My Extremely Online Infertility Journey

Anyone trying for a baby will tell you that one of the worst feelings is going to pee in the morning, wiping nonchalantly, and seeing red. For me, in my late twenties, after just three months of trying to get pregnant, this signaled something I didn’t want to believe: we were likely infertile. Of course, people in real life told me this was insane. They all had stories about people who took two years to get pregnant naturally, and of course the go-to “three months isn’t that long! Average is a year!”

Except they were wrong. And I knew they were wrong because of one major thing: The Internet.

Trying for a Baby: the forum, the task

I’ve always been an Internet addict. Perhaps this stems from the fact that my parents didn’t let me online until I was fourteen, and told me there was no WiFi in my bedroom until I was eighteen (this turned out to be untrue- there was an upstairs WiFi network with a password they didn’t tell me. I didn’t figure this out until my mid-twenties). This also led to me becoming one of the more well-known serial benevolent trolls on Twitter. If you’ve found this post, you likely know me from my shitposting.

A bigger component of my Internet addiction is my propensity toward obsession and asking lots of questions. This behavior sounds curious and precocious…until you know me in real life. It’s incredibly annoying, because it tends to turn into a reassurance-seeking compulsion. During my fertility journey, even my closest friends and family would brush me off, although they probably thought they were helping by refusing to let me obsess or wallow. The anonymity of the Internet means I can ask my stupidest questions repeatedly, and the worst social repercussions are a bunch of equally anonymous assholes telling me I’m crazy (which did happen, in case you were wondering).

So it went without saying that when my husband Eric and I started trying for a baby, I went to the Internet for support. Most of this took the form of searching questions and perusing old forum posts, usually asking how long I should expect it to take, or tracking other people my age with similar concerns to see how long it took them. I lurked various forums, and when I posted anywhere I used a variety of throwaway usernames. If I used the same username for a month or so, I would eventually delete all questions/comments by that username and start over. I wanted to be as invisible as possible.

I didn’t think I’d turn to the Internet right away. I thought I’d blissfully try to conceive in a hands-off fashion, relying mostly on my girlfriends for the occasional question. But my obsessive nature got the best of me on day one, and I quickly realized the Internet would have to be my best friend. Even the most patient people in my life wouldn’t be able to handle four straight hours of fertility talk, which is no exaggeration. At the height of my fertility obsession, I spent at least four hours a day asking questions and researching things online. Point out one real-life person willing to talk with you about cervix texture for that long.

My first forum posts during Cycle 1 were hopeful. Internet fertility forums typically track how long someone takes to get pregnant by menstrual cycles- on Reddit, someone who conceives in the first cycle is called a Cycle 1 Unicorn, implying they’re rare, when they’re actually not. I had very good reason to believe Eric and I would conceive immediately. This sounds arrogant, but in fact, it’s more likely than people think. If you ask a doctor in real life, they’ll flippantly say “expect it to take a year.” But that’s not actually true. A year is not the average time it takes to conceive- in fact, a year is the amount of time it takes before an infertility diagnosis can be made. And more confusingly, the term “infertility” doesn’t mean a complete inability to get pregnant (ie: sterility.) Infertility just means you’ve had twelve months of regular intercourse with no successful pregnancy. So if it takes longer than a year, you are de facto infertile.

In fact, the average time it takes to conceive is somewhere around four or five months. And this assumes somewhat regular intercourse but not good timing. Therefore, one could argue that a young couple having sex every day (or alternatively, hitting the “right” days) should expect to conceive in three months or so. Of course, people in real life would tell me to “get off the Internet.” (Yeah, okay. LOL.)

Reddit is home to several “subreddits” or sub-forums aimed for fertility discussions: r/TryingForABaby, r/WaitingToTry and r/infertility. If you decide to forgo parenthood, r/childfree or r/ifchildfree (infertility childfree) are also good choices (but if you go to r/childfree, NEVER mention that you’re infertile, especially if you’re also considering fertility treatment. More on that later.)

Over my many months of trying to get pregnant, I learned some of the unspoken rules of r/TryingForABaby, or TFAB. I went there initially, assuming it was exactly what it purported to be: a forum to talk about trying for a baby. Reddit users tend to just be smarter than users on other forums, so the big upside of TFAB is that you’re surrounded by educated, intelligent, no-nonsense women. TFAB was the only fertility forum I could find that actually had scientific explanations for things and frowned upon cutesy nonsense about “sending baby dust” or the irritating, misogynistic myth that “stress” about infertility causes infertility.

Not everyone is part of the TFAB in-crowd (as a lurker, throwaway person, I wasn’t, but I didn’t want to be.) Logically, the people who have been on TFAB for the longest are the people who have been trying to conceive for the longest, so it’s actually more of an infertility board than a trying board. It’s a community with a clear rift between the long-term “triers” who are on Cycle 15 and who are on shortened-username-basis with each other, and the constant revolving door of “Cycle 1 Unicorns” who pop in to announce a pregnancy before they ever post a comment, and who I imagine name their child some variation of Aiden nine months later. I started out empathizing with the unicorns, who were often downvoted to oblivion and told to “read the room.” (I couldn’t blame them- if you go by the description of the subreddit, this behavior doesn’t seem that inconsiderate.) By the time I left that subreddit, I hated the Cycle 1 Unicorns. How could they be so ignorant? Couldn’t they rub their fertility in someone else’s face?!

While it’s understandably frowned upon to post arrogantly about one’s fertility (saying “I don’t expect this will take long” is a major sin on TFAB) it’s equally frowned upon to be too pessimistic. If you’ve “only” been trying for eight months, you aren’t allowed to presume infertility (even though you’re more likely to be infertile than not) because it’s insensitive to those who are “actually” infertile.

TFAB also does not allow pregnant users to post anything that alludes to their existing pregnancy. Basically, if you get pregnant, you’ve graduated and you need to leave, unless you’re willing to hang around giving advice without mentioning your pregnancy. This sounds draconian, but when you consider the pain of trying to conceive for a long time and constantly being bombarded with news of other people’s pregnancies (this rule doesn’t exist on any other fertility forum) you start to understand the necessity. All too often, someone would pop into TFAB, announce to everyone “I got pregnant after two cycles, there is hope, don’t give up ladies!!!” and get the Internet version of a pitchfork-wielding mob. Honestly, they usually deserved it. But on the flip side, TFAB had the tendency to immediately assume worst intent from everyone. Some people actually were inconsiderate, but others were just…new. As much as we like to say “read the full wiki before posting here” let’s be honest, nobody ever does because we have things to do (like post on other forums and doomscroll about how long it takes to get pregnant.)

Then there’s Babycenter, a general baby-related website with a whole host of related forums, from pregnancy to parenthood to IVF to specific fertility conditions. Users on TFAB routinely mock Babycenter, and for good reason. Babycenter seems to attract non-scientific, anecdotal comments that may further confusion about infertility. Anti-vaxxers abound. There are posts from teenagers asking how to get pregnant quickly. Frequently, Babycenter users will give a lot of anecdotal advice about trying a variety of supplements (Babycenter convinced me to take Vitex, an herbal supplement to reduce certain hormones of which I falsely assumed I had in excess, and Vitamin B in enormous doses. As it turned out, I needed neither). The users on Babycenter are probably nicer, to be honest, but also at times, incredibly dopey. Take for example, the question “Should I take Clomid [a prescription fertility drug frequently bought online] to increase my chances of getting pregnant?”

TFAB Response: (-20 downvotes on OP) “Absolutely not. What you need is a fertility workup, starting with an evaluation for your partner, because male fertility is the cause 50% of the time and easier to diagnose. Clomid can thin your uterine lining, result in higher order multiple births, and can be dangerous if taken outside a doctor’s supervision. DO NOT take Clomid. Also, consider actually reading our FAQ and stickied posts before asking questions like this that may come off as ignorant or hurtful to those who actually are taking Clomid.”

Babycenter Response: Hi hun! I took clomid I got online when I was having trouble getting preggo after my first four kids :) I don’t know if it worked because I was also taking vitex and doing meditation with crystals but I got preggo the third month with my daughter Larkyn Ryder after I started taking it!

So you can pick your poison: do you want people to be nice to you but give you terrible advice, or do you want people to assume worst intent, downvote you, but ultimately give you very helpful and scientific advice? (I’m being reductive of course, but you get the point.)

There’s also other boards like Mumsnet, TheBump, and WhatToExpect, all of which fall somewhere in between Babycenter and TFAB when it comes to the dichotomy of niceness/accuracy of advice. But the traffic on those boards isn’t quite as good.

With each month of trying to conceive, I knew the percentage chance that we were infertile was rising, despite real-life friends telling me I was being crazy. About 30–40% of women get pregnant in the first month, and the same study showed that 81% of people were pregnant within six months. So holy hell- why are people still saying a year is average? Considering 12-15% of couples are infertile, you actually have a substantial chance of being one of them if you’ve had 3–6 months without a pregnancy. As the months passed, I found myself increasingly anxious, especially considering Eric and I were having sex literally every day (not out of the ordinary for us) so I knew we weren’t missing the right days. After a while, I stopped having sex in the woman-on-top position during fertile week (RIP my favorite position) because I was afraid the sperm would “fall out.” (This is, of course, something that only a Babycenter user would believe. TFAB would downvote the hell out of this). Another tip to prevent sperm leakage, often touted on fertility forums, is to insert a Diva Cup after sex to “collect” the sperm near the cervix. As it turns out, this does absolutely nothing, but I tried it as well.

Even the best Internet communities for fertility (or anything, I suppose) are a little abusive, or at best, unhelpful. But I couldn’t stop. Every day I would spend hours Googling — either a symptom I believed could be related to pregnancy, or a fertility condition I was worried I had, and then several more hours posting about it. I couldn’t get bored of this.

I’ve always been goal-oriented, and if I want something badly enough I’ll do anything to get it. This has served me well in my career and relationships. Every time I’ve failed at something, it was partially because I didn’t care that much, not because I tried everything and still failed. What’s maddening about fertility is that sometimes it’s totally out of your control, and even with great knowledge and taking all the right steps, you’re never going to see that second pink line. Effort does not equal success. Desire does not equal success. You can do everything right and have nothing, while people who aren’t even trying are blessed with four healthy babies and perfect pregnancies. Spending time around other women who were struggling online was a refuge for me. Yes, they weren’t always nice but at least they understood. And if they found me annoying, I could always just create a new throwaway username and start over. Endless conversations. Endless reassurance. Nobody in real life would have been able to handle this. I didn’t even want to talk about my online habit with people in real life, because they would inevitably just tell me to stop. I wanted to shout, “You’re not willing to help me, so why do you want to cut off my only source?”

Distraction wouldn’t work, even though people repeatedly told me to “just take a walk outside.” Oh, and see all the blonde moms with their $1200 UppaBaby strollers and perfect children? No way! I’m going to stay inside, on my phone, for six hours at a time, googling “high vaginal temp on day 4 post ovulation.”

The IRL Doctors

But the Internet can only go so far. For one, the Internet cannot diagnose you with anything, despite claims to the contrary. Once I realized I’d have to take this obsession into the real-life world, my first step after a failed fifth cycle was to see my gynecologist, who refused to do any testing because “you’re young and it hasn’t been a year yet.” She then told me a year was average. I wanted to slap her. Instead, I just went to a second gynecologist. This person somehow turned out to be even more obtuse. She had me sit in a massage chair, did no workup on me whatsoever, and said “The only pathology I’m seeing is your stress.” (Yeah, because you haven’t DONE any exams?) She then said, wistfully, “I know people who tried to adopt and the minute they got approved for adoption, they got pregnant, because they weren’t trying.” I was fuming. This is a complete falsehood. Yes, these people do exist- but nobody ever talks about the droves of people who give up trying to conceive and who continue to not conceive, which is the more likely scenario.

I also saw an acupuncturist, an old, kind man who tried to sell me extremely expensive herbs, telling me that “toxic” fertility drugs were less effective. Considering Eric still hadn’t done a sperm sample, I was concerned that these herbs would potentially be useless if male factor infertility was the problem, but I was so afraid of actually seeing a real fertility specialist that I figured I’d give this a try. It did nothing, and it tasted terrible. I told him it was getting a little too expensive for us and he told me to leave Eric for a man who made more money.

I did see one reproductive endocrinologist (the fancy term for “fertility doctor”) to whom I still owe a $10 copay. Something about him rubbed me wrong immediately. He just seemed to find me annoying (he probably did, but he should have pretended he didn’t.) Eric was at work and thought I was overreacting by going, so I was alone. They told me that in order to run any fertility tests on me, I’d have to sign up for all tests at once, which would cost $1000 or so (this would go toward our deductible, as our insurance covered infertility treatment, but still- what if we weren’t even infertile?) They were unwilling to start with bloodwork and a semen analysis. They also said I would have to get tested for HIV and Hep C in order to run these tests, and this terrified me. I have no risk factors for either, but I’ve always had a fear of randomly getting a positive test from some random environmental exposure, so after getting tested for HIV ten years ago when Eric and I were dating, I vowed never to be tested again.

While my family and friends (and of course Eric) cared about my feelings, their advice wasn’t great. Most of it was along the same lines as that gynecologist- to “stop trying” and suddenly I’d get pregnant if I wasn’t thinking about it (this is, of course, nonsensical magical thinking logic and has no basis in science.) My neighbor said “If you stop trying, you’ll probably get pregnant. My wife and I weren’t trying and we got pregnant right away!” In an argument with one friend, I was told “if you’re this upset over getting your period, you aren’t cut out to be a parent.”

You might be thinking I was overreacting. You might be thinking, “Even if you were infertile, so what? There are worse things than not having kids, or not getting pregnant naturally and needing help.” And that’s true! But studies show infertility can result in stress levels similar to people diagnosed with life-threatening disease. It’s not as simple as being pissed that you don’t get what you want. When your main desire in life is to become a parent (and when the entire world revolves around parenthood), infertility can feel like the literal end of the world. You can’t go anywhere without seeing kids, hearing kids (often in the form of screams) and as soon as you realize you’re struggling, every woman you pass on the street is pregnant and glowing. And honestly, if you haven’t been there, you probably won’t get it. I know I thought it looked melodramatic when I saw it on TFAB, where women posted about isolating themselves from pregnant family members to avoid panic attacks. Eventually I became the person refusing to attend baby showers because I knew it would decimate whatever shred of mental health I had left. You need a tremendous amount of empathy to actually “get it” if you haven’t experienced it- more empathy than I, or most other people, can drum up.

Eric also didn’t get fully get it. He wanted a baby as badly as I did, but was convinced I was overreacting. He also believed a year was average- or at least there was no need to be remotely worried until it had been a year. We even “stopped trying” for a few months, believing that if we “stressed less” and “had more fun” we’d get pregnant. Obviously, this didn’t work. Eric wasn’t ruling out the possibility that we were infertile, but he was confident anyway that we’d “figure things out” if we were. But I needed 100% certainty, and the Internet provided the illusion of such certainty — sure, I don’t have the answers today but as soon as I ask that question about watery discharge happening twice in one week, I’m sure to get the answer.

The Diagnosis

Once I hit the dreaded double-digit cycle number 10, I emailed the gynecologist who had blamed my problem on stress and told them that I refused to accept that answer. Honestly, my email was probably very unhinged — total Karen mode — but I said I was sick of being dismissed. I said I understood they wouldn’t do a semen analysis for my husband because they didn’t have that capability, but at the very least I expected basic bloodwork and a referral to a fertility specialist for the semen analysis (movies make semen analyses seem easy to obtain- they’re actually not, and they can be $300 out of pocket, so we wanted to wait until we were confident there was a problem before getting one.)

I went back. They did bloodwork and referred us to a better fertility clinic for the semen analysis. The bloodwork returned as “normal.”

Until I consulted the Internet.

See, they told me that my AMH (the hormone marker for egg count) was normal because technically it was. But for my age, as I discovered through Googling, it was actually low. Not to the point of warranting a diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve, but low nonetheless. And sure enough, when Eric and I went to the fertility clinic for the semen analysis, one of the first things our doctor said was that my AMH was, in fact, low (suck it, gynecologist!) and that it was probably the reason we weren’t getting pregnant. Her recommendation: IUI (inserting Eric’s semen directly into my uterus for better chances of pregnancy) and if that didn’t work for three cycles, IVF.

I was terrified. I wanted to be able to surprise Eric with a cute pregnancy announcement, not wait anxiously for a doctor’s call. I wanted to be able to look back fondly on the passionate lovemaking that led to my child’s conception- not the clinical surgical procedure in an OR. But I knew on some level I was never going to have that. I had to come to terms with it. I had to accept that I would likely get pregnant through a syringe of sperm during an IUI cycle. And besides- I wasn’t this type of person! In my mind, IUI/IVF was for business-ladies in their forties who “waited too long” and whose punishment was spending $20,000 for a “designer baby.” As I would later learn, literally all of this stereotype is false and I’m ashamed for ever believing it.

However, as it turned out, even the dream of a successful IUI with Eric would be destroyed within hours.

A few hours after I left the fertility clinic, I got a call from the doctor. I thought she was calling to confirm something with billing, so I picked up the call without any anxiety. Immediately, I knew something was wrong when she said “Could you conference Eric into this call so we can go over some things with him?” Eric was at work (as was I) and I doubted I’d be able to get ahold of him that fast. I said “Why, was there anything wrong with his sperm?”

“Yes,” she said. My heart sunk. Within seconds I had rationalized it- oh, he has a low sperm count! So what, we can take medications to improve that, and IUI can work wonders for low count!

“What was the issue?” I asked, trying to keep my composure.

“There was no sperm in the sample.”

This was an absolutely horrific week, waiting for the diagnosis behind the absent sperm. Some of the causes could have been detrimental to Eric’s health, so that was my biggest concern. In case you’re wondering, we had no symptoms of this. Eric still produced semen, there were just no sperm cells in the liquid. Eric was confident that we would figure out the cause, treat it (even if that meant using a donor- he was considering asking his brother, which I know sounds like a r/relationships post) and have a baby. In case you’re wondering why I didn’t just rely on real-life support at this point (because I had a legitimate diagnosis as opposed to a speculation of infertility), real-life support still didn’t cut it. Either I got kind but hollow platitudes about how “we’ll work it out” or “if it doesn’t work you can just adopt” or I would be told “this isn’t appropriate to discuss in the workplace.” (Ugh, fine.)

Luckily, we received some good news a week later. Eric did produce sperm, but due to a rare defect, it would never exit his testicles without a minimally invasive surgical procedure (in case any men are reading this, I’ll spare you the details) which could provide enough sperm for an IVF cycle or two, but not enough sperm for IUI. At that point, they said, we’d be just like a “normal” fertile couple. There was nothing morphologically wrong with his sperm, it was just locked in his balls (Eric joked he had “blue balls for thirty years”).

I wasn’t so confident. IVF terrified me. After all, I was going to be the one taking all the shots, doing more invasive surgical procedures, and potentially coming out of it without a pregnancy. I was also not crazy about all the tests, including the HIV/Hep C screen that so irrationally terrified me. Instead, I had my heart set on adopting a baby, because I always had such a rosy idea of “giving a baby a home.”

Enter the Internet once again.

“Just Adopt.”

If you ever go to r/adoption, you’ll see a similar dichotomy as TFAB. The sub is supposed to be for adoptees and adoptive parents, but is largely skewed toward adoptees. Shiny-faced prospective adoptive parents frequently post about how they can increase their chances of adopting a healthy baby (often with no racial or gender preference), which immediately results in downvotes. I was confused. Adoption was supposed to be this lovely, selfless thing. Why were these adoptees so mad about it?

As it turns out, infant adoption is a complete clusterfuck, to put it lightly. Even ignoring the trauma of adoptees (don’t worry, I’ll get to that) from a purely callous standpoint, it’s impractical. There are not thousands of unwanted babies lying around in the United States, as people will lead you to believe. In fact, it’s the opposite. For every baby placed for adoption, there are more than thirty couples who want to adopt him or her (people will try to argue this isn’t true because they knew someone who was adopted in the 70s and nobody else wanted to adopt them. Well, things have changed since then). If a couple does successfully adopt the baby, it’ll cost upward of $40,000. To put it into perspective, with no insurance, an IVF round costs about $15,000. Eric’s job gave us fantastic IVF insurance that would lower the price to about $1-$2K for up to four cycles.

Let’s just say Eric and I were able to save up $40K to adopt a baby. Well, this doesn’t mean we would walk away with one. A biological mother is legally allowed to change her mind after placing the baby, even after the adoptive parents take the baby home. This sounds like a scam for the adoptive parents, until you realize the adoption industry is often a scam for the biological mother. Women are routinely manipulated into placing children that they’d rather raise themselves. In fact, if the money paid to adoption agencies (some of which have been revealed to be Ponzi schemes) actually went toward low-income women to empower them to raise their own children, the world would be a considerably happier place. Most adoptees on r/adoption may love their adoptive parents, but can’t help but mourn the fact that their biological mother wasn’t able to raise them. Many others believe their adoptive parents were selfish, needy, and with a savior complex. While this doesn’t apply to all adoptive parents, many of the ones who post on that sub do describe wanting to adopt to “save” poor children. There are plenty of creepy posts about wanting to adopt a child of color specifically, despite the parents being white.

But wait- you might think- couldn’t you sign up for adoption, and while you’re waiting to be placed, start IVF just in case? No. Most adoption agencies refuse to consider you if you’re also seeking biological pregnancy. This sucks because fertility wanes with time. Even though I wasn’t the “infertile one” I knew that my fertility at 35 wouldn’t be as good as my fertility at 30. If it took 5–10 years to be placed with a baby (or not placed) that means wasting 5–10 years of potential fertile years, only to potentially have a failed/disrupted adoption and walk away with no baby at all. Not to mention the agencies who will refuse you if you’re an atheist or LGBTQ+.

In addition, adoptions are rarely “closed” anymore. This means that the biological mother is generally expected to remain part of your family forever. This is for the child’s benefit, and can take many forms, but let me be selfish for a moment: no. I would be unable to do that. I want to be my child’s only mom. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but I guarantee you that if you polled a bunch of fertile women who never even had to consider adoption, they’d refuse this option too. And I certainly wouldn’t want to traumatize a child by participating in a closed adoption that robbed them of a connection with their biological mother (many adoptees on the subreddit detailed this trauma).

This was when I realized domestic adoption wasn’t for me. To be frank, I’d suck at it, as would Eric, and that’s assuming we’d even be selected. And we likely wouldn’t be, considering we’d be competing with wealthy evangelical Christians in the suburbs who have two-story homes and a backyard, who in addition to the $40–60K to the adoption agency, also pay for ad campaigns to advertise themselves to biological mothers.

BUT WAIT!- what about international adoption or foster care adoption? Well, Reddit turned me off those options as well.

As it turns out, international adoption is pretty much dead, and for good reason. If you were born in the 80s, you almost definitely know someone who was adopted from China as a healthy infant. The abolition of the one child policy (which is a good thing, by the way) means this pretty much no longer happens. Older child adoptions do still happen, but most countries once known for American adoption are increasingly prioritizing local families to adopt children, so that the children don’t lose cultural identity. (Many international adoptees on r/adoption lament the loss of their cultural identity, even with well meaning American parents.)

Foster care adoption is painted with an unfortunate brush of “save the poor abandoned children” when in fact, many children in foster care are not abused or unwanted — their parents desperately want to keep them but are temporarily incarcerated, or struggling with addiction. r/FosterIt, the subreddit for foster parents, despises people who foster with the undertone of “perfect, this is how I’ll get my free baby and also feel like a good person.” If you want to be a good foster parent, they say, you shouldn’t want to adopt, because the child being released for adoption means their parent has lost all chances of getting them back. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adopt from foster care- only that your first priority when fostering needs to be reunification with the bio family. You can’t secretly hope reunification fails. There’s also a substantial chance that you could foster a child for years and still have to return the child to his or her biological relatives.

While some children are available for adoption already because parental rights have already been terminated, they tend to be older and rightfully experiencing trauma simply from being in the foster system. I briefly considered adopting a teenager, but my time on r/ExFoster, a subreddit for former foster youth, convinced me otherwise. As a thirty-year-old with zero parenting experience and absolutely zero experiencing managing trauma in children, what made me think I’d be any good at this? Most of the success stories I’d seen were people in their fifties who had already parented biological children, later opening up their home to foster teens. In particular, this subreddit had a negative view toward people who adopted older children because they initially wanted to have a baby but infertility prevented it. Basically, it can’t be your second choice or a way to fill a hole in your heart/family.

(To be clear, there are great adoptive parents and great foster parents out there. But most people are not cut out for this and I’m one of them.)

More Travel, More Romance, More Money

You may be wondering why I spent all this time talking about why I didn’t choose various adoption outlets, especially considering I really don’t owe anyone an explanation any more than a fertile person owes anyone an explanation for not adopting. That’s because of another subreddit: r/childfree.

Much like my time on TFAB or Babycenter, my time spent researching adoption was meant to reassure me that adoption would be an option for me (it did everything but that, but that was the goal.) Therefore, I figured, it made sense to research not having children, in the hopes that it would reassure me that if I walked away from my parenthood goal, I could still be as happy (or perhaps even happier!) as I would be with kids.

r/childfree is one of the most controversial spots on Reddit, because on the surface there’s nothing wrong with the childfree lifestyle, but the minute you dip your toes in, you realize many of these people are deeply unhappy — not because they secretly want kids, but because they’re filled with rage toward people who have them. I saw a post there where a woman reveled in attracting married men with children because her body wasn’t “ruined” by childbirth like all these loser “breeders.” It’s not uncommon to see these people circlejerk about what an asshole their sister is because she had children and no longer wants to go to Burning Man orgies. I lurked there because I was hoping to see the bright side of a life without children — more money, more travel, more romance — and I left thinking “if these are the people who I’d have to be friends with if I didn’t have kids, I don’t think I’d survive a month.” Cue even more uncertainty, which triggered an even stronger desire to be more and more online.

I Googled “can you be happy after infertility” at least fifty times. Each time I was convinced I’d find the answer to satisfy me. At least with r/childfree, there were new posts every day, so it felt a little less irrational to expect new information constantly. The question was: was any of this new information actually going to help me?

I assumed, wrongfully, that childfree people would have some camaraderie with infertile people, because in a society that glorifies parenthood, they might both feel alienated. Instead, the only infertile people they liked were the infertile people who chose to be childfree, or who adopted teenagers from foster care. Anyone who did IVF to get pregnant was essentially the devil incarnate (I hope they realized that you don’t have to be infertile to adopt- what’s their excuse for spending money on themselves instead of adopting 10 kids?) Their excuse was that it was selfish to do IVF, because all that money could have been spent on charity (lost on them is the fact that what someone does with their own body and money is their own business, or that many cars cost more than an IVF cycle) and because there are “so many unwanted poor children” out there to adopt (r/childfree tends to be extremely ignorant about adoption. I’m pretty sure their main source of information is the musical Oliver!). When I pointed out to them that many adoptees disagree with this belief, they accused adoptees of being ungrateful.

They also hated IVF parents because they were “contributing to global warming.” IVF doesn’t carry a larger carbon footprint than just procreating naturally, except maybe the car ride to the clinic, so this was especially weird. Plus, I walked to my clinic, so suck my dick!

I didn’t know that people hated IVF parents so much until I stumbled upon this subculture. Sure enough, if you wade over to r/unpopularopinion a subreddit designed to post controversial opinions (as you may expect, at this point it’s a bukkake of edgelord right-wing posts) the opinion “IVF should be illegal” is repeated pretty much every day for the same reasons. And when I stupidly announced on my cartoon channel (CartoonsHateHer originally started as a cartoons page on Facebook) that I was doing IVF, most of the top comments called me a “selfish bitch” and demanded I adopt a teenager from foster care. I wanted to ask them two questions: when did you adopt a teenager from foster care, and would you ever ask this question to a fertile woman announcing a natural pregnancy?

They wouldn’t.

Why didn’t I just log off, right? I’m detailing some of the nastiest people/interactions that I’ve ever had, and for some reason I continued to seek them out. I don’t think I’m that much of a masochist. Instead, I felt that constant engagement with my fears, even if it was in the form of people being assholes to me, was preferable to no engagement, which is what I got in real life. I was addicted to any form of notification letting me know someone had responded to me, even if their response was unhelpful or abusive. I just wanted to talk. I wanted to be heard. I wanted confirmation that everything would be okay even if I didn’t have kids the way I planned, or at all. But even the best online reassurance wouldn’t provide the certainty I needed, so I sought out more.

You’re Too Rich And Too Poor.

Before I realized I was dealing with infertility, I never knew IVF was something that bothered other people. In fact, people get viscerally angry when you talk about doing IVF, including people who see no problem with abortion because it’s “your body and your choice.” After examining this closely, I realize there are a few components to this anger, often cloaked in self-righteous concern trolling:

  1. The assumption that anyone who does IVF is rich. IVF has become more accessible and more efficient in later years, so there are people like Eric and myself who manage to do IVF without paying $20K. Honestly, someone’s finances are nobody’s business (I don’t see the same outrage for rich people choosing to buy a nice home, or a nice car). Plus, if you admit you’re not rich, and you saved money over many years to afford IVF, people hate you for “bringing a child into a financially insecure family” despite the fact that these same people wouldn’t feel that way about a lower middle class person who just happens to have a child. A common talking point is, “if you can’t afford $20K for IVF, you can’t afford children.” (Do they realize the vast majority of parents in the US don’t have $20K in the bank at all?) TLDR: mind your own business.

2. The assumption that IVF is primarily used because of older women who prioritized their careers. Okay, first of all, even if this were true: who the fuck cares. But it’s not true. Many causes of infertility are things out of your control and unrelated to aging. See: PCOS and endometriosis, two of the most common causes of female infertility. Then we have guys like Eric, who were essentially born sterile. In fact, on forums where I explained I was doing IVF because of my husband’s genetic infertility, suddenly people’s judgment softened a bit. Not all infertility conditions are created equal on the Internet, and women who are doing IVF because of male factor infertility aren’t vilified as much as women who are infertile themselves. (One person on Reddit did suggest I leave Eric, though).

3. The assumption that IVF is for people who want “designer babies.” Unless your idea of a designer baby is a baby who survives the nine months of pregnancy without a miscarriage (IVF is a treatment for recurring miscarriage) this is also total bogus. A few flashy headlines about people who did IVF for gender selection (most clinics refuse to do this anyway) have unfortunately led to proliferation of this talking point.

4. The assumption that people who do IVF should have “listened to nature” and not been parents because clearly there was a reason they shouldn’t procreate. This one is too absurd to even argue with, but a good counterpoint is that if it were true, child molesters and abusers would all be infertile. A woman I saw on Reddit said that her family members told her infertility was her punishment for being a lesbian. The obvious argument is…why are other lesbians fertile?

In real life, nobody cared that we were doing IVF. When I told my family and friends about these misconceptions, they just said “Oh, weird. Who cares?” So perhaps this was my punishment for relying so much on the Internet. Strangely, I preferred being flamed online for IVF than having friends in real life tell me “Oh, it’ll work out” only to drop the conversation immediately.

The Final Stretch

When Eric and I actually started doing IVF, my reliance on the Internet forums waned a bit because now I knew what was wrong, and we had a game plan to solve it, which meant a hint of certainty. Once I started the tests that terrified me, I felt a bit better. My HIV and Hep C screen were negative and my uterus looked fine. There was still some uncertainty, but with each day, less and less. I regularly asked the nurse assigned to our case if she thought we would have a baby. When she said “I certainly hope so” I asked her, “Okay, if you were me, how confident would you be that you’d have a baby?” Once again, real-life reassurance was never going to be enough.

I still routinely searched the post histories of people online with similar stats to us (low-ish AMH, male factor infertility) to see what happened to them. Despite the boogeyman claim that “IVF doesn’t work that well” (believe it or not, things have changed since the 90s!) almost everyone who at once lamented having to start IVF on Reddit eventually came out the other end with a baby. Of course, I fixated on the few who didn’t, trying to find differences between my story and theirs.

Early on in our IVF journey, a nurse asked me if I was having any side effects of the medications. I actually wasn’t, at least not the ones people warned me about — bloating, pain, acne, weight gain. But I was having what I called “mild suicidal thoughts.” I didn’t want to kill myself, and I certainly wasn’t going to, but the combination of the infertility journey and some career issues I was having regularly made me wonder if I’d be better off dead-but-not-really. Basically: I don’t want to die, but I want to temporarily be asleep for as long as it takes for this pain to be over. Unfortunately, the nurse took an all-or-nothing approach and assumed I was literally suicidal. This meant the reproductive endocrinologist, usually a busy, relatively inaccessible person, gave me her personal phone number, as did the nurse. They also routinely checked in on me.

The suicidal thoughts went away as the time progressed, and by then the doctor and nurse probably regretted giving me their phone numbers. When I wasn’t getting enough answers from the Internet, I resorted to texting them incessantly to ask about whether they thought our cycle would be successful, or if they had ever seen anyone with a weirder case of infertility than we had (the nurse told me she had- a couple from another country had traveled to the clinic and said they tried everything and couldn’t get pregnant, until she discovered they were actually pulling out for some reason.)

Here is a real snippet of some of the conversations this doctor was unfortunately forced to endure:

Me: Hi- I know you aren’t available to meet on Wednesday, but soon Id like to talk about this study. I’m concerned that a fresh transfer this cycle could be negatively impacted by the high med dose. But I’m also concerned that I won’t respond to the FET protocol either and feeling very worried I’ll never have a successful transfer. (Link to study and screenshot of graph)

Dr: This study is why frozen is better in general but there are always exceptions. And if don’t transfer this cycle we can always try natural cycle, mini stim. You have a lot of options I promise. No need to worry just yet.

Me: Deal! If we cancel transfer could we switch to ERA?

Dr: Yes. Depending on how things look.

Me: Ok good- I’m coming in for monitoring tomorrow. I just want to do what maximizes chances of success no matter how long it takes. Quick q: the high dose doesn’t negatively impact embryo quality right? Slash, does slow growing follicles mean anything bad

Dr: Not for embryo quality. And no remember every cycle is different.

Me: Ok cool. Is there anything that the high dose would affect negatively? Other than OHSS which I’m not worried about.

Dr: Not really.

Me: Ok cool thanks! Have a nice night.

I wound up getting pregnant on my first IVF cycle, just as the doctor told me would likely happen (surprise: we actually had an 80% chance of pregnancy according to our clinic, due to our specific ages and prognosis. The often-cited 20% number isn’t accurate for everyone). Obviously, we had an easier time of IVF than most people do- not only did we have a great prognosis, but we were lucky enough to have insurance coverage and the privilege to be able to afford the deductible. The Internet reminded me of this frequently- I was, I suppose, the Cycle 1 Unicorn of infertility. I floated onto infertility forums, asked a bunch of questions, and then disappeared after I got pregnant (to be clear, they definitely wouldn’t have wanted me to stay around).

Infertility is so hard, and on the Internet, we face a conundrum: is it safe to say infertility is always hard, or should “easy” infertility cases have some reverence toward “hard” infertility cases? Was I wrong for lamenting our situation when other people on forums had been doing IVF for five years and paying upwards of $100K? Or is that “Suffering Olympics” and a harmful view, since someone will always have it worse than you? Honestly, I’m not sure. During my time on infertility forums, most people were extremely supportive of my journey despite how “easy” it was for us. After all, even though we had a great IVF prognosis, we have a 0% chance of “natural” conception- other women with unexplained infertility might have a harder time doing IVF, but later conceive for free. I did receive a message at one point about needing to, essentially, “check my fertility privilege” when talking to other infertile people. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Both sides made sense. It did make me feel sufficiently shitty, which was probably the goal, but perhaps it needed to be said.

I was so terrified of reading my own pregnancy test that I dipped it in urine, left it on the counter and asked Eric to look at it, only to show me once enough time had passed that we could be confident in the result. It was a clear positive. I cried hysterically, fell off the sofa and onto the floor, barely able to breathe. Eric looked at me with an endearing smirk: “We had a good chance, why are you so surprised?” I’ve often wondered what it’s like to be Eric and to not to oscillate between complete despair and overwhelming happiness on a daily basis.

Before I called my mom or any of my friends, I posted the pregnancy test to Reddit and asked them if it looked like a “false positive.” I had to be sure.

Forever An Infertility Patient

Once you get an infertility diagnosis, the idea that it will ever be “your turn” sounds as unrealistic as the idea that your cat will start speaking Gaelic. Throughout my entire pregnancy, I still couldn’t believe I was pregnant. I anticipated a miscarriage at every step. I remained Very Online, but I didn’t feel welcome on pregnancy forums because they were full of women lamenting nausea and fatigue, when I would have gladly welcomed all the nausea and fatigue for a baby. Women complaining about receiving off-registry gifts drove me nuts. I would have forgone gifts happily to have this baby! I couldn’t bear to be part of threads about how inconvenient it was for women to “fall preggo” by accident, despite also not using any protection (how is that accidental?) I thought that once I got pregnant, I would no longer feel like an infertility patient. But the truth is, you never stop feeling like one. My best friend told me “that’s irrational. You aren’t even infertile.” She was right, but it didn’t matter.

Even as I lay in my hospital bed, dilated to ten centimeters, the prospect of actually having this baby seemed absurd. When the nurse told me I was ready to start pushing, I almost wanted to argue with her. It can’t possibly be my turn! (Joke’s on me- my baby shot out with only twenty minutes of pushing and Eric almost had to deliver the baby because all of the staff was attending to other patients.)

Parenthood changes many things about your life, but in my case, two things are guaranteed to stay the same:

  1. I will never stop feeling like an infertility patient.
  2. I will never stop lurking on various internet forums to quell my anxiety. Now that this baby is out of the womb, there are so many new and horrifying things to worry about, and only the Internet has the capacity for my behavior. And now I’m experiencing the wild world of Mom Groups where I can post pictures of my baby’s daily rashes for reassurance that it’ll be okay. Clearly I’ve learned nothing.

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