud. Here I am trying to advocate humour in a way and I am in the fetal position crying over my experience. Through my many (many!) tears though, my ultimate coping mechanism is laughing.

Tegan: What do you hope to accomplish with How to Buy a Baby?

Wendy: I hope to humanize the experience of infertility. I want people who have been in the trenches to know they are not alone, in this child-centric Facebook world of ours that can make an infertile feel so alone. I also hope to raise awareness about what infertility does to a person and what it does to a couple. People who are lucky enough not to have to buy a baby can be very quick to say things like “why don’t you just adopt” and they don’t appreciate how difficult, costly and time consuming that process is. People can be a bit cavalier about their procreative abilities and not realize that they are so very lucky to have had a smooth path to parenthood. I hope people struggling with infertility will feel seen when they watch HTBAB.

Tegan: What kind of reactions have you gotten so far in response to the HTBAB trailer?

Wendy: The response from the infertility community in particular has been so overwhelming! I have gotten the most amazing and encouraging notes from people who have shared this experience and it means the world to me. (I was going through a round of IVF as well while I was working on this and my hormones were out of control – I couldn’t stop crying, I was so touched!). I was nervous about how people would react to the dark humour aspect of it, worrying that people would think I am trying to make light of so much pain when I am trying to do the opposite. I have been so happy that people have embraced it and are excited to see more. We have received funding from the Independent Production Fund here in Canada and are now trying to raise the balance of our funding and find a distribution platform to share the series.

Tegan: Why do you suppose people are still uncomfortable talking about infertility?

Wendy: I feel like there is a sense of shame surrounding infertility. I think we women get embaressed that our bodies weren’t able to do what the bodies of all our friends and families could do. I have felt it myself, this sense of guilt and self-reproach that I must, I must, be doing something wrong and that’s why I can’t get pregnant. My rational self knows this is ridiculous and that I have done everything possible but there is still that tiny part of me that says “maybe I shouldn’t have had that cup of coffee during my IVF cycle.” I am hoping that the more people that share and talk about their experience the most people will be comfortable talking about it.

Tegan: Tell us about your own connections to / experiences with infertility and where you are on your journey to parenthood.

Wendy: After many failed infertility treatments my husband and I are now pursuing adoption. Of course we wanted a baby yesterday, so the waiting and uncertainty is extremely difficult but I am trying my best to look at this new process as an adventure to meet our child. I feel like I have just now become versed in the language of infertility and now we are moving on to a whole new process. While I don’t expect it to be a smooth one, I hope that it will end happy. I can’t wait to be a mother!

Advertisements

Son of a Pitch Entries and an Interview With a Comedian Facing Infertility

Good evening, lovelies! I’ve put all the entries for Son of a Pitch on a separate site where I can focus on all the contest goodness. Click the rose to see the entries. This is an excellent opportunity to see the queries and first 250 words of up-and-coming writers who are hoping to secure an agent or publishing deal.

rose

On a totally unrelated note, I’m excited to share that I’ll have an interview on the blog next week with Wendy Litner. She’s a comedian who’s working on a film about her journey through infertility.

Infertility Kills Romance: 7 Ways to Get Your Mojo Back

Anyone who has dealt with infertility knows firsthand how this medical challenge can suck the romance right out of the relationship. It’s an issue I explore in-depth in my novel, INCONCEIVABLE. And it’s not surprising that the relationship suffers because infertility invades the bedroom. What’s supposed to be a low stress, high pleasure  experience becomes fraught with expectations, disappointment, and high hopes.

It’s no wonder infertility takes a toll on romantic relationships. Here are seven ways you can reconnect as a couple while still trying to navigate the rocky road to parenthood.

  1. Find a new, fun activity to do as a couple that doesn’t have an obvious connection to getting pregnant. bowling shoesWhile you’ll want to avoid anything that’s not compatible with pregnancy–mark wine tasting and horseback riding off your list–be creative in thinking about a new hobby. Find a local art gallery that offers a painting class. Audition for a community theater production together. Brush up on your bowling or mini golf skills, both of which allow you to bring a lighthearted competitive element to the activity. I’m always an advocate of getting outside, so consider fishing or hiking.
  2. Get fit together. Yep, it’s a great idea to get sweaty. Whether you ride bikes, do yoga, or take an aerobics class with your spouse, you’ll spend time together while getting your body in better shape for a pregnancy. Also, getting all that blood flowing is a great way to stir up a desire to do some “exercise” behind closed doors, whether you’re ovulating or not.
  3. Create a safe space to discuss the future. It’s the proverbial elephant in the room. Many people going through infertility spend a lot of mental energy thinking about “what happens next” in their journey to parenthood. Thinking through various scenarios used to consume me. Set aside a time when you and your partner can talk about your hopes and fears related to your infertility journey. When you’re tempted to obsess about it, try to hold those thoughts at bay until you can sit down and discuss them with your spouse. It’s more productive because your discussion might lead you to a new path.
  4. Change the scenery. Before we traveled overseas to adopt our oldest child, we took multiple weekend trips to a small, picturesque town about an hour and a half away from where we lived. It was so incredible to walk the streets of this tiny mountain town, wander through the shops, and try new restaurants. Even if you can’t afford an overnight stay, take a day trip to escape your routine.
  5. Engage in self care. This can mean getting a couples massage at a spa or giving each other massages. Intentionally taking time to rest and relax will help you both recharge emotionally and physically.
  6. Enjoy some entertainment away from Netflix. movie theatreWhile I’m a huge fan of binge watching your favorite series on Netflix or Amazon, it’s not the most romantic thing you can do. Get out and see a movie in the theater (bonus points if you sit in the back row like you did when you were dating!), visit a comedy club, watch a local theatrical production, or go to your favorite night spot to hear some great music. Going out with your spouse will help take your minds off the pregnancy quest for a few hours, and help you have a stronger connection when you do get back to the challenge ahead of you.
  7. Take calculated risks together. Let’s be real: you’re already taking one of the biggest risks any human ever takes–trying to become parents so you can raise happy, healthy children. Set that aside for a moment, and think about doing a zipline course or going up in a hot air balloon. These and other somewhat risky activities will require you to set aside your obsessive thoughts about getting pregnant for a few minutes to focus on the task at hand. And what better way to remind yourself of your own strength than to put it to the test with your spouse by your side as you conquer a rock wall?

How do you reconnect with your spouse and rekindle the romance when infertility threatens to overtake your relationship?

Bowling shoes image via Flickr by jasonippolito

The Continuing Story of Ever Upward: Childfull Living After Infertility

EUCoverJustine Froelker is the author of Ever Upward, a memoir of her journey through infertility and the decision she and her husband made to live as a childfull couple. Justine created this word to mean a life that’s full of opportunities to be around children, to love them, and be a part of their lives while not being parents themselves. The book chronicles a heartbreaking, emotional, and beautifully-told journey of how they arrived at their decision and how they’ve embraced it.

I am so inspired by Justine’s transparency as she continues to share about her life and gives voice to this choice that sometimes invites criticism and sparks controversy. (For the record, I’m supportive of couples finding the resolution to their infertility that’s right for them, whether that be pregnancy through fertility treatments, surrogacy, adoption, childfull living, or any other option.)

March third marks the one year anniversary of Ever Upward’s publication. I decided to ask Justine to share about the experiences she’s had in the months since its release.

Tegan: As more people have read Ever Upward, what kind of response have you gotten?
Justine: There is nothing quite like getting an email, tweet, Facebook message or review on your book, especially a book as personal as Ever Upward. A bit of of my feedback has been on editing, which I am grateful and completely realize myself. Ever Upward is my first book, without a huge publisher and one that I honestly needed to be in people’s hands, and so I was inexperienced and limited with my editing. One day, when the 2nd edition is picked up for Ever Upward, I promise this will be fixed. I am also confident that my second book will be edited to my critics liking. The biggest response to Ever Upward has been a simple thank you and people sharing pieces of their story with me. Infertility or not, successful treatments or not, our stories are much more alike than different. Most people write me and say that they found their voice in my words, the things they have not been able to say out loud, yet, were found in my story. Every message reminds me to keep fighting to get Ever Upward in more hands, because it is changing lives for the better. It is continuing to change mine too.

Tegan: Have you received any feedback or reactions to your book that have surprised you? If so, tell us about them.
Justine: The biggest surprise has been in what a home Ever Upward has found among mothers. I wrote a blog post about it a while back, because it is incredible to me that Ever Upward has been accepted and loved so much by a club that I will never technically fit into. The journey of infertility leaves lifelong scars, whether or not you end up a mother in the traditional definition of the word. Ever Upward gives us all permission to own our stories, all of our stories.

Tegan: What opportunities have you had to share your story and talk about childfull living since your book was published?
Justine: I am continuing work on building the platform, the part of being published that is so foreign and difficult for me, and frustrating! I have found that my story does not go viral and in many ways I feel completely invisible. I am the advocate who’s story did not end up how we all want it to, happy with 2.5 kids. This is difficult for a lot of people. I am also sharing messages that are healthier and as of right now not the norm in the infertility world. However, I have written for The Huffington Post many times, which I am so grateful for. I have also written for mindbodygreen, The Good Mother Project and Still Mothers. My story has also been featured in CNN.com and I was quoted in Redbook Magazine, both of which felt so huge for the healthier messages in infertility advocacy!

Tegan: What projects related to infertility/miscarriage/childfull living do you have in the works?
Justine: I am part of the documentary Don’t Talk About the Baby and I am continuing to write at my blog www.everupward.org. I have stepped back a bit in pushing the platform to concentrate on finishing the follow up book to Ever Upward. I am actively involved in social media by sharing my own writing, other pieces and helping people to define their own happy ending and especially work on the self-care.

Justine FroelkerJustine Froelker lives in St. Louis with her husband Chad. They have two dogs, and have lovingly restored an older home. She’s a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (based on the research of Brené Brown). Justine runs a private practice in St. Louis. SHe has worked with clients dealing with issues such as infertility, anxiety, depression, addictions, and eating disorders. In addition, Justine writes for St. Louis Health & Wellness Magazine.

The Mommy Box: Coping with the Child Who Isn’t There

kid bookMy youngest son is four years old. He recently discovered a book of children’s poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, a collection I adored when I was a kid. One line in particular gets me every time we read the book’s opening poem: “…it is but a child of air, that lingers in the garden there.” I know all too well what it is to love “a child of air.”

Infertility grief is difficult to handle on a regular day, so it’s no surprise that special occasions and holidays really increase the emotional intensity. What’s especially challenging for couples dealing with infertility is that they’re grieving for a child who has never existed. Unlike grief after a loved one’s death, there are no happy memories, photos of smiling faces, or videos of birthdays. There’s never even been a birthday, a smile, or a single memory for the child who isn’t there, the child who never has been.

Mommy boxOne of the most effective tools I created to deal with this grief was a mommy box. On small sheets of paper, I wrote down brief descriptions of things I wanted to do to make a memory with my child after he or she was in my arms (whether through birth or adoption) and stored them in a box a very talented friend had painted and given to me years earlier. My mommy box was an especially therapeutic tool around the holiday season when so much of the public Christmas displays, both sacred and secular, are geared toward children.

I remember arriving home after a Christmas church service one year when we were trying to conceive and almost running to the closet where I kept my mommy box. I had two or three things I just had to write down. For me, writing about something I wanted to do with my future child was a way to feel productive while we waited and to give my longing a tangible outlet. Every time I added a note to the mommy box, I felt relief and peace. It was important to me to write down the date so that someday, my child would see that I imagined the things we’d do together throughout the year.

mommy box notesSometimes instead of writing down the activities I wanted to do, I opened the box and read all the ones I’d already written. The slips of paper were little pieces of hope. I cried over them, held them, and prayed over them. They were, and still are, very important to me.

I’m happy to say that after we became parents through adoption, we did fulfill almost every hope and wish I’d jotted down in my memory box. And of course, those shared moments were just the beginning. My heart is now full of beautiful, happy memories of the things I’ve gotten to do with my children. I recently sat down with my oldest child and read through some of the pieces of paper in my mommy box. He was delighted to know all the hopes and dreams I had for him, for us.

Have you done anything similar to my mommy box to help you process your grief? I’d love for you to share about it in the comments because your technique may be just the thing that helps someone else cope.

Top image via Flickr by arctia

9 Gift Ideas for Couples Facing Infertility or Waiting to Adopt

tagDecember is a challenging month for couples struggling with infertility. There’s tremendous pressure to put on a happy face, accept every party invitation, and spread holiday cheer. At the same time, the couple may be struggling with facing one more holiday season and the end of one more year without realizing their dream of having a child/becoming parents. The Decembers when we were hoping for a pregnancy and then, when we were waiting to be matched to our first child by our adoption agency, were quietly painful for us. So, if you know someone who is waiting to become parents through conception, surrogacy, or adoption, here are nine gift ideas for these couples.

  1. Massage gift certificates. When you’re waiting to become a parent (regardless of the route you’re taking), the wait is stressful. I carried the stress in my shoulders and neck. Whenever I had the chance to get a massage, I did it because the massage helped me reset and refresh mentally and physically. This is a great gift for men and women experiencing infertility.
  2. Passes to a grown-up venue or activity. When you’re struggling to conceive, sometimes you just want to go someplace where you won’t be bombarded by hoards of adorable children and harried parents. So, give them passes to an art or history museum, a comedy club, or a tasting at a local winery.
  3. Cash. Whether the couple is financing fertility treatments, surrogacy, or an adoption, chances are good that cold hard cash would be a welcome gift to help them on their journey to parenthood.
  4. Lessons. This is an especially great gift when you know the couple well. Art classes, guitar lessons, and time with a sky diving instructor give the couple the chance to develop a new hobby or embark on a new adventure. This is a great gift because it helps them focus on a new and exciting activity.
  5. Restaurant gift certificates. If the couple’s gearing up for expensive procedures or a foreign adoption, they may be avoiding expensive meals in restaurants. That’s one reason this can be a really meaningful gift.
  6. A book. For the person experiencing infertility, a good book can be a fantastic gift. Choose a non-fiction book on a topic they enjoy or consider a novel such as INCONCEIVABLE! that reflects the various facets of infertility: the craziness, heartbreak, and hope of re-imaging your dream of having children. As someone recently told me about my novel: it’s one thing to hear people say, ‘You’re not alone.’ It’s another thing to read a story about a couple who’s experiencing the same things you are.
  7. A journal and pen set. There are so many emotions, thoughts, and hopes to process when you’re struggling to conceive and writing is a great way to do it. Receiving a journal and pen set as a gift may be just the encouragement your friend or family member needs to start getting words on paper.
  8. A romantic getaway. One of the most challenging aspects of infertility is dealing with its impact on the romantic aspects of your relationship. Giving a gift certificate for one or two nights at a nearby bed and breakfast can be a beautiful way to help your loved ones refresh their relationship.
  9. Food-a-month club. Send fruit, Chicago delicacies, or other treats to your loved ones through the mail. Let’s face it. There are days when you’ve had another negative pregnancy test or you’ve found out about another delay in your adoption. Frankly, you just don’t want to leave the house. This is one of those gifts that can be a wonderful comfort to a couple going through infertility.

What gifts do you recommend for a couple going through infertility? What gifts should people avoid giving?

Top image via Flickr by mac9416

Merry Christmas image via Flickr by Calsidyrose

Dear Infertility…

During the years we were trying to conceive, this is the letter I would’ve written to my infertility:

Dear Infertility,
I’m glad to have the chance to speak directly to you after all this time. We’ve lived together in this body for years, and I think it’s time to call a house meeting and iron out a few things.

First, I wish you’d stop tweaking the thermostat. One minute I’m hot with anger and tears. Then, twenty minutes later, I’m wrapping my arms around my chest to fend off the bitter cold of loneliness. It’s super annoying.

Second, please stop leaving boxes of junk in the middle of the floor. How many times has your box of jealousy tripped me up? Or how about that backpack full of self-loathing? I mean, you’ve got a lot o’ baggage, and I really resent having it shoved in my path.

Let’s also talk about your music. I wish you’d play something other than those same tired songs about shame and guilt. You’ve had them on repeat for years! Admittedly, they’ve got a hook that lodges itself in my brain–I know every line by heart and could probably mumble them in my sleep. But, c’mon. Play something a little less angst-y once in a while.

And have you ever heard of boundaries? I don’t know why you think it’s fine to sneak into my bedroom when I’m with my husband. Honestly! Who can enjoy fun times with their spouse when it’s obvious you’re in the room. You’re the most intrusive third wheel in the history of third wheels.

I’ve also had it with your friends showing up uninvited. Well, really, it’s just the one friend. I don’t know why you call her Aunt Flow when everyone knows you guys aren’t related. And she’s so unreliable. Sometimes she’s on time. Sometimes she’s late. I wish she’d just take a hike for nine long months.

baby showerCan I just say how much I hate it when you tag along with me to parties, showers, and holiday gatherings? It’s so embarrassing when you show up at a baby shower and start whispering awful things in my ear. Then, I have to act like you’re not there when everyone totally knows you’re there. AWKWARD. Plus, we all know how much you can’t stand the adorable onesies and those faux cakes made out of rolled up diapers. Really, you shouldn’t come. Like at all.

Look, I know people think you’ll change (or just leave) if I stop stressing about all the madness you’ve brought with you. Like my lack of stress will make you vacate the premise (taking Aunt Flow along with you). But you and I both know that’s not going to happen. You’re not really the sort who’ll just leave if we all ignore you.

Okay. Here’s the truth. Even if you do leave and I get a new roommate, an adorable new roomie who has my nose and my husband’s eyes, you’ve left your fingerprints all over the place. It’s not like I can remove every trace of you. You’ve banged up the floorboards and chipped away the paint. So, we just need to make peace. You aren’t going to change, but I can change the way I react to you and your inconsiderate ways. I’m going to focus on taking better care of myself rather than letting you frustrate me so often. It’s what I’ve got to do until I can figure out a way to evict you for good and get that new roommate moved in.

With hope for better times ahead,
Tegan
P.S. You really do make me nuts. Maybe someday I’ll write a book about it. Believe me, I’ve got enough material.

Baby shower image via Flickr by Emily Stanchfield

One ebook. One day. One dollar. All the feels.

SALESorry to pause from our regular programming for a brief announcement.

It’s very rare for a brand new novel to go on sale so soon after release. It just happens my book’s release was close to Black Friday. So, here’s your chance to buy the ebook for $.99. Half the royalties still go to Baby Quest Foundation, which gives grants for fertility treatments to people all over the U.S. Today is an excellent time to buy the book for yourself and for someone you love. You can buy it as a gift today and send it now or later.

Prefer to have the paperback? Amazon is offering 30% off paperbacks with the code HOLIDAY30. Add this gorgeous cover to your collection and enjoy the beautiful love story inside its pages. (Want me to sign your book? Drop me a note and we’ll work it out. I’ll pay to have it shipped back to you if you live in the U.S.)

Forty-five out of 80 reviews of INCONCEIVABLE! on Goodreads give the book FIVE STARS. Eighty percent of the reviews are four and five stars. I love that my novel, which I wrote for very personal reasons, is resonating with readers!

As a refresher, here’s the synopsis of INCONCEIVABLE!

A popular, young royal couple can’t produce an heir? INCONCEIVABLE!

When Ozarks native Hatty goes “whole hog” during karaoke, she catches the eye of Prince John. He isn’t what she expects the heir to a small European nation to be: he’s affable, witty, and isn’t put off by her tell-it-like-it-is demeanor. Their flirtation should be short lived, but a force stronger than fate—Hatty’s newspaper editor—assigns her to cover the royals. After spending time together, she and John soon begin dating, and Hatty finds herself making headlines instead of writing them.

But challenges loom that are even more complicated than figuring out how to mesh Hatty’s journalism career with life at Belvoir Palace. Hatty and John soon find themselves embroiled in an unusual sex scandal: they can’t produce an heir. Tabloids dub Hatty a “Barren-ess,” and the royals become irate. Hatty politely tells them to shove it. But beneath her confident exterior, she struggles to cope with a heartbreak that invades her most intimate moments with John. Pressured to choose between invasive medical procedures and abandoning John’s claim to the throne, the couple feels trapped until a trip to Ethiopia shows them happy endings sometimes arrive long after saying “I do.”

7 Survival Tips for Infertile Couples at Thanksgiving

Who doesn’t love the opportunity to crowd into grandma’s house where there’s too little seating and too much prying into your personal life? Funsies! If you’re dealing with infertility, these family gathering may be stressful events that lead to uncomfortable conversations with friendly, well-meaning relatives. You may also find yourself sitting next to your Fertile Myrtle cousin or listening to a big announcement that your sister-in-law is pregnant. Here are seven tips for managing this holiday.

  1. Have a prepared response. Assume someone may say something to you about having children. With your spouse, decide ahead of time what your response will be. It can be something simple like, “Having children is something we’re thinking about.”
  2. Offer to help. If you’re busy setting the table, getting drinks ready, or pulling things out of the fridge, you’re less likely to get accosted by your aunt who wants to know when you’ll have a baby. It’s difficult for someone to corner you when you’re moving around and helping prepare for the meal.
  3. Don’t be afraid to change the subject. When you’re in a conversation that’s getting into territory related to pregnancy and you feel uncomfortable, you can always switch the topic. Try something like, “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you…” And when you redirect the conversation, make sure you’re giving the other person a chance to talk about something positive in his or her life. It’s a great way to move past the subject of your efforts to get pregnant.
  4. Recruit a partner. If you’re fortunate enough to have a family member who is aware of and understands your struggles, ask that person to help you avoid sticky conversations with too-nosy relatives. They can steer the conversation clear of your ovaries.
  5. Ease up on your eating restrictions. When we were preparing for our fertility treatments, I did my best to improve my diet, cutting out most carbs, sweets, and processed foods. You can give yourself a reason to look forward to the family feast if you choose to ease up on the restrictions for this one meal. You don’t have to go crazy and eat three of everything, but you can allow yourself to indulge in Aunt Margaret’s biscuits or your mom’s pumpkin pie.walk
  6. Create an escape plan. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, know what options you have for escaping the situation. Maybe you can go for a walk. Perhaps you can start up a game of Uno with your cousins. Think of some ways you can engage in a mind-clearing activity that will help reduce your stress.
  7. Give yourself an opportunity to unwind. Be ready to reward yourself with something special as a post-Thanksgiving treat. Maybe you go home to binge watch your favorite show. Or you take a long soak in the tub. Plan to do something to reduce the stress after the family gathering.

What strategies have you used to handle Thanksgiving and other family gatherings?

Top image via Flickr by cardamom

Image of person walking via Flickr by j0sh (www.pixael.com)

Shine Fertility: Support for People Experiencing Infertility

If you’re fortunate enough to live in Chicagoland, you have more than Lou Malnatti’s pizza, Garrett’s Chicago Mix Popcorn, and the Magnificent Mile at your fingertips. You also have Shine Fertility. And to tell the truth, I’m a little jealous. When Patrick and I experienced infertility, there was no formal support group in our area. So, Chicago, treasure this resource!

Shine1Katie O’Connor founded this support, education, and advocacy group after she and her husband experienced infertility. She estimates that 90% of her group’s members are women, though Shine has some couples events throughout the year. So far, Shine Fertility has had 40 graduates, and 58 women are currently active in mentoring, support meetings, and virtual meetings,

I recently had the great opportunity to ask Katie some questions about her group.

Tegan: Why did you decide to start your own support organization after experiencing infertility?

Katie: Shine was born from my personal journey through infertility.  When I was going through my own struggle, I realized what an island I was on.  I wasn’t a part of the pregnancy groups and I also wasn’t a part of the new mom clubs, I was stuck in the middle, alone.  I thought there needs to be a group for the “secret sorority” of women struggling through infertility.

The waiting room at my fertility clinic was packed, yet no one talked, no one shared stories of struggle or success.  It was depressing.  I was lucky to reconnect with an old high school friend who was also going through infertility and we were each other’s support system (along with our husbands).

I thought when going through a difficult time, it helps to talk through it with others experiencing the same thing.  I developed Shine as one part support and one part education on overall women’s health and fertility.  Since growing into a non-profit we’ve added in the advocacy part!  Our first event was in June of 2012. We hosted a panel of women (my friends) sharing their personal stories of overcoming infertility, their advice, their successes, and their hard times.  It was amazing, and from that, the group grew, and the rest is in the past!

Tegan: Your goal is to help couples who are struggling with infertility. Yet, I imagine you must get a great deal out of this work. In what ways has founding this organization helped you?

Katie: Here is a Shine testimonial that hits me at the heart strings every time I read it!

“I was at an all-time low…But when I went to my first meeting, I met other women that were at different stages of their journey. This was a place where I found myself finding it easy to finally release and cry, in front of women I didn’t know, about my struggles. And, they understood. And cried with me.  It was a venue where I could mourn for my past losses and cry for my helplessness in going forward. I wanted to give up, but leaving these meetings, I knew I couldn’t.  The meetings are casual and welcoming, and they bring in fabulous guest speakers.  In fact, I met my fertility doctor who I found success with through Shine. I am thankful I was introduced to Shine, it was exactly what I needed.  It made me realize I wasn’t alone, and gave me the strength to keep going.” ~ Shine “graduate”

This particular member had endured several failed IVF rounds, and you could feel it was wearing her down.  But I still remember when she called me to meet for coffee.  We sat down, and before we could even say hi, she pulled out TWO ultrasound pictures and showed me her twin baby girls.  We both cried, and hugged, and cried some more (in joy).  I was one of the FIRST people she told and I was so honored to have been a part of her journey and be trusted with this special news.

Tegan: When people first connect with your program, are they generally relieved to have found a support group or are they hesitant because they aren’t sure how much they want to share with others?

Katie: Both – for a person who has an easy time sharing, you can see the tension release as they talk, their shoulders melt, they start to smile, and overall seem less stressed, just by opening up to the group about what they are going through, and knowing the others in the room are going through the same thing.  Others sit more silent for a few sessions or more, then finally open up, and sometimes there is an emotional release too. People cry, laugh, we’ve experienced it all!  I am just happy women feel they can come to a group session and have it  be whatever THEY need!  And for those who just don’t feel comfortable in the group setting, we have our Fertility Friends mentoring program which is one-on-one support; infertility “graduates” supporting those just starting their journey!

Shine Fertility board members Mariann Madden, Courtney Marincsin, and founder Katie O'Connor

Shine Fertility board members Mariann Madden, Courtney Marincsin, and founder Katie O’Connor

Tegan: Why is emotional support so important to people who are going through infertility?

Katie: Infertility treatments are taxing, physically, mentally, and emotionally.  You feel less of yourself, and you can feel like less of a woman. According to Harvard Medical School, “women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or recovering from a heart attack.”

Pregnancy rates actually go up 25% when patients receive support services. Our Shine sessions are designed to be comfortable and welcoming, a place to feel secure sharing your thoughts and asking questions.  The goal is to create a community that allows individuals to laugh and cry, side by side, while celebrating the successes and battling the challenges of infertility, as well as provide members with the knowledge to feel empowered throughout their journey. Sometimes all you need is to feel understood, surrounded by individuals going through the same thing, sharing your story and realizing you are not alone!

Tegan: What changes need to occur to increase awareness and support for couples going through infertility?

Katie: We need to get people talking about it!  I was an open book while we struggled with infertility because it helped me to have the people around me know what I was going through.  But I know that isn’t easy for everyone.  The more people open up and share their story, the more people will realize they aren’t alone, that they don’t have to suffer in silence.  We need to end the stigma that is associated with infertility, and create a movement similar to the movement that breast cancer had decades ago that now has the general public informed and educated on the disease.

Tegan: What are the misconceptions about infertility that irritate you the most?

Katie: Saying “just relax,” you’ll get pregnant. If only it were that easy! There is no question that high stress is associated with infertility, and that infertility is associated with lots of stress. While the exact biology of how stress might come into play is not fully understood, substances such as cortisol, epinephrine, melatonin, opioids, and others are known to affect stress and reproduction.

Also that it’s just a “woman’s problem,” is frustrating! In actuality 30% of the time it’s the woman, 30% of the time it’s the man, and 40% of the time it’s a combination of both.

Tegan: What’s the single most important fact you want to emphasize to people who are going through this medical struggle?

Katie: That it’s not their fault! Women put so much pressure on themselves, so much blame, and guilt.  Infertility is a diagnosis, a “disease”, not something you caused on yourself.  There are organizations like Shine here to help and be a support system for them as they travel through their journey!

Top image via Flickr by PineappleAndCoconut

All other images provided by Katie O’Connor