Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Giuliana and Bill: A Reality Show Addressing the Real Stigma of Infertility

Talking about infertility makes people uncomfortable. Those struggling are uncomfortable because it is extremely personal. Perhaps they feel like they've failed at something that should come naturally...something that seems easy for everyone else. Perhaps it is difficult to explain why they cannot bring themselves to go to a friend's baby shower. Perhaps people at work ask them "when are you going to have a baby?"...not realizing that it is an incredibly painful question because they have been trying for years.

With this as the current state of affairs, you can imagine my surprise to see Giuliana and Bill Rancic come on The View two weeks ago and tell their story about trying In Vitro fertilization (IVF) and suffering a miscarriage. Their ordeal is also documented on their reality show: Giuliana & Bill. I just finished watching my DVR copy of their season premiere which follows them on their IVF cycle. What I really appreciated was the honest display of how difficult the cycle was. Were they both on board with this next step? How scary were the bags and bags of medication!? How would they coordinate their work schedules to make it happen? How could they keep it a secret from their work colleagues and their families? Who would stay home with Giuliana for her 48 hour bed rest? And of course it was difficult to watch them get the happy news of "you're pregnant!" at the end of the episode, since we already knew what was to come nine weeks later.

But what I really want to talk about are the huge strides they've made in reducing the stigma of IVF and miscarriage in just a few short weeks since they've come forward. I've spoken in previous posts about the importance of celebrity role models in reducing stigma of various conditions. Besides their appearance on The View and their very honest portrayal on their show, they have also partnered with key professional organizations like Fertility Lifelines and Resolve- The National Infertility Association. They have created a PSA for Fertility Lifelines encouraging couples to visit a fertility specialist. They offer statistics to help normalize the struggle to conceive and to build a community by letting viewers now that they are not alone.

Just three days ago, Access Hollywood reported that actor Kelsey Grammer came forward to say that the pregnancy he and his girlfriend had just announced in August had ended in a miscarriage. It is hard to imagine that the culture is changing this quickly...in all my entertainment news watching, I can count on one hand how many celebrities have shared this type of story.

I also think that having a "spokescouple" increases the effectiveness of their message. The stigma of infertility so often falls to the woman. "What is wrong with her?" The woman also has to endure the physically and emotionally difficult treatments. Having a couple remind us via this PSA that it can be 50/50 as to which person (or both!) is leading to the infertility helps take the stigma off the woman alone.

This situation also makes me think about the systems (or lack there of) that exist to support couples once they make the choice to see a specialist. Are these types of specialists/procedures even covered by their health insurance? Is it difficult for couples to take time off of work to deal with the physical/emotional demands that come along with this process (which is so often completely inflexible in its scheduling)? Are human resource departments/managers supportive of making accommodations and/or keeping this information confidential for their employees? Are there enough mental health professionals that specialize in infertility to help couples/individuals with the emotional challenges that go along with the physical?

As more couples wait longer to have babies and science moves forward to offer more treatments for infertility, we're going to have to grapple with these questions on a broad system level. However, that conversation is easier to have when stigma is reduced and more couples come forward to ask for what they need and offer to help each other.

1 comment:

  1. Over the years at work have seen two staff members get pregnant and due the same month. Very sad when one staff person miscarries in the 3rd to 4th month. Now having to endure the questions (when are you going to try again) AND looking at her pregnant colleague each day. For one it was too much and she left our employment.