By Terri Davidson
Having worked in the infertility field in marketing and public relations for nearly two decades, I sometimes feel like I have seen it all, including the “good, bad and the ugly” of how the media portrays infertility.
When I was a newbie marketing director in the Boston area in the early 1990’s, it seemed easy to get positive coverage. Though there was an initial bout of controversy after the first test-tube baby was born, i.e., Were these doctors playing G-d?, Would the babies be okay?, the public and the media seemed in awe of the possibilities assisted reproduction could produce. Local newspapers and television stations, as well as national and international ones, were eager to write about the miracles of modern assisted reproductive and the joy it brought to so many couples who finally fulfilled their dream of having a baby.
Periodically, there would be a negative story of national proportions about multiple births from an unmonitored intrauterine insemination cycle, but in Massachusetts we were able to point out that patients had access to in vitro fertilization because of our landmark infertility mandate, and IVF was the best way to prevent multiple gestation pregnancies.
But as the infertility field started to grow, the negative stories soon followed. Many of these were self-inflicted wounds, with Octomom being the most egregious. In fact, I was, as were many others, incredulous when I learned that Suleman’s doctor, Michael Kamrava, had actually used IVF. It didn’t seem possible that one of our “colleagues” could act so irresponsibly. Though a watershed moment in forming public opinion, Octomom, regrettably, has not been the only rotten apple in the bunch.
Other legal, ethical and medical embarrassments, scandals and controversial topics have made headlines with increasing frequency and the Internet and social media have multiplied and magnified them. Even when newscasts and articles cast a favorable light on infertility, invariably the online comment sections are filled with negative, uninformed and often, hurtful, opinions about infertility treatment and infertility patients from people whom I call “infertility bashers.”
Does this mean the infertility community is losing the public relations war? This is an important question because diminishing public support and increased infertility bashing have very real political and financial implications for patients and professionals. They can result in decreased funding for research, lack of support for insurance coverage and the possibility of passage of personhood legislation that could have dire consequences.
You Can Become the Infertility Media!
There is good news on the horizon, however. I am happy to report that I see a tide turning in how infertility is being depicted. Leading this sea wave of change are infertility patients and survivors. Fortunately, I am talking to an increasing number of journalists and television producers from traditional, mainstream media who are covering angles and developments from their perspective as infertility patients. Some are in the midst of treatment and others have resolved, but like many people, their journey has changed them profoundly and they want to use their status and position to transform how infertility is being reported.
Then there’s you. By writing a blog, by sharing on social media, and by responding to the hurtful comments on the Internet, infertility patients are speaking up and expressing their opinions about this life changing experience. Patients are committing to regaining control over a condition that has left them feeling vulnerable and out of control. By telling personal stories and baring your soul, you are slaying the myths that pervade popular culture about infertility. Remember, social media is a form of the media. You have an audience and your audience has an audience that can spread your message. You can be “out” or you can keep your privacy with the anonymity of a blog or Twitter. Even on Facebook, I am seeing new accounts set-up by individuals going by pseudonyms like “Kristen TTC” or Susan IVF.”
So do I dare say that we can actually win the public relations war? The answer is in your hands. The controversies, scandals and contentious issues may continue to haunt us, but your increasingly loud voices and desire to build your family can hopefully drown out the negative media stories and misinformed cries of the infertility bashers.
What is your favorite example of how the media has accurately portrayed infertility? One of mine is when The View devoted an hour long broadcast on infertility several years ago. It was informative, comprehensive and compassionate. Bravo, ladies of The View.
RESOLVE New England has been making headlines since 1974, leading the way for the infertility community of New England. Read more about our media features here in our Press Room.
About the Author
Terri Davidson has been specializing in infertility marketing and public relations for nearly two decades. Passionate about family building, she started one of the first infertility marketing consulting agencies in the country, Davidson Communications. She has been a proud board member of RESOLVE of New England for nine years, is on the advisory board of Parents Via Egg Donation and is a member-at-large of the Women’s Council of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.