“We often hear stories about IVF working the first try. But you’ll hear a lot more stories about assisted fertility taking a few times before it works. Ours didn’t work the first time, and it was devastating. You realize that a lot of it is luck, and you can’t blame things on yourself.”
These were the words of American model and television personality Chrissy Teigen as she processed her in-vitro fertilization (IVF) journey. Teigen began IVF treatments about a year after a devastating pregnancy loss.
News of Teigen’s recent conversations illuminates another reality; Teigen’s experience reflects societal issues beyond the road to pregnancy. Two years ago, Teigen shared the devastating news of the miscarriage of her son, Jack, on Instagram. In her post, she recounted her experience with a slew of pregnancy complications before the loss of her son at twenty weeks. She would continue to use her platform to commemorate Jack after the initial announcement.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Chrissy Teigen recently confessed that the devastating pregnancy loss that led her to seek out IVF treatment was actually the result of a life-saving abortion. Around halfway through her pregnancy, doctors realized that both Teigen and Jack would not survive without medical intervention. The heartbreaking decision stemmed from the understanding that she had an unviable pregnancy.
Chrissy Teigen and John Legend are not alone. In a November 2020 New York Times op-ed, Megan Markle detailed the experience of her miscarriage and the ensuing grief. She explained feeling a sharp cramp upon changing her son Archie’s diaper one morning. Despite her attempts at remaining calm, she had an unshakable feeling that she was losing her unborn child. She continued, “Hours later, I lay in a hospital bed, holding my husband’s hand. I felt the clamminess of his palm and kissed his knuckles, wet from both our tears. Staring at the cold white walls, my eyes glazed over. I tried to imagine how we’d heal.”
Other public facing figures took Teigen’s course of action after the same experience. In an ABC News interview preceding the release of her book Becoming, Michelle Obama shared a part of her daughters’ birth stories. Both Sasha and Malia were conceived through IVF after Michelle’s experience with pregnancy loss. In the interview, she explained feeling “lost and alone”, and “[feeling] like [she] failed because [she] didn’t know how common miscarriages were because we don’t talk about them”.
Unfortunately, these experiences with pregnancy and childbirth mirrors that of many American birthing people. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, and part of honoring those who share the experience is heightening our collective awareness.
According to the CDC, 1 in 5 birthing people are unable to get pregnant after a year of trying. Among this group, 1 in 4 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. Research points to another grim reality: experiences with (in)fertility and miscarriages differ vastly with race. Recent studies suggest that Black birthing people are twice as likely as white birthing people to have fertility problems, but less likely to seek treatment.
While many birthing people share Chrissy Teigen and Michelle Obama’s experiences with miscarriage, only few have the luxury of access to the same interventions. In addition to disparities across race, pregnancy and childbirth experiences reflect disparities across class. Studies show that wealthier people undergoing IVF treatment are more likely to have a baby. This is a result of the nature of the treatment—the CDC reports a 70% failure rate in the average IVF cycle. In most cases, people must undergo multiple rounds, which comes with costs lower-income birthing people cannot afford.
These disparities—and the ensuing social and psychological experiences associated with fertility difficulties and miscarriages warrant investigation. We must consider the factors that render some birthing people more susceptible to the experience of infertility and miscarriage. In addition, our analysis must transcend the ‘problem’ sphere to acknowledge the limitations of our solutions. Who is more likely to have access? How do costs bar certain populations from joining them? While fertility issues and miscarriage can often feel isolating, our evaluation of both 1) the conditions under which they are occurring and 2) the accessibility of remedies will ensure that individuals and couples do not trudge through these obstacles alone.