When Amy Schumer, 38, posted a photo of her swollen and bruised belly last week, announcing that she and her husband Chris Fischer were doing IVF to help give their son Gene a sibling, it received over half a million likes and a collective “Thank you for being honest!” from women around the world.
The fact that women have mostly gone through their fertility struggles quietly and privately was not lost on journalist Alison Prato, 45, who went through her own issues with secondary infertility when she was trying to get pregnant in 2012, about three years after her daughter was born.
“I didn’t think anything about my fertility at the time,” says Prato. “I’d had a normal pregnancy, and then we we started to try for number two and I just keep having miscarriage after miscarriage. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ It wasn’t until then that I realized that after 35 your fertility plummets. I didn’t have any idea.”
Prato and her husband Vince tried to conceive for four painful years before giving IVF a try. “We decide to just do one round. It isn’t covered by insurance, so we had to have our parents help because it’s so freaking expensive,” she says.
They ended up having just one viable embryo, with a 50 percent chance that it would work. The embryo took, and their son Sonny was born nine months later. But Prato says she was so traumatized by the stress of trying to get pregnant and the experience of her struggle that she couldn’t talk about it for at least a year and a half after his birth. “I had PTSD from all of it,” she says.
“Then I had a girlfriend going through the same thing, and she’d had three miscarriages and was like, ‘Can you write something about your experience? I feel like it would really help me.’ So I wrote an article for Health magazine about all that I went through, and the ball started rolling in terms of me talking about it more, and writing about it more. I started getting all this feedback from women, and from some men, who were just like, ‘Wow, nobody talks about this!’ “
Prato realized quickly that there was a dearth of candid information about infertility, that there was still a stigma attached to it. She tried to sell a book based on her experience, but publishers weren’t interested. “A lot of people felt there was still shame about fertility and didn’t want to go there,” she says. “But I knew hundreds of thousands of women were going through this.”
She decided instead to start a podcast, which she called Infertile AF, where she spoke to real women about what they were going through in order to have a baby: the good, the bad, the sometimes funny — and the utterly heartbreaking.
Now in its second season, Infertile AF has had over 76,000 downloads from more than 50 countries, and Prato has started speaking to celebrities and public figures who have been open about their own fertility issues. “I really want Michelle Obama to be a guest!” she says. “She talked in her book about how she did IVF with Sasha and Malia, but she never talked about it when she was in the White House.”
The feedback she’s gotten from listeners has been wholly positive. “I wanted to create a community that was a safe space and super inclusive so people could bounce questions off each other,” she says. She also notes that the podcast has been good for couples to listen to together. “I really just want people to feel less alone. I want them to know it’s OK to talk about this. There’s no shame in any of this. I just want to try and make a difference in people’s journeys, and if I can make them laugh at any point too, then great.”
And she’s thankful that more women seem to be growing comfortable talking about their fertility challenges. “People realize if you have a miscarriage, it’s not your fault. So many people go through it — it’s like one in four women, and talking about inspires others to talk about it, which normalizes it.” She adds, “Every single person is like, ‘I wish someone had told me this at the time I was going through it.’ It’s a lot of paying it forward in this infertility community.”
The community has in turn awarded Prato with a new group of people she considered some of her closest friends. “I always joke about how this is the club that no one ever wanted to join, but now I’m really good friends with a lot of these people. We could lean on each other for asking questions and giving advice.” She adds, “When you want a baby and can’t have one, it’s the worst feeling in the world.”
As for what she hopes people who haven’t experienced fertility issues might take away from the show?
“Try and have a little empathy for people going through it. It’s so hard seeing baby announcements on Facebook, or even getting invited to baby showers.” She adds that both her infertility journey and doing the show has made her a more empathetic person in her day-to-day life as well.
“If I’m walking down the street and someone bumps into me, my initial reaction would be like ‘What the hell?’ But now that I’ve been doing this more, I’ll stop and be like, alright, maybe they’re going through something. Everybody is going through their stuff — you never really know what it is. So trying to have more empathy and kindness is the way to be.”
Listen to Infertile AF for free wherever you get your podcasts.