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!

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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

Why Books and Movies about Infertility, Miscarriage, and Adoption Matter

Keep tryingMany of us who have experienced infertility get irritated by some of the story lines we see in movies and books. At their worst, they perpetuate misconceptions and stereotypes such as the idea that most women who experience infertility are over age 35, or that if you adopt, you’ll forget about trying to conceive and–BOOM!–you’ll get pregnant. So here’s the rub: these films and books are supporting the idea that the infertile couple is to blame (you delayed childbearing to focus on your career!) and infertility is not a medical condition, it’s simply a matter of being in the wrong state of mind (you’re too stressed!).

Pop Culture Influences Perception

Television programs, movies, and novels influence the public’s perception of a wide range of issues. The influence of media, particularly broadcast media, is well documented. So, if we, the men and women who are experiencing infertility, want to see changes in how the public views infertility, then we need to support filmmakers, television show producers, and authors who are willing to create content that presents this issue in realistic ways, even in the context of a fictionalized story.

Significant Implications for Real People

Maybe you think this is all too “big picture” to matter. But it does matter. It matters a great deal. Shifting public opinion is the first step toward changing public policies related to infertility. When people who aren’t living with infertility as a part of their daily lives accept that this is a medical condition, they’re more compassionate toward those suffering through it. Compassion is important in gaining broader support for mandating insurance coverage of fertility treatments. According to RESOLVE, the national infertility advocacy organization, only 15 states require insurance companies to offer fertility coverage. And some of those states have loopholes, watering down the mandate. I know firsthand the burden of paying for treatments with little or no help from the insurance company. It only adds more heartache to an emotional situation.

In writing INCONCEIVABLE!, I want to give an in-depth, accurate look at what it’s like for a young couple to be in the throes of infertility. It’s my goal to get people talking about adoption, surrogacy, and other alternatives to birthing children because pregnancy is not the only happy ending option for an infertile couple. Miscarriage is also addressed in my novel, and we need to see more support and resources available to couples (women AND men) who are grieving after pregnancy loss. Quite simply, this is the most compelling case I can make for purchasing INCONCEIVABLE.

Let me know if you think there needs to be more movies and novels that address infertility in ways that reflect real life.

It’s Release Day for INCONCEIVABLE! Why Your Purchase Matters

Today’s the day! INCONCEIVABLE! is going out into the world. The ebook and paperback are available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I wrote this book for very personal reasons: I know firsthand the pain of infertility and miscarriage. So, I want to give you three reasons to buy this book.

  1. Put your money where your heart is. You believe it’s important that realistic stories about infertility, pregnancy loss, and adoption be a part of popular culture. After all, there are plenty of misconceptions out there about these very personal topics that impact many individuals and couples. Buying INCONCEIVABLE! is one way to vote with your dollars, to say YES! our stories matter. Buying the ebook and/or paperback right now makes that statement. We have the opportunity to demonstrate to publishers and writers the importance of these stories. I’d love to see folks share the screenshot of their purchase confirmation with this hashtag: #infertilitystories.
  2. You want to help couples who are struggling to conceive. Even though Patrick and I became parents through adoption, we know how expensive it is to pursue fertility treatments. We took out a loan and scraped together thousands of dollars for one in vitro fertilization cycle. Like so many couples, we had no insurance coverage for IVF. Only 15 states mandate coverage of fertility treatments. That’s why I’m donating half my royalties to Baby Quest Foundation, a non-profit that awards grants to couples all over the U.S. for fertility treatments. Baby Quest founder, Pamela Hirsch awards grants, helps couples negotiate lower fees with their fertility clinic, and often can get them discounted or donated medications for their treatment. As a result of assistance from Baby Quest, 16 babies have been born, seven more are on the way, and a few other couples are preparing to have fertility treatments in the next few months. So exciting! If you or someone you know needs hope in the way of financial assistance for fertility treatment, please check out Baby Quest.
  3. It’s an entertaining read. Most reviews on Goodreads have been extremely positive. Actress and infertility warrior America Olivo Campbell has read INCONCEIVABLE and highly recommends it: “Wren beautifully illuminates the joy, grief, and adventure of creating a family against all odds in this heart warming and impactful story.”

To celebrate release day, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment letting me know why you’re purchasing my book. Is it a gift for someone who’s going through infertility and needs to know they’re not alone? Is it for yourself because you need to immerse yourself in a story filled with humor, hope, and heart? I look forward to hearing from you!

A Conversation With My Adopted Kids About Miscarriage

There isn’t one right way to have this conversation. I’m going to share with you how it went down with my three children, ages 8, 5, and 4. My kids don’t remember ever being told they were adopted because it’s always been a part of their life story. They also have always known that Mommy and Daddy tried for a lot of years to get a baby to grow in my belly before we changed our plan and pursued adoption.

In a recent conversation, we were talking about how my belly doesn’t work quite right because it can’t hold a baby. I mentioned that there had been a baby in my tummy briefly a long time ago before we adopted them, but that it didn’t grow. I explained that this made us very sad and that’s when we decided we wanted to adopt children. The conversation then went something like this:

8 yr old: So the baby died?

Me: Well, yes. But it wasn’t a baby in the way you think about a baby who drinks from a bottle and cries. It was extremely small. Like this. (I showed them the tip of a pen.)

5 yr old: Was it a boy or girl?

Me: I don’t know. When a baby is that tiny, you can’t tell. We actually don’t even think the heart ever beat.

4 yr old: Mommy, what is your baby’s name?

Me: (pause) We didn’t give the baby a name because we didn’t know if it was a boy or girl.

5 yr old: How did the baby get out of your body when it died?

Me: When your body stops holding on to a baby, it bleeds. It’s not like bleeding when you get a cut on your arm. But it’s a way for your body to clear out the things that would make it sick if they stayed inside. The baby was so small, I never saw it.

8 yr old: How did it die?

Me: It stopped growing. You know that when babies are born, they’re much bigger than the end of this pen. They’re about the size of some of our baby dolls. My baby stopped growing when it was still very, very small. And we don’t really know why it stopped growing.

And that was it. We were on to coloring after that. Had I planned to talk about my miscarriage with my children on a Monday afternoon? No, but it came up in the course of normal conversation about our family and the fact that our family was formed through adoption.

The story that binds us together is a story of how beauty comes out of loss. My husband and I think a lot about the terrible, irreversible losses our children have experienced by being away from their birth family and birth country. But our losses as an infertile couple are also a part of our family’s narrative. It felt good to speak to my children about our pregnancy loss in a straightforward and honest manner, to show them that I don’t feel shame, only sadness, over my body’s inability to grow my baby.

Have you ever spoken to your children, adopted or biological, about your miscarriage(s)? I’d love to hear how other parents have handled similar conversations. I’m sure this conversation may come up again with our children.

Top image via Flickr by SarahCartwright