Karen Jeffries is the author of Hilariously Infertile: One Woman’s Inappropriate Quest to Help Women Laugh Through Infertility, a smart, touching, encouraging, and, yes, often very funny memoir of her struggles with fertility. While advances in medical treatment and technology have made it possible for couples with infertility to become pregnant, the information available has not always conveyed accurately just how difficult, scary, frustrating, and even humiliating the medical procedures can be. In an interview, she explains the advice she’d give to medical professionals and to other women going through infertility treatment, what she will tell her daughters about how they were born, and why a sense of humor is essential.
What is the first piece of advice you would give to someone who is about to have her first meeting with a fertility specialist — after reading your book, of course!
Oh gosh, I have so many pieces of advice. First of all, let go of the calendar. That is to say, let go of thinking that you will get pregnant in the summer and give birth in the spring. I used to think that giving birth in the early spring would be perfect for my teaching schedule, and I quickly realized that I need to just get pregnant at all, and I needed to let go of the calendar dream. Second of all, going through infertility sucks, it just does, but after what I have been through (which on a scale wasn’t that bad), and what I have heard my followers have been through (some stories are just the definition of tragic), I truly believe that women can do everything. Infertility is a slog, it is hard and it will get you down, but you are stronger than your infertility.
Why do you think fertility offices are like Fight Club — patients do not talk to each other and are reluctant to share their experiences even with family and friends?
Yes, that was my findings. I do believe that in recent months infertility has become more relevant and less stigmatized, with the help of movies and television shows talking about it, but in the waiting room at the fertility clinic it is still cold. No one talks. No one smiles. Everyone just sits there, pretending that they aren’t in this situation that they are all, in fact, in.
Did your experiences as a teacher help you cope with the challenges of your fertility treatments?
This is a good question. I don’t think so, no, I think being a teacher made it harder for me. I have always been around children. I was constantly babysitting throughout middle and high school. During the summers I worked at a summer camp with children with autism. Then I got my teaching job and I devoted my life to children, so to find out that I was infertile was life shattering. In addition teaching isn’t like other professions that you can come to the office late, or leave early and it is okay. So balancing the appointments with teaching was difficult.
Why was it important to write a funny book about experiences that were often sad or scary or gross?
There is so much about infertility that no one talks about. Most women are thinking the same things, about the injections, or about the ultrasound wand, or about the sperm samples, but no one talks about it. There is so much about infertility that is heartbreakingly sad. So I decided to not only talk about it, but get people laughing about it. Hilariously Infertile is what close friends talk about, but maybe they don’t say it at Thanksgiving dinner, but they are thinking it.
If you could tell medical professionals who work in fertility facilities three things they should do differently, what would they be?
Oh, this is a hard one because I had incredible fertility doctors.
One: The clinic is not a funeral home. Energy like that is contagious. It is okay to smile at patients and to be sad with patients too.
Two: To be more sensitive about the weight issue that sometimes goes hand in hand with infertility. Whether it is to be more sensitive to women who struggle with PCOS, Endometriosis, or fibroids; they know they might need to lose weight, it isn’t that easy for them. In addition, when people are trying to conceive the medications do cause weight gain, I gained about 10–15 pounds just when I was trying to get pregnant through infertility treatments. While the number on the scale shouldn’t be important, it does affect women, who already feel that they are a walking science experiment.
Three: When a doctor says, “unexplained infertility.” We hear, “We don’t know what is wrong with you. We don’t know how to fix you. It is going to cost a shit ton of money. You are basically our guinea pig now.”
What about husbands/significant others who are a part of and yet not a part of this process?
This is so tricky. For my husband, he just tried to be very supportive of me while we were going through this. But I know men who are the cause of the infertility and it really takes a hard toll on them knowing that they are the reason why their partner needs to inject herself every day and/or go through these procedures.
You had to take a lot of responsibility for your own care, even injecting yourself, as well as a close-to-Masters level of understanding of all the different drugs and treatments and symptoms, as when you were reading your own sonogram. Has that affected the way you see healthcare for yourself and your daughters?
I have always been interested in the medical field, from afar. While I was in graduate school I also was a technician at a pharmacy, and that taught me a lot about medications and insurance. I do think that after going through infertility I am definitely more aware of signs, symptoms, red flags that pop up with my daughters in terms of their hormones and reproductive issues, but they are six and three, so we have some time. I am worried that they too will have PCOS, but if they do, they definitely came to the right place.
What will you tell your daughters about the way they were born?
Love this question! My older daughter knows that I needed help to get pregnant. She knows that doctors helped me, but she doesn’t yet understand the difference between IUI and IVF. She also knows what happens if a “mommy and a mommy” want to make a baby and if a “daddy and a daddy” want to make a baby. (Her words.) My younger daughter doesn’t know yet because she’s three, but I will explain IVF to her in detail once she can understand. They watch a lot of shows about animals, so animal reproduction is a concept that they somewhat understand.
My older daughter also knows a little bit about Hilariously Infertile the platform and the book. She doesn’t know what social media is, but she knows that I wrote a book that helps women who are trying to have babies. She also knows that some women who are trying to have babies find themselves sad, and that I help them to laugh or smile. Originally she told her teacher that I help women make babies, so I needed to clarify that with her, but she sort of understands it now. I am proud of my platform and of what I went through to make my amazing daughters, and I tell them about it whenever it comes u