I had a great time interviewing Karen. She was very open about her personal story through infertility, and has taken her experience and used it to create a fantastic resource for women – Hilariously Infertile, a website, social media platforms, and a new book dedicated to her unique perspective on the struggle of infertility. She believes that laughter is good medicine and that sometimes, no matter how dire, we all could benefit from being able to laugh at our circumstance. Check out the podcast and check out her resources, they may be exactly what you need right now!
Spence: Hello, everyone, welcome to the Conception Channel podcast, brought to you by the Being Fertile Program and Yinstill Reproductive Wellness. I am your host, Spence Pentland, and today, I’m super excited to be here with Karen Z. We’ve been trying to connect for a little while, and I’m super glad that we finally have, our schedules are tough. She’s here today to help us understand the journey of infertility in maybe a little bit of a unique way today. We’ll give you her details about her website, etc, because I’m sure after listening today, you’re going to want to jump in and get to know Karen a little bit more. Karen is a fourth grade teacher, living just outside New York City, and she is a successful blogpreneur, and we’ll get into exactly a little bit more of that. Welcome to the show, Karen.
Karen: Thank you so much for having me. Thank you so much, I’m so glad that we were able to make this work.
Spence: Me too. In honor of the tradition of the podcast, we start with a guest story, so, yours kind of is too prompt, and you said you could probably mince those together somehow. Anyway, you have had your journey through infertility as well.
Karen: I have, I have, yes. I had no idea that I had what people call PCOS, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, I had no idea. I didn’t even know what that was. My husband and I were trying to get pregnant, I wasn’t getting my cycles, like nothing was happening. And so, thinking back to like seventh grade biology, I was, like, well, if you don’t get your period and you’re having unprotected sex, automatically you’re pregnant. And that was just not the case. And I’m sure so many people know this feeling, pregnancy test after pregnancy test after pregnancy test was coming back negative. So, after a while, we went to go see my gynecologist, and my gynecologist ran some tests and started me on Clomid, and then a few months later, nothing was happening on the Clomid. Nowadays, I’m like, I think that violates like a number of privacy laws, but whatever. She’s like, I think that you have something called PCOS, and I want you to see a reproductive
endocrinologist. And I didn’t even know what that acronym stood for, so, of course, I googled it, and I just lost my mind, I was hysterical, I was a mess. I almost took my computer and like threw it across my apartment at the time, because every word I just saw was ‘infertile, infertile, infertility, can’t have kids, trouble getting pregnant’. So, that was like the crushing, crushing blow that I’m sure lots of people experience when they get a diagnosis like that, whether it’s an actual diagnosis, or if it’s unexplained infertility, or whatever it is. So, then, we started going to NYU fertility clinic in New York City, which is a wonderful clinic, I’d highly recommend them, they started doing all the tests, and my doctor explained to me what PCOS is. He was very confident, he’s like, it’s going to work, like, we’re going to get you pregnant, it’s going to be fine. I did all the tests, all that stuff, and I had my first IUI, and it failed. I was devastated, absolutely devastated. Then the next month, my second IUI worked, which is shocking because I don’t know that many people who actually get pregnant on IUIs. Statistically actually, you probably know the stats better than I do, but regardless, that was our first daughter, Zoe, who’s now five, a precocious, little five-year old. I was always very vocal about being infertile. I never thought that it was something that you should hide or not talk about because, in my opinion, if you get diagnosed with any other medical condition, you talk about it, you talk about it with your friends and your family, they help you through it, and they ask you how your appointments are. So, I didn’t see this as any different, and that’s when I started realizing that people don’t talk about it. And all of a sudden, all these people that I work with, or I’m friends with, started coming out of the woodwork, like, oh, well, that happened to me, or I had a miscarriage, or this and that and the other. And I’m like, how come I never knew, why didn’t we talk about it. I thought that was weird, but whatever, I had my first kid. Couple years later, I went back to have my second, and we started with the same amount of Clomid that I was on to conceive my first, and nothing happened. I didn’t even ovulate.
Spence: Were there cycles in between, or did you kind of flip straight back into?
Karen: I went straight into it, like, I went pretty much straight from being on birth control, straight to fertility clinic, because, really, there’s no point for me to try to
conceive on my own, it’s kind of like a pointless activity. I mean, it’s super fun, but it’s not going to end in the baby. And my doctor said, you just come straight in. So, we went straight back to Clomid, and nothing happened even on the same amount that I had when I conceived my first daughter. Then, we stepped it up, I put on more Clomid, and then, four other IUIs after that. And every single one was negative, and every single one makes you a psycho. You know, like I’m feeling all these things, it’s nothing, it’s all like your mind is playing tricks on you. I don’t know about anyone else, I talk about this a lot on my social media, but Clomid makes me like a maniac. Not emotionally, but I eat like I’m Andre the Giant. I cannot stop eating anything, and it’s disgusting. So, we had five rounds of that, and then, when that didn’t work, finally, after the fourth IUI failed, I said to my husband, I think we’re going to have to go forward with IVF, and he was totally on board. We went forward with IVF, it was a crazy time of year because it was December, which is just a crazy holiday for everyone, it’s a crazy month for everyone. I also have like 40 parent-teacher conferences I have to do in December, so it was really, really super hectic.
We went through IVF and I had 33 follicles, which turned into 17 day 5 blastocysts. We put one in, and that’s my second daughter Abby. It was the first try and the first transfer, which is pretty incredible because I know also that’s not the most common.
Spence: And that’s an amazing response as well, to day 5.
Karen: Exactly. It was a HUGE number, I was in so much pain, and when they took out those 33, I went to work the next day. And I’m like, don’t go to work the next day, it’s a bad idea.
Spence: Did you do a fresh transfer, did they freeze and…?
Karen: No, the fresh transfer, yeah. Five days later, I didn’t even know if we could, because I was like bordering on hyperstimulation, and I was really, really scary that I wasn’t going to be able to. And looking back on it, of course, in hindsight, with like rose-colored glasses, you’re like, oh, but, it would have been just another month. But when you’re in it for that long, and my story’s not even that long, like, I know women who have
been in this for 18 months, three years, and when you say another month, it’s just crushing. I calmed myself down, got a hold of myself, and I was able to go in for the fresh transfer 5 days later. And that was my second daughter, Abby.
Spence: All girls.
Karen: Yeah. I went through my pregnancy, which is also ironic, that with both of my daughters, I was pregnant for 41 weeks, which is kind of crazy, because I can’t get pregnant on my own, but once I am pregnant, I’m pregnant for as long as you’re actually like medically allowed to be pregnant. They’re like rushing me to the hospital because I’m pregnant for too long.
Spence: Making up for lost time.
Karen: Yeah, exactly. I’m like overachieving on the back end. I was on maternity leave with Abby, and I was helping out a friend of mine and another family member through their infertility struggles. I was telling my husband one night, well, you know so-and-so’s follicles are at 17 millimeter, so she’s probably going to have her IUI on Sunday, and I’m like, so-and-so’s ovulating this week, so, we’ll see what happens there. And my husband was like, first of all, this is weird that you’re telling me about all this stuff, like I don’t need to know everyone’s menstrual cycle. He’s like, you should write a book, you’ve got so much knowledge, which I’m like, I don’t really have that much knowledge. He’s like, you are helping these people through, you should write a self-help book or something. So, I was like, huh. I just started, during that time and stuff, I just started writing, and at first, I didn’t even know what it was. I sent it to one of my girlfriends, and I was like, what is this, and she’s like, I don’t know what it is, but it’s really funny, and you have to keep going. I was like, is it a book, or is it a blog, or what, and she’s like, it doesn’t matter right now, just keep writing. So, I just kept writing, and it was actually, for me, very cathartic to like go back to those moments, even the sad parts, and to really think of how I was feeling, and to be able to explain my story. Because there are some parts that even my husband was like, wow, I didn’t know that you felt like that. And I’m like, yeah,
because that’s what women do. We shove it down, and we go throughout the day, and we hope and take care of everyone else, and it’s really hard. So, then, of course, in my naiveté, I didn’t realize that you have to be a celebrity or like be sleeping with someone in publishing in order to get published, because I was like, contacts and literary agents, they’re going to be like, this is great. And it’s such a out-of-box thought, and you’re going to get a book deal, and I’d never have to go back to teaching even though I love teaching. But I just had no idea. I just started emailing literary agents, a lot of people didn’t respond, some people did, and the people who did respond there was one thing that they kept saying was, we just don’t believe that it’s a large enough market. And, to me, that just like fueled my fire. I was like, oh, I’ll show you. Because it is such a large market, and it is like one of the fastest growing up, not market, but population in the United States. I know that, for me, a lot of my followers are from all over the world. If you even check the stats like a CDC, it’s a huge market, and I was like, but that’s the problem – that you don’t think it’s a large market because no one’s talking about it. And definitely, no one is laughing about it for sure if they are talking about it. So, that was when I was like, I have to do something. And then one of my friend said, you should have a website and you should have social media. And before this, I’m not kidding, I didn’t even have a personal Facebook page. I was so anti social media because I was a school teacher. My kids have actually said, we googled you, and I’m like, no, please don’t tell me that you saw anything about like a funny joke, it is so embarrassing.
Spence: What grade is it, fourth?
Karen: Yeah. So, they’re 10, and they definitely google you, like 100%. So, I was just really, really nervous, I didn’t understand like the whole hashtag thing, and little by little, we just got it rolling, and then it just kind of started snowballing. And then, people started seeing my humor in it, I started getting these emails from women in South Africa and in Australia, literally, every continent except for Antarctica. And they were like, you know, all I did was cry, and then I found your page, and now, I’m crying because I’m laughing so hard. Now I’m going to the clinic, now I’m going to see it from your point of view. Now I can’t stop laughing when I’m at the clinic, and people now think I’m a weirdo, and
things like that.
Spence: So, you gave women a new tool.
Karen: Exactly. My immature sense of humor.
Spence: Can you tell people a little bit more in detail about your website, where they can find you, and what kind of things you have to offer?
Karen: Absolutely. My website is called hilariouslyinfertile.com, and on the website are some articles that I’ve written for different sites, like fit pregnancy and IVF, and things like that, and local one around here in Westchester, New York. And then, there are also some of my book chapters, which is good. They’re free, and anyone can read them. A lot of times, people ask, like what happens, because there’s a big chunk of chapters that are not there, and this is actually a great platform to explain why because I always end up doing it individually. People email me, and I’m like, they’re not there for a reason, but there’s a big gap, it’s for chapters 6, 7 and 8. And that’s because most of those chapters talk about like the craziness, also hilarious, but just the craziness and all those feelings that go along with that. I left those out not because I don’t think people can handle it, I know that women can handle it. It’s not like one of those things like you don’t want to invite someone to a baby shower because you’re like, they can’t handle it. Women can handle anything. I just don’t have it on there because I want to stay on message, and my message is like helping people laugh through infertility, and like hearing about my hemorrhoids after pregnancy, after giving birth, those book chapters aren’t there. But then, later on, when I go back for my second daughter, all that stuff is there in an abridged form, and hopefully, this summer, we’ll have a product like a book that I’m going to be self-publishing. So, that will be — I don’t know how long it takes once you decide which self–publisher to go with, but we’re going to be doing that really soon. And, hopefully, merchandise too, because a lot of my followers want merchandise, but, it’s a lot because I also have a full-time job. Then, my social media platforms, I am on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and it’s all Hilariously Infertile, if you search that. And
again, it’s just funny memes to get people to laugh a little bit throughout their day, if they’re sitting there at the clinic waiting, just a little pick-me-up.
Spence: That’s okay. For people that are on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, that covers the planet, or your blog, they can kind of subscribe. You post things fairly regularly that kind of will uplift or enable people to giggle at themselves or their journey, which is hard but super important.
Karen: I think so. I really do. I mean, it’s not lost on me that my infertility story is relatively easy in infertility world. I never suffered from miscarriage and some of the other horrible things that a lot of my followers have been through, I haven’t. And so, you know, it is a little bit easier for me to see it from a more humorous side because of that. But I am still nonetheless infertile, and I just want to help people who are having a hard time, a harder time than me, or whatever, to laugh a little bit and to be like, wow, this really is ridiculous, or, wow, that really helped me when I was in there, in so much pain, or whatever. So, that’s what I’m trying to do.
Spence: Awesome. You take common scenarios that women are going through, either with polycystic ovary syndrome or trying to self-administer that first shot in an IVF, these kinds of scenarios, or going maybe for acupuncture for the first time, or whatever it might be. You spin it in a way that is not just positive, but taking the sting out of things, and then, hopefully, there’s being humor in it. I’ve always looked at the reproductive world, the reproductive medical field for the most part, and it doesn’t matter how you cut it, it seems that making a baby involves different methods of getting poked. It’s either needles or sexually or acupuncture or there’s something about that – that’s the only joke I have.
Karen: It’s a good one. I like that one.
Spence: If there are any people who are friends or family or maybe even healthcare professionals watching this, there probably won’t be many, it’ll mostly be women I suspect that will go to your website or follow you on social media, which is great. And
I’m pretty sure it’s just, take it from there, but if there are support systems out there, it is a delicate subject. How can someone like myself or try to infuse humor into what’s going on, is that appropriate? I mean, maybe you’re the wrong one to ask.
Karen: No, that’s a really good question. I mean, I’ve had a lot of like, what do I not say or what should I say and things like that, and I don’t think it’s about what to say or what not — I mean, what not to say, yes, it’s about what not to say — but I think it is about just listening to whoever’s going through it, and just being there for them. I think my number one thing that I always say is, how can I help you, how can I help you today, like do I need to walk your dog, how can I help, how can I support you, because, really, the person who’s going through that infertility has to go through it, they have to go through that if that’s what they’ve chosen to do. So, all that everyone else can do is make the rest of their life easier. I actually wrote an article I think for eIVF. It’s not necessarily the fertility treatment that’s unmanageable or unbearable, it’s life on top of the fertility treatments. It’s like the fact that this happens, and the fact that I had like screaming ten-year-olds, the fact that I got stuck in traffic for two and a half hours, traveling back from New York City, or whatever. Even like a red light that is going to make your head aching. Like that stress on top of everything already. If all you had to do was go to the fertility clinic and come home, it would be bearable.
Karen: I mean, doable, and you could probably handle it. But anything else on top of that, whether it’s secondary infertility and you have kids that you’re trying to take care of, or your husband, or family drama, or your job, and boss is not being sensitive, like all that stuff is the stuff that makes it, in my opinion, totally unbearable. And, if your infertility journey is so, so hard, then, that’s what I think makes it really, really hard, it’s just life and managing that. If all I had to do is give myself some shots and go down to the city, I’d be like, woohoo, I could plan everything around it. But you can’t, you have to also live your life. In terms of like, do you add humor in or not, I would say something like, you would have to kind of tiptoe around, engage individually. I post about this a lot on my social
media, saying things like, well, it’s okay because my kids are maniacs, that’s not the type of humor that you want to put in. We talk a lot on my social media about transvaginal ultrasound, how it looks like, it should be fun, but, it is NOT fun. We talk about that a lot and things like that, about people who are going through that, you can relate with, or the suppositories, which is just like landslide of a mess, and things like that that people don’t understand. And if you understand those little nuances, those little things, you’d be like, yeah, oh, my gosh, it was the worst. But, I would say that’s like an individual thing that you might have, like gauge. And maybe even the day-by-day thing, maybe you can jog around with one person one day, and then the next day, you’re like ‘whoa’.
Spence: That’s a great advice. So, the bottom line there I think is, anyone like myself, it’s like, oh, you should check out this woman named Karen, that’s the best idea.
Karen: Right. That would be a great piece of advice. Actually, once someone messaged me on Twitter, and I messaged them back, but they didn’t write me back. They were like, you know, you’re so funny, you really helped me through some dark times. They’re like, actually, my clinic recommends their patients to follow you. And I was like, oh, what clinic, I would love to reach out to that clinic and say thank you, and offer my support in any other way. Yeah, I think that that’s a really good tool too. Like, listen, I found this one person who’s funny and infertile, because there’s not many funny, infertile people out there.
Spence: I will do my part to try and get some fertility clinics too, because I’ve heard the stories of the fertility waiting room, the IVF Center, the waiting room. It’s usually pretty quiet, heads are down, but every once in a while, there’s this shiny star, whether they’re sometimes funny or that super social woman that gets everyone talking, and everyone loves it, you know. There may be one or two that kind of duck out to the bathroom or something, for the most part, I think women want dialog more than they want to go through this on their own. I love what you’re doing.
Karen: Thank you so much, I totally agree. I mean, I didn’t have social media when I was
going through this, I just had myself and my husband, and like one or two co-workers who knew I’d been through IVF, like, I didn’t have anyone else to talk to about it, who really knew. I think that that’s huge, I think that women just want to be connected and feel like they’re not alone. And I totally agree, those fertility clinic waiting rooms, I make a joke that it’s like Fight Club. Like, the first rule of the fertility clinic is you do not talk in the fertility clinic or about the fertility clinic – it’s crazy! It’s so weird. I mean, on my first day, I thought I was going to make friends, like, hey, I’m going to go meet some other infertiles, like we’re going to bond. And then, I got there, and everyone was like, who is this lady. We didn’t even really smile at each other, like, we’re not even allowed to smile. And then, I tried like a little side smile, I was like smiling, okay, I guess, it‘s not allowed to do that.
Spence: It’s a tough crowd, it’s a tough time, people are paralyzed within this emotionally, and for you to try to crack a code, to try to open them, because, if I could boil down what I try to do in my clinical practice for women that are having difficulty getting to their goal of achieving pregnancy and baby is trying to open these people. And I think there’s nothing better than humor. If you can handle that, there’s no better medicine. And maybe, if you can’t handle it, that’s something to be reflected on as well, because in the toughest times, if we could laugh at ourselves, it probably would be one of the best ways to get through a really difficult point. Maybe because I’m a guy, and because I’ve treated a lot of guys as well in with male factor, something I learned right off the cuff, you’re talking anything to do with penis or balls or sperm, it’s got to have at least a seed of humor. There’s a ton of material there, and any man would welcome that for the most part. I would love if you have anything of surrounding that or something, maybe we could co-write something. because I’ve written some tips for your stud, and it‘s usually for women to hand over to their men, and it’s really basic kind of humorous way to, oh, I should ejaculate every few days, or I shouldn’t let my balls get too hot, just throwing it out there, keeping it real. The male side I get, but this female side, you’re definitely probably sometimes a martyr, and at other times, a pioneer.
Karen: Thank you. One piece of advice for any male going through is, just bring your
Spence: Yeah. I wonder if some clinics recommend that.
Karen: My husband used to go — he’s going to kill me right now — but he used to go with his iPad, and he used to bring his own iPad. And I’d be like, why, and, for us, it was like kind of eye-opening because it’s that they don’t have what you want, or vice versa. I was like, oh, so, you like this, I didn’t know. I didn’t know prior to that what type of porn he had, and most couples probably wouldn’t really want to have that conversation, but I was like, let’s do it, apparently, I need to know. If that’s going to make your count better, then I want to know.
Spence: Yeah, totally. It would be interesting research to see if certain types of porn correlated with certain ejaculate volumes and counts and motility here.
Karen: Actually, I think it does, because I think if you don’t have what — I mean, I don’t know, I’m not a guy, but, I would imagine if you don’t have something that like really turns you on, and especially, just keeping your donation, for a guy, I think is so awkward for them anyway. And that’s also not really spoken about that much, but, you know, somewhat emasculating and awful that is, and I think that if you could do something that makes you feel better, and that you like more, then I think that you should do that. I think that’s 100% what you want to be doing. And if they don’t have what you like, then bring your own.
Spence: That’s good. You’re reminding me of a fellow named Greg Wolfe, I should try and get him on the podcast, he wrote a book a number of years ago called How To Make Love To a Plastic Cup. The flip side, so, yeah. You guys should talk.
Karen: Yes, we definitely should.
Spence: Awesome. Well, any last thoughts or ideas that you have for women or couples
even, going through this? Obviously, we’re going to put all these links to your social and everything in the show notes, so check them out below, and just follow her. You follow Karen, you get notifications daily, and if you don’t want to laugh at it that day, then use it to get some frustration out. I mean, when it is there, I’m sure it’ll be really helpful. Are there any last words that maybe will help someone in a tough time?
Karen: There is one thing that I think is really important is that a lot of times I think people, and this is so mind-boggling to me, but I’ve had women be like, I didn’t know if I emailed you, if you would respond, or if I DMed you, if you would respond. And I try really, really hard to respond to every single email, every single direct message, that part is so important to me. Someone once was like, I think you’re like a celebrity. I’m like so far from that, like I’m just a regular school teacher going to work and coming home, and then, this is kind of my little side thing. And I’m just happy to help anyone, so if anyone out there wants to chat or wants to email or has any questions, I’m literally always here. And that’s like what I do until I fall asleep at night. My husband yells at me, get off your phone, and I’m like falling asleep and texting people back. I think it’s really important to know that you’re not alone, and there’s an entire community, and either through Hilariously Infertile, or there’s a number of other social media sites out there as well that are bringing women together and talking about things, and I think it’s really great. So, just email me and I could be your venting board, which is totally fine too.
Spence: Awesome. It’s crazy good how you are accepting that dialogue with people.
Karen: Yeah, it is important.
Spence: Yeah, it is. It makes you and what you do far more tangible. I just think the mark and the legacy you leave will be far greater because of it. So, thank you, that’s great.
Karen: Thank you.
Spence: Please, send me your Facebook, your Instagram and Twitter, and we’ll get those
up, Hilariously Infertile. It’s Karen Z. We are so happy that you made it on the show today, and thank you for doing what you’re doing.
Karen: Thank you so much, thank you, thank you for having me.
Spence: Take care.