“We should totally watch this Saturday night,” my friend Jennifer emailed me, sending a link to the new Netflix movie, Private Life, about an older New York couple (played Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti) who will do nearly anything to have a baby, including IVF, donor eggs, and adoption.
Because I was very public about my infertility journey, a lot of people had been emailing me about the film, sending links to links to podcasts, articles, trailers.
But if I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the three-minute promo — which included an all-too-familiar scene of Hahn in a hospital cap, presumably awaiting fertility treatment — how was I going to sit through the two-hour film? I’d be better off watching some “light” fare like Fauda, a political thriller about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Between the two options, Private Life was far more likely to give me nightmares.
Which is a bit weird, I admit, because although I did massive amounts of infertility treatments — ten doctors, nine rounds of IVF, including four miscarriages over three years — I ended up with a baby. A beautiful, brilliant, boisterous baby. She’s not even a baby anymore, this magical creature who sings in the bath using the showerhead as a microphone and eclipses me on her scooter on the way to school.
My talkative child is already 3 (or “free,” as she says, though she’s able to pronounce the Hebrew “chet” flawlessly, like her Israeli dad). I probably should be over — or at least at peace with — the horrors of infertility, especially as I still am immersed in the field. As a journalist, I wrote some wrote some 30 columns about my journey for The New York Times, and I’m now writing a book on the A to Z of infertility. I talk to IVF patients and doctors all day long, hoping to help people get through the process — emotionally, physically, and financially.
So by all counts, I should be able to watch a movie about one couple’s descent into a world I know all too well, especially since it’s been billed as both a drama and a comedy.
And yet, I can’t. I won’t.
That’s not because the couple in the film may or may not not end up with a baby (the ending, I’ve heard, is ambiguous). It’s because the movie, according to reviewers, is really about what a couple will go through to get what they want, and what it does to their relationship.
I can already tell you what such a couple will do, because we already did it: We visited mainstream doctors and quack alternative medicine practitioners; we scrounged for money, hit up our parents, moved across continents for free IVF; we lost our friends and Jewish community and jobs as we single-mindedly went from treatment to treatment and promise to promise to try and get — and in my case, stay — pregnant.
The toll on our relationship is harder to quantify. I probably cannot tell you what we might have been, had our first or even second pregnancy — which burrowed in shortly after we got married when I was 41 and he was 44 — become a baby. Surely we would have been wealthier. We also may have been more solid as a couple had we not paid for those three years in disappointment, in blame, and in those bleary nights where we didn’t bother to have sex because what, exactly, is the point, if it’s not going to be for procreation?
Yes, we had a baby, but unlike other sparkling but exhausted parents of newborns, we had fought a war of attrition to get there. And now that we’re OK — we survived a most nerve-wracking fifth pregnancy, a C-section, breastfeeding, and sleep training — we’re actually more than OK. We’re almost us. A new us. And I’m grateful.
So I have no desire to revisit that particular hell that was my life for several years — especially since I learned that my journey partially inspired some moments in the movie.
The film’s writer and director, Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills and The Savages), was asked by The Huffington Post whether, during her own fertility treatments, she was accused of being a “fertility addict,” as the film characters are. And she responds:
“Do you remember when The New York Times did an IVF diary? [The diarist, Amy Klein] would [post an update], and then a month would go by and she would do another thing, and another thing. I remember, I was like, ‘Oh my God this is so interesting.’ I was reading her stuff, and it was really good, and then I went into the comment section and it was like a horror movie.
“First of all, all comment sections are terrifying, but this was extra crazy. People were like, ‘How dare she do this! She should just find an unwanted child.’ Or, ‘Why would people spend this money, they’re just horrible rich people.’
Yes, this Academy Award-nominated director said I was “really good(!!).” (Also: No, Mom, she didn’t option my work. And yes, Mom, I can still write my own TV show someday.) But what felt amazing was that someone had seen and validated the abuse I’d taken over the years. Reading online comments about your work is never fun; imagine doing so while hopped up on hormones like estrogen, which are chemically designed to make you cry and be generally unhinged.
This belated hat tip made me double down on my initial assessment. If this film was not just reminiscent of my life but literally about it — well, I don’t need to go there, thank you very much.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy there’s a fertility movie out there. I’m glad people are talking about the pain of wanting a baby so badly you sacrifice everything, even your primary relationship, and how isolating it is to not have it. I’m grateful the Jewish community is talking more about infertility, too, like Naomi Less’ show “TRYmester: Jewish Fertility Journeys Out Loud,” which is based on stories of infertility to raise awareness of the subject in the community.
I hope that the Jewish and mainstream communities continue the conversation about infertility, which affects more than 7 million people a year in the U.S., according to the CDC. I hope it becomes recognized as a medical condition, with appropriate funding.
Now that my hundreds of empty syringes are decomposing in a landfill in Staten Island, and my medicine cabinets are filled with “regular” things like vitamins and baby Motrin, I’m happy to help others — either directly or through my writing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to watch this well-received film about a couple’s infertility journey, to show I’m finally over mine.
Header image via YouTube.