After penning a personal essay about her experience going through five miscarriages, Christene had a conversation with Deborah from FertilityIQ and discussed her decision to speak publicly about her fertility journey.
Deborah Anderson-Bialis: Usually when we hear about someone’s infertility or miscarriage, it’s after they’ve ended that journey and feel confident in a pregnancy. How did you decide to break from that mold?
Christene Barberich: I think I was just tired of feeling like the only one...the only person that hadn't (yet) had a successful outcome. I couldn't have expected — especially given how traditionally private we are as a culture around such issues — the sense of hope and encouragement I got from talking with people I trusted about my experience and struggles. I wanted other women who had yet to fulfill their dream of having a baby, but were continuing to move forward, to feel less alone in the process.
DAB: Were you surprised by the response you got after you wrote about your story?
CB: I really was. Aside from the comments we received on our site, I must have gotten more than 100 or so personal emails and notes from people I knew, sometimes distantly, who had experienced something similar in their pursuit of starting a family. It was an incredible exercise in forgiving myself, too...releasing myself of that burden of guilt I'd been carrying around for so long.
DAB: We know that if everyone shared nobody would feel so alone, but where do you think the balance lies? I know for many in the infertility community, they feel like once they talk about it there’s an extra burden of having to make those around them feel ok.
CB: I definitely understand that, but I also feel it's important to change the tone of the conversation, as well as the root of it. Most people exist on a spectrum of fertility, I don't believe they're automatically infertile if they're having challenges (maybe a doctor would disagree?). Plus, the word "infertility" puts people at an immediate disadvantage when they begin the process of finding answers—they're broken before they even know what the issue is. I would love for women and everyone pursuing this path to find more tolerance for all of the many routes we can take to achieve an outcome we want. There is no one way to do it, even if some answers are simpler to process than others.
DAB: A miscarriage is one of the most difficult emotional events a person can go through, but unfortunately life doesn’t seem to stop and let us grieve. You’re obviously an incredibly busy person: how were you able to deal with the emotional aftermath of your losses?
CB: That's a good question. I think I'm still dealing with it. The regret I have over those losses will never be completely gone, and that's okay. Because it continues to give me a perspective and a sensitivity to women's needs that I never could have known or felt before. So, now, when a memory occurs or I'm having a bad day, I give myself space to feel sad about it, and come back around to what's next. Again and again. Life goes on and there are always more choices ahead of you, so I just remember that there's more ahead to look forward to and feel good about.
DAB: You mentioned a very relatable feeling — that you need to go out of your way to make other people comfortable, or even apologize, when your fertility struggle makes them uncomfortable. What do you think people should know who haven’t struggled with infertility, and recurrent pregnancy loss specifically, about how they can be there to best support friends who are going through it?
CB: It's really different for everyone, and nobody should feel compelled to have to talk about it if they don't want to. I don't feel a need to educate people about how to talk about it, but I feel OK if someone wants to ask, maybe because they're curious about what information I have to share. Most people I know who've gone through pregnancy loss feel open and generous with their learnings. But it's really a personal choice for everyone how comfortable they feel engaging in that type of discussion.
DAB: Of all fertility subjects, the press seems laser-focused on covering the issue of egg freezing. Do you think that's where emphasis should be placed?
CB: Because the 'business' (for lack of a better word) is still taking form today, I think it's critical that people like you and Jake and FertilityIQ continue to find ways to channel essential, factual information and options to users who can use that to find answers and options more easily, but also to connect to a community. Like Hillary Clinton says, "we're stronger together", and that goes for crucial access to data across the very broad spectrum of the fertility industry. And let's not overlook how costly these services and treatments can be. We have to find better ways, through better health care programs or customized payment plans, to help accommodate everyone on this journey, not just the very wealthy. Discovering you're having problems conceiving is traumatic enough, there have to be better ways to make these services more affordable.