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Author encourages laughter through infertility

January Magazine

Infertility is not often thought of as a funny subject, but a comedian and author has made it her mission to find the laughable parts of the struggle to help others feel less alone.

With us today on “Take Care” is Karen Jeffries, a school teacher and part-time stand-up comedian. She is the author of the book, “Hilariously Infertile,” in which she reflects on her experience with infertility and provides advice for others like her.

Jeffries said that learning she was infertile was a rather heartbreaking and stressful situation for her.

“I had no idea that I was infertile,” she said. “My husband and I started trying, and I wasn’t getting my period for months and months and months, but I also was receiving negative pregnancy test results, so I didn’t understand what was happening to my body.”

Jeffries’s OBGYN started her on clomid, a drug that helps to stimulate the ovaries. After the first round didn’t work, she started another round, also to no avail. Then, the doctor said she had poly-cystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS.

Having never heard of the condition, Jeffries googled it to learn more, and it wasn’t a pleasant revelation.

“I was very, very shocked and very upset when I saw that it just said ‘infertility,’ ‘infertile,’ ‘can’t get pregnant,’” she said. “I was pretty much a wreck.”

This diagnosis soon led Jeffries to her fertility clinic in New York City, where the doctor told her that PCOS had a good side and bad side to it.

“It’s good because it means that you have a ton of eggs,” Jeffries said. “It’s a bad thing because … there’s so many eggs that no one egg can actually grow and become dominate and then release down the fallopian tube, so I don’t ovulate on my own.”

Her doctor recommended an IUI, or intrauterine insemination, and a higher dose of clomid. The clomid would help an egg be released, while insemination would get it fertilized. The doctor described the latter as “cleaning and buffing” her husband’s sperm and inserting it into her body at the proper time of the month.

"This is funny and this is inappropriate, and it's real and it's true and it's the way that women really talk to each other when we're out with our best friends."

It was a largely lonely and emotionally draining experience to go through, Jeffries said.

“When I was going though it, I was very alone,” she said. I didn’t have friends or family that had gone through it. I wasn’t on any social media.”

But some funny elements, like “clean and buff,” brought some comfort to the situation.

“There were just some things that we just could not stop laughing about, so it was that emotional roller coaster, definitely, and very clinical, but at the same time, we were trying to find some light in it, some humor in it, just to get me through the day,” she said.

When she first arrived at the doctor’s office for her first day of morning monitoring, Jeffries was excited to meet other women who were going through a similar experience and possibly make some friends. What she found instead was the exact opposite.

“When I got there, no one talked to each other. … It’s like ‘Fight Club,’” Jeffries said.

Jeffries said it was almost like there was a fertility clinic rule -- don’t talk about the fertility clinic -- and it made the whole atmosphere feel like a funeral. The perpetual silence didn’t break even when she tried to start conversation, and Jeffries said she couldn’t understand why no one was talking about it.

“When I was going through it, I was always very open about what I was going through,” she said. “Any other medical issue that you go through, you talk about it.”

Her experience eventually paid off, but her story doesn’t stop there. When she was on maternity leave with her second daughter, Jeffries was helping her friend and another family member through their ovulation cycles. Her husband heard about this and suggested she write a book to help even more people.

“I just laughed him off thinking that’s just ridiculous,” Jeffries said. “Then, a few weeks later, I started writing.”

And it surprised her just how easy it was to finish.

“The book just poured out of me,” she said. “In about five weeks, the complete book was done, and it was very similar to what is available now to buy.”

Throughout the entire writing process, Jeffries just kept thinking about how funny the situation often was, and she conveyed that in her book.

“This is funny and this is inappropriate, and it’s real and it’s true and it’s the way that women really talk to each other when we’re out with our best friends,” she said. “And so, that’s when I decided I needed to share.”

This is not to say that infertility is funny, Jeffries said, because it isn’t. In this process, she’s gotten a lot of heart-wrenching stories about how awful infertility can be. However, there are some funny elements that Jeffries noticed in her experience that she felt others could relate to. By sharing the funny elements, she was hoping to help those suffering to feel better.

“Basically, what I’m trying to do is explain that it’s a very, very, very sad time in people’s lives, and if I can get someone who’s on their way to an appointment to crack a smile or to laugh a little bit, then I’m doing my job, and that’s all I really want to do,” Jeffries said.

That uplifting goal didn’t resonate with publishers, unfortunately. Since she didn’t know anything about publishing, Jeffries just started submitting “Hilariously Infertile” to local publishing agencies and literary agents in NYC, and the response was underwhelming.

“I either didn’t hear anything back or what I heard back was ‘We just don’t think it’s a big enough market,’” she said. “And that, to me, is what really, really fueled my fire.”

That response is exactly the problem, Jeffries said. If the publishers don’t think it’s a big enough market, people won’t be talking about this issue and will suffer alone and in silence, she said, which is a reality she couldn’t allow.

“I just can’t have that happen, so that’s when I decided to start a website, start the social media and move forward that way,” she said.

She posted a couple book chapters on the site and got some positive response, so that prompted Jeffries to consider self-publishing. Since doing so, the book has received an incredibly positive response and many copies sold, which is more than Jeffries ever expected.

Jeffries said she wished she had her book when she was going through her infertility, and she didn’t want others to miss out, too.

“I wish I had a platform like Hilariously Infertile where I could go to and see these funny memes or funny images I completely resonate with, that are what I’m going through at that moment, so that I felt not alone,” she said.

Fortunately for Jeffries and others, she said, the tide is turning toward a more open conversation about infertility as people learn more about it.

“People are really starting to realize that this is an issue that’s affecting a lot of people throughout the world,” she said. “People are starting to talk about it because they’re starting to realize that there’s nothing wrong with you.”

And that’s what Jeffries holds onto -- she’s not alone or crazy; she’s normal. By showing others that they’re the same away, she’s doing what she can to lessen that stigma, too.