- Nicole Tabak and her husband have been trying to have a baby for the past three years.
- In her grief and frustration, she turns to ‘TikTok infertility’ for answers and support.
- For Tabak and others, the infertility community TikTok helps tackle the “endless waiting game”.
In May 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was getting stronger and my husband and I decided this was the perfect time to start trying to have a baby. Fast forward to November 2021 and we have our first pregnancy after a diagnosis of unexplained infertility—a pregnancy that ended in miscarriage at the same time the hospital has once again restricted visitors and non-essential procedures.
We’ve spent nearly three years trying to have a baby showing nothing but thousands of dollars in medical bills, hundreds of pregnancy and ovulation tests, one drug IUI (intrauterine insemination) procedure, and a lot of emotional trauma. Throughout our journey, we have experienced three miscarriages — two chemical pregnancies (miscarriage within the first 5 weeks) and the aforementioned first trimester miscarriage at 10 weeks.
We’ve both had multiple tests – all come back clear – which led to our fertility clinic’s diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.” Unexplained infertility is a diagnosis given when no traditional infertility diagnosis (such as PCOS, endometriosis, male factor infertility, or thyroid imbalance) is present. It’s a doctor’s way of saying, “Obviously something’s wrong but we don’t know what it is,” which never something you want to hear from your doctor.
Infertility and miscarriage are essentially isolating experiences. It should come as no surprise that our stress in the midst of the problem of “unknown infertility” — against the backdrop of a pandemic — is immense.
I relieve my stress by scrolling for hours on social media. The algorithm quickly linked my searches for “ovulation tests” and “best foods for fertility” to the Instagram and TikTok accounts of people going through the same predicament as us. The My Explore and For You pages are used by women who compare their IVF protocols, dip in their early pregnancy tests to find line clues, and dance through questions about the next steps in their fertility journey. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone.
Turning sadness into content
“I didn’t post [our first video] to be anything or to achieve anyone. I’m almost like keeping a video journal, and then all these comments pour in from people who share the same struggles or can resonate with in some way,” Sarah Johnson told me.
Sarah and her husband Cody have been sharing their infertility journey (or journey, as she calls it) since December 2020. They have endured repeated miscarriages, multiple fertility treatments, and a diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve while at the same time garnering an audience of nearly 200k on TikTok and Instagram. .
He told a story I know very well: “We started to try and say, ‘This is going to happen when it’s supposed to happen, and we’re not going to go crazy over it. We’re just going to live life.’ Then we looked up and suddenly it’s been a year and nothing happened.”
Fertility is a game of waiting for the unknown. Every month carries the promise of hope that this month can be one. It feels like everything else during this cycle of hope and disappointment is just filling time. Sarah, like myself and others who have experienced this frustrating diagnosis, finds solace online in between.
“I started listening to infertility and miscarriage podcasts where people share their stories,” she says. “I find it very validating because not many people in my personal life have been through this.”
When excessive sharing turns into a career
The validation Sarah talks about is what has led many to share their less-than-ideal path to parenthood on the internet. Stories shared by one person can often trigger others to speak up as well.
With over 3 billion uses of the hashtag #infertility on TikTok, it’s easy to see how common infertility diagnoses are and how eager people are to share their stories. One in 8 couples have difficulty conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy. Most likely, someone you know has been affected by infertility or miscarriage.
While some TikTokers like Sarah create content purely to document their personal experiences with infertility, she stated that she “didn’t see [herself] as a creator, just someone makes stuff and puts it out into the universe” — others turn it into a mature career.
With more than 600K followers on TikTok and Instagram, Caitlyn O’Neil is a full-time content creator and mother (she calls her 6-year-old daughter a “miracle” she and her husband, a natural pregnancy that occurred after their initial infertility diagnosis) and documents her struggle through trying to conceive her second child.
Caitlyn admits, “I never in a million years expected that half a million people would care to know when I ovulated, but here we are and I make a living off of it.”
Through her bubbly personality, honest sharing, and, yes, fun dancing, Caitlyn gathers a community that has gathered around her latest IVF cycle and shows up every day to watch her document her ovulation and pregnancy tests. Its success has led to hiring a manager to help secure brand deals. She explains, “We wouldn’t be able to continue if I didn’t have this extra income. I can afford fertility treatment, manage the bills, and don’t have to stress about the financial costs that infertility entails.”
If and when she gets pregnant again, she says she will continue to post, as many infertility makers do.
“Yes, I do plan to keep them when the time comes, sharing the ups and downs of pregnancy after loss/infertility, and even parenting is still a journey I plan to share,” she said.
The financial loss of Caitlyn Reference infertility is no joke. In 2015, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine found that the average cost of one IVF cycle was $12,400. This figure does not take into account genetic or chromosomal testing of embryos or other procedures that are often required in the diagnosis of certain unexplained infertility such as myself and Caitlyn. Add the financial burden to the stressors that plague the infertile partner and patient.
Researchers have found that the levels of anxiety and depression of women dealing with infertility are on par with those of women dealing with cancer and other chronic medical conditions. Furthermore, we are caught in this cycle of anxiety and guilt, knowing research has also shown that stress has a negative effect on the ability to conceive.
The stress of this lonely experience amid the loneliness of quarantine and social distancing is stress like no other. It digs deep into our insecurities. It makes us question everything. It erodes our belief in our bodies, our time, and the idea of what our lives will be like—what our lives should be like before we know what we know now.
In the end, all we can do is keep trying.
Source : www.insider.com