Most anyone that with access to social media the past day or so, has no doubt seen the heartwarming headlines about the birth of comedian Jimmy Fallon's daughter, Winnie, via surrogate. The infertility community in particular, is buzzing with the hashtag #thankyoujimmy and celebrating the celebrity's openness about the struggle with infertility that he and his wife endured for five years before finally welcoming their child.
With infertility still a taboo and misunderstood condition, and the treatments for it often even more so, it is the rare celebrity that speaks out so candidly about having struggled to become a parent. And anytime an actor, musician or public figure is willing to share this personal part of their lives, I am grateful. Grateful because their voice is frankly more public and therefore louder, than mine. I can blog all day long about how it feels to long for a family that you fear you may never have, how emotional and exhausting the treatments are, about the heartbreak of trying and failing or succeeding only to lose what you worked so hard for- but I will never have the reach of someone like Mr Fallon who has thousands of fans across the globe and a recent Emmy nomination. So when he shared the real, honest and emotional things about his and his wife's struggle it really meant a lot to me and other infertile men and women across the country.
Every time a celebrity "comes out" about their infertility, the rest of the world gains just a bit more understanding. Ordinary people who may have had no trouble conceiving, are able to see that infertility really can affect anyone. It also opens up conversation and I often have friends and family become curious and ask questions about what infertility really means, how a treatment actually works. Walls come down and silence is broken. Celebrity confessions take the disease itself out of the shadows. They encourage those of us that have been suffering in silence to share our stories with friends and families.There is so much good that comes from speaking out and celebrating all of the ways families are made. For that I am and always will be grateful to Jimmy and have respect for him.
I do however, have some concerns about his remarks as well. The first and most obvious being the one that comes up in just about every celebrity infertility story- their access and ability to afford treatment. In his interview, Jimmy encouraged anyone struggling to have a child to try every avenue in the quest to become a parent. But as we all know, that just isn't a realistic option for everyone. Infertility treatments are very rarely covered by health insurance and even when they are, often have caps that would prevent many people from ever being able to afford expensive options like surrogacy. I consider myself incredibly fortunate that my husband and I had the resources to assist with our IVF and FET cycles, but for many that option just doesn't exist, let alone more expensive treatments like egg donation or surrogacy. If it were up to me, we would all have the option to "do whatever it takes" as Jimmy encourages, because cost wouldn't be the barrier that it currently is, but we have a long way to go in making that a reality.
The other concern that struck me immediately, even before the cost barrier, is what his message of hope and never giving up must sound like to the childless community. To those who have already tried everything they are financially and emotionally capable of trying and have decided that a life without children is the best resolution to their infertility, the constant barrage of "always keep trying" becomes a dagger in the heart. It seems as if the rest of the infertile community is accusing them of giving up. It unintentionally alienates and discounts a large part of our community and can be very painful. I understand completely where Jimmy was coming from when he said what he did about not losing hope. As someone who has fallen on and off the hope wagon herself, and finally realized her dream when hope was at an all time low, I know that feeling of relief that "one more try" really did do the trick. It's a message that so many of us desperately need to hear when we are in the trenches. Hope is pretty much the only thing that keeps many of us going some days. And often because our own hope is depleted, it is messages of support and encouragement from others that gets us through. Hearing Jimmy Fallon, or anyone that has been through it, tell you to keep going, keep trying because you will end up with a family and that all the work is worth it, it's the most worth it thing, can be powerful, inspiring and give you hope when all seems lost. But it can also feel like a slap in the face to someone who has already moved forward from treatment and onto adoption or to finding other "worth it" things to make their lives complete.
Of course, I don't mean to imply that Jimmy Fallon meant any ill-will or has done anything wrong. He doesn't have any sort of obligation to anyone and I appreciate the way he empathized and showed support for fellow members of this community. I applaud him for his heartfelt openness and congratulate him and his wife on becoming parents. But I do wish to see more conversation and understanding about the concerns I mentioned, as well. I hope that the positive reaction he has received in the media and from his fans encourages more discussion, more education and more change with the way infertility is regarded and that one day this illness is no longer something to "come out of the closet" of. Thank you, Jimmy, for sharing your story and for being a voice. And to all of you who aren't necessarily famous comedians or producers, or even suffering from infertility- thank you for speaking out, thank you for taking the time to read and learn more, thank you for being involved, thank you.