Infertility is serious. It’s raw. It cuts to the core and makes accomplished, successful, confident people humble, vulnerable, and doubtful. Infertility is so serious, in fact, that sometimes I find myself laughing with my patients as a way to cope.
A recent night spent at a comedy show reminded me of just how important humor can be. As I reflected on how much better I felt after a few hours of laughing, I reflected on just how serious my days are spent with patients struggling with infertility in my practice. So much joy is taken away from their everyday lives. Struggling to have a baby can become all-consuming. People worry about what they’re eating and not eating, how much they should or shouldn’t exercise, which supplements they should or shouldn’t take. Planning for future vacations and career changes are clouded by thoughts of ‘What if I’m pregnant by then?’ or ‘What if that IVF cycle doesn’t work?’ Social media can be a minefield of birth announcements, gender reveal parties, and baby bump photos.
While everybody copes with stressful situations differently, some people find relief in humor. One popular Instagram account, @hilariously_infertile, posts memes and gifs on how ridiculous the infertility journey can be. She writes on her website, “My end goal here is to help other women laugh their way through their treatment, while their feet are in the stirrups and their vaginas are enjoying the fresh fertility clinic air.” If you giggled a little, check out her account. There’s also Lori Shandle-Fox, who wrote the e-book Laughing Is Conceivable: One Woman’s Extremely Funny Peek into the Extremely Unfunny World of Infertility, in which she shares her own confusing, anxiety-ridden journey through infertility, “one butt shot at a time.” And finally, one of my favorite peeks into the ‘funny, not funny’ world of infertility is the comedy web series How to Buy a Baby, about an infertile couple navigating their own journey to have a baby with “unsolicited advice from everyone they know.” I found this show on YouTube, and if you only watch one episode, make it episode 5, “Fertilifeelings,” when Jane goes to a support group and absolutely loses it. I laugh-cried through the whole thing.
In my own practice, I’ve seen humor pull people through tough times. There are the patients who brought the stuffed uterus toy to every embryo transfer and sent me a photo of it holding their positive pregnancy test. There’s the patient with bilateral endometriomas (collections of endometriosis in her ovaries) that we saw at every ultrasound through months of treatment. Those cysts interrupted cycles, made exams uncomfortable, hid developing follicles from view, and reminded the patient of her struggles every time they showed up on the ultrasound. We finally named them Bert and Ernie, and they lost their power over her feelings with our giggles.
Laughter has been shown in many studies to improve overall health. Laughter relaxes the whole body. It boosts the immune system. It releases endorphins, which are the ‘feel good’ hormones in the body that boost happiness and energy. One study published in 2011 actually showed a significantly higher success rate if clowns visited patients while resting after embryo transfer. While we do not have clowns in my clinic in Seattle, I do often suggest a relaxing evening after transfer and suggest comedy shows and movies for a laugh.
Even though infertility is serious, it doesn’t have to take control of your life. Finding the right ways to cope with the stress it brings, including laughter if that works for you, can make a very difficult journey a little bit easier.
See more blog posts from Dr. Lora Shahine at her website.