When they started doing IVF last year, Matt Mira and Doree Shafrir were open with friends and colleagues about their quest to become parents. To their surprise, scores of people started sharing their own infertility experiences. “Women and men were coming out of the woodwork,” Doree says. “I realized, wow, so many of us are going through this, but there’s such a stigma around IVF, we never talk about it.” They started a funny, addictive podcast, Matt and Doree’s Eggcellent Adventure, which quickly climbed the ranks on iTunes. Here’s their story, and what they’ve learned after undergoing three rounds of IVF.
When did you realize you were dealing with infertility?
Doree: I was 38 when we got married — my eggs are fairly old — and my gynecologist said if we didn’t get pregnant within six months of trying we should both be tested. Honestly, it was in the back of my head that I might end up needing some fertility help. I’d never been pregnant, even though we played it loose a few months before we got married, and I wondered if everything was working the way it’s supposed to.
Matt: I’m weird, but long before we started trying I’d say, “I probably have an incredibly low sperm count,” even though I had no real basis for knowing that. It was sort of a joke and sort of a hunch. I’ve always been overweight, which can affect sperm count; and I thought, “What are the chances that I hadn’t gotten anyone pregnant this far into my life?” But after I went for a sperm analysis, the urologist called and told me I had a million sperm in my sample. At first, I was very excited — absolutely thrilled — that I had a million of anything, let alone sperm. I couldn’t wait to tell Doree that I was great, better than great, even. And then the doctor explained that my sample was actually short by about 79 to 100 million sperm. Yeah, there we are.
How did you decide to do a podcast about your IVF journey?
Matt: I co-host another podcast called Nerdist, and Doree gave me her blessing to talk a little bit about infertility there. I told the story about getting my sperm analyzed because it’s funny, but what surprised me was how excited other men seemed about my openness on the topic. I started getting messages online saying, “Oh my gosh, the same thing is happening to me.” Doree suggested we do an IVF podcast and at first I said, “That sounds not fun.” So, I took a poll on Twitter asking if people would listen to a podcast about my wife and me going through IVF, just to show her that was a bad idea and prove her wrong.
Doree: When I saw the response Matt was getting from men, I knew a podcast about infertility could be great. Women don’t talk about IVF much publicly, but at least there are communities online where women can find each other. The poll from Matt’s Twitter feed came back 81% in favor. (I won.)
What are you trying to accomplish with the podcast?
Doree: Matt and I noticed that once we started talking about IVF, we immediately met people who had some connection to it, but felt there was nothing out there for them that’s not super serious and depressing. It’s not a fun thing to go through, and while we never want to feel like we’re making light of IVF or anyone else’s situation, we do feel like there needs to be a chill place to approach this topic. Our listeners are women, men, gay, straight, people going through IVF, people who know someone going through it — it’s a wide range of experiences.
Matt: I think if we can try to make this very serious situation not feel so serious all the time, it might help someone who’s having a crap time of it. It has probably saved us from couples’ therapy, just being able to talk it out in a more lighthearted way. Also, my mother listens to the podcast and gets all her updates that way, so it saves me a phone call every week.
Yes, you guys seem so supportive of each other throughout this process.
Matt: Doree bears the brunt of it as far as what’s being injected into her body and the stress of all the appointments and procedures. I’m always keenly aware of that and I try to be as supportive as humanly possible.
Doree: We try not to blame each other for anything in this situation. I think that’s a good ground rule.
Have you had any really low moments?
Doree: There have been a lot of ups and downs, naturally — with medication hassles, disappointing results, that kind of stuff. Once, when Matt was out of town, I was trying to inject myself with progesterone, something you have to do once a day after your embryo transfer. It requires an insanely long and thick needle that has to go in your lower back above your butt, and I was contorting myself to do it. I could barely get the syringe in. When I pulled it out, the needle was bent 90 degrees. I started crying and was thinking to myself, “Why isn’t he here and why am I even doing this?” I developed a nasty bruise. It was definitely not a high point.
Matt: I had driven four hours from L.A. to Las Vegas with a friend and I got a tearful phone call from Doree. I looked at my friend and said, “I have to leave now. We have to drive back to Los Angeles. We’re having a crisis that’s four hours from being solved.”
Have you learned a lot about your bodies?
Doree: Totally. I didn’t realize how much I had absorbed until we changed doctors at one point. She was giving us her spiel in what used to sound like a foreign language, but I was like, “I understand every single thing she’s talking about,” Endometrial lining, um, yes. People often write to us asking for medical advice and we’re surprised that we invariably have a handle on the answer, even though we always refer them to experts, of course.
Matt: I didn’t know there was a wall, let alone a lining, in a uterus. That’s a lot of information I never dreamed I would have in my head. I would wager I know more than 99.8 percent of men about human reproduction.
What has the financial aspect of infertility been like?
Doree: Last year, a lot of our treatment for two IVF cycles was out of pocket. We spent about $45,000 spread out on different credit cards and we’re still paying them off. Now we have better insurance coverage through my work, but if the round we just completed doesn’t work and we decide to do another one, it will be totally out of pocket again.
Matt: The financial burden is bananas. There’s a part of your tax form that lets you deduct medical expenses that exceed 10 percent of your income, and I never thought at this age I’d be someone who could use that. Every time I walk into the doctor’s office, I think, “How exactly will we do this?” And then I just tell myself we’ll figure it out. It’s all worth it right now.
Doree: We talk to podcast listeners from all over the world about how they pay for it. Many other countries, like Canada, Australia, the U.K. and Israel, are much more helpful with infertility coverage, and it’s also cheaper elsewhere to pay out of pocket if you have to. There are a few income-based IVF financing programs here that will help if you make below a certain amount, but IVF is out of reach for many. It’s so disappointing to think that someone struggling with infertility who wants to undergo treatment can’t afford to try.
What advice would you give someone who’s about to start IVF?
Doree: Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions. If there’s anything you’re not sure about or don’t understand, ask them. Many infertility specialists have been doing this for a long time and they see a ton of patients; they don’t always remember what people don’t know. You’re paying them a lot of money and you can ask all the questions you like. Also, I would tell someone that it might take longer to go through IVF than they ever imagined. Every time you feel like you’re getting somewhere, they’re like, “We have to do this one other test” or “We have to wait three weeks until we can start this protocol.” You just have to give in to the unpredictability and keep the faith. That’s especially hard if you’re someone like me who likes to plan everything.
Matt: I would tell male partners to be as aware as you can be about what the other person is going through. All you have to do is go into a terrible room and jerk off. That’s literally all you have to do. So, if that’s it, then you better make yourself useful the rest of the time, going to appointments, answering her texts when she needs a friend, helping with injections, whatever you can do.
Has anyone close to you gotten pregnant while you’ve been doing IVF?
Doree: A friend of mine posted a few weeks ago on Facebook of all places that she’d gotten accidentally pregnant and wanted to have an abortion. I had a visceral reaction when she posted it. I thought, “Aw, man!” It was hard for me to see. How can it be so easy for someone who doesn’t want a baby to get pregnant? But when other friends have gotten pregnant this year, I’ve been happy for them. I just don’t love it when they say things like, “We weren’t even trying!”
Matt: When you hear someone else’s pregnancy news, it’s like when you’re seeing a friend Instagram from vacation and you’re in the middle of a 14-hour work day.
What’s it been like negotiating the demanding schedule of IVF with work?
Matt: I work as a writer on a sitcom and my hours are crazy. I’m there all the time. Whenever I slink into my boss’s office and knock on the door, I barely get the first letter of IVF out of my mouth and he’s like, “Take all the time you need.”
Doree: Luckily, my work has been very understanding as well. Not everyone has the same experience, obviously, but you’d be surprised how many people have told me their bosses and co-workers have made every accommodation they could.
Has any of the medical stuff been scary?
Doree: Nothing is as scary as you might think. I didn’t love the injections at first. They’re just not the best thing in life. Matt used to be there when I would do my injections during a cycle, but I’ve gradually gotten braver and better at doing it on my own. I will say, I’m what the phlebotomists call a “hard stick,” which means I have very small, deep veins the nurses often can’t find. Given how many blood tests IVF involves while they are checking your hormone levels (sometimes daily), that hasn’t been fun. When I’ve had to go under anesthesia for three egg retrievals, they can never get the IV in, which is anxiety-inducing.
With every cycle, do you think or daydream about your future life as parents?
Doree: Honestly, the nuts and bolts of IVF make the actual baby feel so abstract. We’re so focused on the mechanics of something that feels far removed from even a pregnancy, let alone a baby — we want to have a positive attitude, but also, I think, there’s an element of not allowing ourselves to fantasize about it, if that makes sense.
What if it doesn’t work?
Doree: I think when we started we said we’d do two rounds max, and here we are on our third round. But every time you do it you think, “Maybe I can do it again. Maybe it will work next time.” And you meet people who did eight rounds, so how do you know when to stop? I didn’t go into this process thinking it would take that many attempts and I don’t want it to. But if we tried transferring all of our embryos and none of them took, I don’t know. We’re not long-range planners. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Matt: For starters, we would probably get another dog! But we still want to be human parents. Would we try to adopt or use a donor egg? I don’t know.
If someone I care about is going through IVF, what are the best and worst things I could do to support them?
Doree: Tell them that you’re there for them whenever they need to talk and check in periodically but not invasively. You could send a text saying, “I’m just checking in, thinking of you and I’m around if you need to talk,” or, “Thinking of you — want to [do X fun thing] next weekend [that does not involve children or anyone pregnant]?” Or send a handwritten note saying that you know they’re going through a hard time and you’re there for them. And it’s really important not to feel offended if they don’t respond. A few bad things are asking questions like, “How’s the IVF going?” or “When will you be pregnant?” or “Why is it taking so long?” And don’t give them any guilt trips about not going to a baby shower, don’t joke about IVF or infertility, don’t comment about how you can relate because went through something similar if it’s not (like having to try for a few months to get pregnant). That’s not the same!
What’s been the most surprising part of this whole process?
Doree: How good it feels to be open about it. It wasn’t my initial instinct to be open, but once I was I felt so much better. In terms of the podcast, I will say this: I’ve been a writer for big publications my whole career and nothing I’ve ever written has gotten this level of response. Every day, we hear from so many people who just want to unburden themselves. They’re not even expecting a reply. These conversations have been very powerful — the most powerful part of my IVF journey so far.
Yes, I’m blown away by the podcast’s Facebook group. It’s a real community.
Doree: There were a lot of places for women to commiserate online about IVF, but not that many co-ed spaces. I think that’s what makes it unique. This is gay couples, straight couples, single people from all over. It’s fascinating to see what everyone is going through.
Matt: It’s incredible. The other day a guy who listens to the podcast posted on there who was like, “I’m a single dude and I’m not dealing with infertility, but I love hearing about everybody’s experiences and I wish you the best of luck.”
Thank you so much, Doree and Matt!
Doree is a senior culture writer at Buzzfeed. Her first novel, Startup, comes out in April. Matt is a writer on the ABC television show The Goldbergs and the co-host of several podcasts, including Nerdist, James Bonding and Star Trek The Next Conversation. They live in L.A. with their beloved dog. You can listen to Matt and Doree’s Eggcellent Adventure here and join their Facebook group here.