An Open Letter To Lena Dunham From The Infertility Community
Your Harper’s article caused quite the stir within the vast infertility community. There were varying perspectives and responses, and we’d like to share them with you.
We write this letter not on behalf of an “infertility club,” but on behalf of each of our individual hearts. We include people who have become parents via egg donation, sperm donation, embryo adoption, traditional adoption, and surrogacy. We include people who have become single parents by choice. We include those who are childless not by choice. And womxn who have had hysterectomies and have one ovary, just like you.
photo credit: @thelabormama
Infertility warriors are not a monolith. Generalizing people facing infertility or reproductive health challenges is like generalizing people whose names start with T. One in eight couples will struggle with infertility. Ten percent of womxn have PCOS and 10-15% have endometriosis. Those LGBTQ+ couples who want to build a family will seek some sort of infertility treatment or adoption and are lucky to have the option. While we call it a community, infertility warriors are an enormous group with millions of voices and perspectives.
The thing that unites many of us -- including you -- is grief. We are the guests nobody wants to talk to at the party, drifting so far from our true selves in the process of trying to get what we want, that sometimes we forget why we started. The moment your doctor informed you that none of your eggs were viable, we felt your utter despair and shared your frustrations at how deeply inadequate his attempt at comfort felt. We know what it’s like to feel completely out of place in infertility groups on social media. WE HAVE BEEN THERE.
In other ways, your piece made many people feel seen for the first time. This is incredibly valuable. Unfortunately, it also made many feel mocked, belittled, undermined, betrayed, and even ashamed. Namely, people who are already suffering deeply, who are using the online community you spoke of so scathingly as a lifeline.
photo credit: @ttcbabybontjeno2
After making our online infertility world “your home” for at least two years, you came back to target us: for how we cope and communicate, hope and grieve, suffer and surrender. You judged us for the decisions we make and how and why we make them. You left us feeling exposed without permission for how we experience some of the exact same things that you experienced. One of our greatest concerns is that your withering depiction of our community could deter others from turning to us in their future in moments of desperation and isolation.
You have the right to tell your own story, in your own voice, through your own lens. But you also have an enormous platform, and the opportunity to use your experience to help others.
You mention that “The IVF Warriors are mostly white” and that white women are five times more likely than women of color to undergo fertility treatment. You have the opportunity to explain why this is and failing to do so only perpetuates the narrative of infertility being a well-to-do white woman’s issue. You likely already know that infertility impacts people of all races, but significant racial disparities exist in the utilization of infertility treatments. There are systemic racial barriers that keep women of color from getting the same access to treatment that you had. This deserves attention and advocacy.
One of the biggest issues we face is the lack of education and awareness of just how low the chances are with IVF. The chances of bringing home a baby with each round of IVF is only 30%. People deserve realistic expectations. One IVF round is not enough for the vast majority of patients. It’s OK for people to walk away from treatment, but it’s also important for people to understand that fertility treatments do not guarantee a baby. You thought one egg retrieval would answer your dreams and your understandable disappointment that it didn’t seemingly spiraled into this article. We wish we could’ve talked to you at the beginning of your journey to help set expectations.
photo credit: @hgsnel
You wrote disparagingly of how many women who turn to IVF are wealthy and yet others choose to mortgage their houses, take out massive loans, and work multiple jobs to “undertake as many cycles as possible”. It’s also important to note that as of August 2020, only 19 states have fertility insurance coverage laws with 13 of those including IVF coverage and 10 including fertility preservation. Groups like Resolve are working to advocate for families in these states and would benefit from voices like yours raising awareness and helping advocate for change.
You may also know that until this year, New York outlawed paid surrogacy. This made it that much harder for LGBTQ+ people, single dads, and womxn who can’t carry a baby. Louisiana, Nebraska, and Michigan still outlaw surrogacy. Resolve is also working to advocate for these families and again, need powerful voices and additional resources to do more.
Lena, we are truly saddened that you felt you weren’t welcome in the infertility communities you joined. The reality is, this is a space with room for all kinds of people and stories with myriad endings. In our own struggles, we have found bits and pieces of our own journey in others’ retelling of theirs. Many of us have found peace in that validation and resonance.
This doesn’t mean that there isn't much work to be done in making sure every member of the community feels seen and heard. In particular, the voices of those childless not by choice, BIPOC voices, and LGBTQ+ voices must be uplifted and amplified. We embrace this work, just as we will embrace you, should you turn to us in the future to find comfort and solace.
photo credit: @nutritionbytara
Perhaps the biggest take away from your piece is the confirmation of how deeply painful and truly existential it is to navigate infertility. For those of us in this struggle, this is not news. For those unfamiliar with this struggle, it may be. In moving beyond the emotional shrapnel of your piece, both helpful and harmful as it has been, we are asking you to use your immense reach to do more. You have worked hard to establish your influence and whether desired or not, it is accompanied by the responsibility to wield your power for good. You opened the floodgates with “False Labor”. So, to what end?
We welcome the opportunity to be in conversation with you about how our stories can change the world. The only way out is through. The only way through is together. We respect your life experience and we respect your life choices. Please join us in broadening the discussion, furthering the advocacy, and lessening the burden of those who are in the trenches, now and to come.
With care and humility,
Aimee Baron, @iwassupposedtohaveababy, New York, NY
Monica Caron, @my_so_called_ivf, Atlanta, GA
Sophie Dornstreich, @incirclefertility, Santa Monica, CA
Monique Farook, @infertilityandmepodcast, Bowie, MD
Abbe Feder, @absofstyle, Los Angeles, CA
Marilyn Gomez, @marilynbgomez, Charlotte, NC
Kristyn Hodgdon, @thefertilitytribe, Long Island, NY
Abby Mercado, @hellobestshot, Denver, CO
Ali Prato, @infertileafstories, Brooklyn, NY
Arielle Spiegel, @cofertility, Boston, MA
Halle Tecco, @halletecco, Charleston, SC
Lisa White, @ivf.manifesting.a.miracle, Thornton, CO