Headshot-Elizabeth-Carr Life

This week, to bring awareness to National Infertility Awareness Week, RESOLVE New England will publish a blog a day. Stay tuned daily and read about infertility from every perspective: patient and professional.

By Elizabeth Comeau, first IVF baby in the U.S.

Either I am getting old, or IVF is suddenly, somehow back in the spotlight.

Somebody must have seen that I was a Jeopardy answer a few months ago…

In the span of a few weeks, I’ve had four students contact me, wanting to interview me for their National History Day projects.

What has struck me about these students is not that they picked my birth as the first IVF baby in the United States as their moment in history to explore, but rather their personal connection to the event.

I am nearly 15 years older than these children, but I can hear so much of myself in their questions.

One student’s mother works at a fertility clinic, some of the others were born via sperm donation; one was an IVF baby herself.

These children seem to inherently understand something that I often have a hard time explaining to most adults: Success against
infertility is not simply won once you have a child.

Of course, the goal of any infertility treatment is a healthy, happy, child at the end of the treatment cycle.

But to me, that’s just part of the battle.

The other part of the battle is answering these children’s questions in the first place.

When people find out I was the first IVF baby in the U.S., I am always met with one of two reactions:

1: I didn’t know THAT was YOU!

2: Oh, my aunt, mother, brother, father, friend, is struggling with infertility.

Nine times out of ten, that second statement seems to be uttered in a hushed tone.

My parents were very open with me about how I was conceived and born. In a way, they didn’t have a choice really, given the media frenzy surrounding my birth, but even without all of that, my parents are the type who laid everything out in honest, simple terms as best they could with nothing to hide.

Parents of children of Assisted Reproductive Technologies do a good job explaining the procedures and medical technology behind what they went through. But the pattern I’m seeing with these students (and many other people I’ve encountered over the years) has less to do with that and more to do with wanting to continue the discussion long after the technical explanation is finished.

At the core of these children’s queries lie the same questions I grew up asking: “Am I normal? Will people dislike me simply because of the way I was born? Was I worth my parents’ efforts?”

The kicker, of course, is that simply asking these questions IS inherently normal – and human.

Three questions from a student prompted me to write this piece:

  • Did people treat you as a monster and/or freak of nature?
  • Did you have many friends throughout your childhood?
  • What would you say to people who said the process of IVF was going against what God wanted?

My personal answers don’t really matter in the larger context of this discussion, which is to say that sure, some people have been not so nice about how I was born, but what I’ve gone through, to me, is no different from being called fat or ugly as any other pre-teen. Is it acceptable? Absolutely not. But it is also the nature of human beings: We are scared of things we do not understand, and hate is bred from misunderstanding and fear.

We cannot battle the stigma infertility still carries in silence. We need to answer these children’s questions; they will be the voices who fight the whispers. We need to show them how to speak loud enough to be heard.

That is when I will declare success.