If there's one thing I've learned from infertility is that I've learned so much from infertility.
My name is Meirav (pronounced May-rahv). I've experienced unexplained infertility and secondary infertility for a total of over 10 years, including miscarriages, D & C's, countless vaginal wand examinations, IUI's, IVF, industrial amounts of lube, and all the emotions of that all-consuming TTC bubble. And I never spoke about it with anyone. Professionally, I'm in theater, so I'm familiar with putting on a happy face and having that show-must-go-on attitude. I managed to keep my experiences all to myself for a long while.
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. Back then, we didn't really have the internet or any social media, so what I knew from sex-ed classes, TV, and movies is that if you had sex ,you got pregnant. That was just a fact. When I was actually ready to have kids, I couldn't understand how pregnancy didn't happen immediately after my husband and I stopped using birth control. It took us a long while to figure out that maybe we had some sort of problem. Did I take birth control for too long? Was there something that I missed in Sex Ed?? Nobody around us talked about this as an issue, we didn't know this was something that affected so many couples. This was all taking place in Israel, where I live now. It's a very family-oriented country, but we never really heard anything about problems while family-making. We were totally clueless, and it took me a while to get over the embarrassment and shame and guilt and contact a doctor to inquire. I mean, how were we not doing it right?! I had a couple of miscarriages during that time as well, which added heartache and that horrible feeling of failure...
Initial fertility tests showed that everything was in working order with the both of us. So the official explanation is "unexplained infertility". How can you fix what you don't know is malfunctioning? Well, with extra hormones, scheduled sex, and lots of intervention by medical personnel who are also complete strangers, of course! I know, it's pretty much the way nobody wants to have a baby.
I was about to begin fertility treatments towards an IUI, all of this being a completely top secret assignment from anyone besides my husband and me, of course. The nurse gave me a detailed explanation on how to self-administer the hormone shots. I listened very carefully, I even took notes. I was a good student, I was going to ace this thing. Then, sure enough I started getting my period, and I knew I could finally begin the sure-to-work treatment in only 2 days. But then my period wasn't really, and something seemed off. I spoke with the nurse, who had me come in to the clinic and take another blood test just to be sure. Later that day the nurse called, congratulating me that I was pregnant, naturally! We were surprised and so happy, and we got a speedy graduation from the fertility clinic, I felt like a star student.
My husband and I had our amazing daughter and felt overjoyed. And when we wanted another child, there we were "trying" again with no pregnancy. Why?? This time we knew to go back to the fertility doctor right away. We were then labeled as having "unexplained secondary infertility", which is like "Really-Unexplained Infertility" or "Unexplained Infertility: The Revenge". We got ready to start fertility treatment once again (technically for the first time), and then I found out how little I knew about fertility treatments. I knew nothing.
This time, I was waiting for that Day 3, totally thinking I'll be pregnant again minutes before administering that first hormone shot. But not this time. This time I had to go through with it. And then some. So many shots, several failed IUI's, then IVF.
The hormones and fertility treatments were too much at one point. It was a huge strain on our family, and on our marriage. We decided to take a break and just enjoy and appreciate what we have. A few years later, which was about 3 years ago, I found out I was pregnant. Naturally again, and I found out pretty late in. But within about a two-week period my husband and I got on an insanely emotional fertility roller-coaster: Found out about the pregnancy, heard the heartbeat for the first time, and then didn't hear a heartbeat. We were shocked, crying, I had to get a D&C. No words. But we got through it. We had to.
My husband always wanted me to talk about all of this with someone besides him, and I wouldn't. I just couldn't. But then, after that last crazy roller-coaster loop, I decided to try. Maybe it could help in some way. But how?? I started collecting all my thoughts on paper, and when thinking about it, I found lots of moments that made me laugh. That fertility roller coaster is so surreal at times that it's funny.
I had figured out what worked for me and how I could actually speak about my experiences. So I invited some girl friends over to my house one night, they didn't even know what they were coming for. And there I was, telling them my fertility journey. What it really means. Everything you have to do, everything that's done to you, all the feelings involved... I thought they could finally get an explanation of why I had sometimes been withdrawn or not myself. And being an actress who loves comedy, I presented my story using characters, songs, and lots of humor. I was so nervous that night, I think I was sitting down reading from my paper the whole time.
When I was done I was so relieved that I got through it, now everyone could go home and that was that. But instead, they stayed over for a long time afterwards, because they all started TALKING. They started to open up about their own related stories, that other friends in the room didn't really know about. It was like a sort of mass reveal party.
That's when I knew that whole evening was worth exploring. Because it got people talking about this thing nobody ever really talks about, honestly and openly. And it got people laughing, too. It's like the comedy broke the ice of this taboo. And there suddenly was this deeper understanding and connection in the room.
I made my husband stay in the area near our daughter's bedroom that night to make sure she wouldn't wake up and hear random songs and phrases about vaginas, sex, and other child-inappropriate content. When everyone eventually went home, he came up to me and just said he only heard bits and pieces of what just went on, but he was so proud of me. We stood there hugging for a good long while. He's been my biggest fan and best partner from the beginning. Infertility is so hard on men, too. And yes, I'm crying as I'm typing this.
So fast forward about two years later, I have a show (my first solo show... about my personal stuff... yikes), titled Inconceivable: The Totally True One-Woman Semi-Fertile
Quasi-"Musical". I've had the privilege of performing it on stages big and small, from living rooms to theaters, including the National Theatre of Israel, and a U.S. debut last year at the world's largest solo performance festival, the United Solo Theatre Festival in the heart of New York City's theater district. The show did so well that I've been invited to return and will be performing there again this September. Additional U.S. show dates are in the works, too. It's exciting and humbling and completely beyond what I expected when I was about to first tell my story that night in my living room. This show has taken me to unexpected places and I've gotten to connect with wonderful people around the world who I would've never known otherwise.
Now I'm on a mission to get more people talking about infertility, and laughing, and talking some more. I'm constantly learning about others who are on a similar mission in their own way, and it's so inspiring. More talking will create more awareness, and more awareness will drop that associated stigma, help educate, and make necessary changes or lead to advancements in the field.
I've performed this show numerous times by now, essentially telling my story over and over again, and despite all the comedy it's still very challenging. But I keep doing it for the sole reason of what happens after each performance. The live experience with this show is so energetic, yet completely different from reading or watching something on a screen (which can be powerful in their own right). The response for the show is overwhelming. Some audience members find me after the show and tell me directly. Most confide how they've experienced similar journeys and feel comforted to see they're not alone, some thank me for educating them on what their children or friends are going through or have gone through, some are medical professionals who got some clarity to the patients' side of things, and some just relate to the show in one form or another. In a way, what started out as a way for me to vent and maybe get some therapy for myself, turned into a platform for others to get some sort of therapy for themselves.
I've learned so much from the whole process of this show, both professionally and personally. Mainly, I've enjoyed learning and experiencing these connections with others. People all over the world are going through the same things other people are, and may not even know it. Thousands of miles apart feeling isolated but in reality so close. We can all connect on one if not many levels, just like you and I already have things in common, which I find to be so exciting and empowering. I hope anyone reading this can identify with what I wrote, and that it might provide some sort of comfort or information or maybe even bring on a laugh or a smile to your day.
You can follow Meirav on Instagram at @inconceivableshow