Karen Jeffries (not her real name) is an elementary school teacher in suburban New York City. For many years, she was also infertile. So she wrote a book and launched a website, Hilariously Infertile, to help other women laugh, vent and commiserate. Jeffries, who now has two children (whom she raises as Jews), also has a popular, meme-filled Instagram feed where she voices what so many infertile couples are secretly thinking, from estrogen rampages to doctor’s office mishaps. She performed at Arlington’s Regent Theatre last weekend, and we caught up with her to talk ovaries.
Describe your fertility experience.
I was trying to get pregnant on my own, with my husband, for months, and I wasn’t getting my period for months at a time. I went to the doctor, and she started me on Clomid. Nothing happened. I did another round of Clomid. Nothing happened. She called me and told me she thought I had PCOS—polycystic ovarian syndrome—and that I needed to contact the fertility clinic. That was the transition from trying to conceive to infertile, for me. I was just turning 30 years old. My fertility doctor confirmed that I did have PCOS, and we started IUI, intrauterine insemination, along with Clomid. On my second round of IUI, I conceived my first daughter, who is in second grade. We went back to try to have [another child], because the doctors had told me there was no point for me to try on my own. I did five rounds of Clomid and four IUIs. After my fourth failed IUI, I decided—and my husband supported me—to move forward with IVF. We did one round of IVF and conceived our second daughter.
What is hilarious about infertility? I mean this genuinely: Give some examples of experiences from which you’ve derived humor.
That’s the thing—infertility is not funny. It’s not. It’s hard and heartbreaking. I try to find little pieces of humor in situations and focus on them. To me, the funny parts are the male ejaculation rooms. Hilarious! The transvaginal ultrasound wand hate relationship, the waiting rooms where no one talks, the injections in the butt, which I lovingly call “the ass shots.” Those are the things I choose to focus on.
Would you ever adopt?
I always did want to adopt, and that isn’t out of the realm of possibilities for us. But I think as of right now, we are good. If we were to move forward with our family, we would need to know we could devote more time to it.
Why do you think our society prizes parenthood so much?
This is such a great question. I think our society prizes children in general. I have devoted my life to children, and I think most people want to know that we are raising good children to make the world a better place, to do good things, in our absence. I think people look at parenthood very similarly to that. But, yes, I do believe there is too much pressure to get married and have children in our society. Whether that’s something a couple wants or doesn’t want, the pressure is definitely there.
What’s the most annoying thing someone has ever said to you about not having kids?
Ha! “Relax and it will happen.” “Just do what I did and get drunk and go on vacation.” “Just put your feet up.” Those are the really dumb things.
What should people definitely say if they know someone is trying to get pregnant, and what should they never, ever say?
Never say what I mentioned above in the previous question! Things you can say are: “I’m here for you.” “How can I help?” “Can I take over [X] for you at work this week? I know you’ve been going through a lot.” “I made you some [meal] because I love you and I know you’re struggling right now, and I want to help in the little way I can.”
How can a partner who isn’t going through the process biologically be supportive? And what isn’t particularly helpful?
My husband is amazing and very supportive. He was always very positive. After my first failed IUI, though, he told me that maybe if we had another failed IUI that I should start eating organically; it really upset me. I told him I had a medical diagnosis and that eating some extra kale isn’t going to take away my ovarian cysts.
You clearly have a strong following; what do you hear from women in the same position as you? Do any stories stick out to you?
Oh my gosh, so many stories stick with me. The common thread of feedback that I hear is positive. People are thankful that I’m creating content that helps them smile on a bad day. People are happy to know they are not alone. People are happy to know that the thoughts and emotions they think are crazy are actually what everyone else is thinking too.
When you saw friends having kids, how did you feel?
Well, now that I am a mom, I feel fine. And to be honest, I tried really hard to be supportive of my friends when I was going through this. I tried to compartmentalize my sadness for me and my happiness for them, but when people have been struggling for years and years, I think they really just need to do what feels best for them. I always tell my followers: You don’t owe anyone anything. Set the bar low, and get through the day.
What are some of your favorite resources?