Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jimmy Fallon's "Coming Out": Celebrations and Concerns

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.


Mellow MW Mama said...

EXACTLY to all of this! well-written!

Renee said...

I just wanted to tell you how fantastic you are. I struggled for a long time, miscarriage after miscarriage. I had given up. Avery was a shock to me. I was registered with every adoption agency with a license (still am when I finally got lucky with Avery. It was the worst pregnancy. One complication after another ending with a premature inducement. Then, knowing I would be the most fertile immediately afterward, I was too afraid to wait the healthy time period before trying again. Olivia was also a very bad pregnancy. I am not sure I can go through another one even if I am able to get pregnant again. But, I have a beautiful, spoiled, bratty, and independent 16 month old and a happy, cuddling, adorable, and sweet 5 month old. They came after I had given up. I am 32 years old and have never been so happy. When I read your posts I think of the 13 years I tried to have a baby. 13 years of sorrow and depression telling myself I had no shot at motherhood. 13 years is a very long time. I wish I had had someone like you to help me through them. Thank you for being there for the others.

Rachel said...

Rachel Moore Wonderful post. I am happy for Fallon, but after hearing his story I did an Internet search to see if there have been any celebrities that have come forward about learning to live childfree after infertility. If they exist they certainly haven't admitted to it. There were several IVF and adoption stories. There were even more surrogate stories. Not one article about a celebrity who decided enough was enough and resolved to live childfree. That coupled with the "don't give up" message is so frustrating. This journey does not always end with a child. I wish someone famous would shine a light on that. Not everyone has the luxury of the choice to become parents.

annika said...

I had the same concerns with his try everything statement.

mendo23 said...

I agree with what Rachel wrote.
I cried listening to the previews of Jimmy's interview. And I cried. I cried for my loss of ever being able to have a child of my own. I've done 2 IVF's and an FET, had numerous surgeries and now we are trying to move on to living childfree, because, as you wrote, not everyone has the means to adopt or afford a surrogate. Or have gotten to an age where waiting to adopt a baby will bring us way past the mid forties.
I am very happy for him and his wife. It's just so new for me. Someone who has just had to make a very difficult decision. Thank you!

kateanon said...

I came over via the Creme list -

While I always appreciate those in the public eye opening up (especially a man) it is hard to promote the idea of doing whatever it takes. I did whatever it takes. I put my emotional, financial and physical well being at risk. I was willing to give up ANYTHING to become a mother, and that can be so very dangerous. It is easier when you have more resources, but even when you do, it's important for people to realize it's OK to have a line. Whatever line that is, the one that says "enough".

I hear these stories with a grain of salt, given that I've chosen to remain childless. I just couldn't go through any more.