There is little to laugh about when it comes to infertility and the tests, treatments, and tears it invokes. Even if overcome, few people forget the pain. Yet fewer still choose to discuss their experiences, contributing to feelings of isolation and shame amongst the one in eight couples who suffer fertility issues. A fist bump, then, for the new parents dressing their offspring in clothing that not only publicly acknowledges what they have been through, but also manages to wrings some humor from the whole miserable palaver.
While unlikely to take the high street by storm, a range of baby garments available online blast a healthy dose of realism through a pastel-colored marketplace, with slogans that reference the increasing role that IVF and other scientific advances now play in conception—as well as the fact that for many, getting pregnant is a slow process. Granny might blanch at this "IVF – My Dad's a Wanker!" babygro but she could hardly object to "Worth The Wait." Other options include "I Survived The Ice Age" (a nod to frozen embryo transfer), "Petri-Miracle," "Made with Love And Science," and—a bestseller for Etsy seller TopOfTheBeanstalk—"The Little Embryo That Could."
Amy DeRosa, who runs TopOfTheBeanstalk, started making her onesies after seeing several friends and family members turning to assisted reproduction. "Some of these women were kind of embarrassed about not being able to get pregnant and seemed to feel like their [IVF] pregnancies were almost inferior to 'natural' pregnancies," she says. "I wanted to make them something that would help them feel proud of all their hard work and struggles. For some this may be their only child, and I wanted to offer them designs that would show other people how special and loved and wanted that child is."
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More than five million babies have been born via IVF (in vitro fertilization) since the treatment was first pioneered in 1978. It is a notoriously tough undertaking, involving weeks of hormone injections, blood tests, transvaginal ultrasounds, and other gynecological hijinks with no guarantee of success. Many women must endure repeated cycles before becoming pregnant, which can cost thousands ("My parents did IVF and all they could afford was this lousy T-shirt," reads one particularly on-the-nose offering.) By the time someone gets through all that, it's understandable that they may not have the energy or inclination to invite wider discussion of their medical history. For a few, however, going public about their struggle is another hurdle that's worth tackling.
Allie Payne, 33, and her husband Brad, 35, live in Pennsylvania and are among those choosing to announce the method of their baby's conception via the medium of terry cloth babygros. After going through nearly four years of fertility tests and treatments including two cycles of IVF, Payne is now three months pregnant with the couple's first child. She recently bought slogan onesies including "The Little Embryo That Could" and "Worth Every Penny" from DeRosa after seeing a similar design used in blogger Macy Rodeffer's bittersweet IVF pregnancy announcement, which went viral earlier this year.
IVF remains a controversial treatment among some in the States, partly due to religious concerns (Rodeffer writes eloquently bout reconciling Christian beliefs with a need for assisted reproductive techniques). But Payne hopes that by "coming out" in this manner, they can help reduce the stigma. "Personally, I do not want to forget about our IVF journey. It has shaped us as a couple and I think it is something that needs to be celebrated so much more than it is."
"IVF takes a huge amount of courage," she explains. "You are sticking yourself with needles multiple times a day, going in for blood draws and ultrasounds every day for multiple weeks and eventually you go through surgery and just pray that everything you did and spent so much money on worked.
"It's a tremendous leap of faith and to me, there is nothing shameful about that." She sees the onesies as a badge of honor. "I want people to see them and to not only feel comfortable asking questions but to realize the baby they are looking at is the culmination not only of IVF but of the efforts of two parents who wanted nothing more than to bring a child into the world and who persevered through multiple setbacks to achieve that."
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The dilemma of whether to "come out" about fertility problems is one faced by all those who have ever found themselves on the receiving end of a consultant's sympathetic, sad face. Fear of failure, judgment, or other people's pity means many prefer to keep quiet, making their regular dates with the steel stirrups in silence.
It can make a sad situation even more painful, says Candace Wohl, who struggled privately for several years before she and her husband Chris decided to go public in spectacular fashion via her blog, social media, and a candid appearance on MTV reality TV show True Life.
"I have never felt more alone in my life then when I was going through infertility," says Wohl, who has since become a leading speaker on infertility issues. "It paralyzes you. I felt my body had failed me while everyone else's seemed to work just fine. But once I'd scraped myself off the floor I thought to myself that there must be others who felt the way I did and were also suffering in silence. So we started a blog and threw all things TMI to the wind. When someone asked about our situation, I would tell them exactly what was going on.
"Why not talk about it? Any opportunity to educate someone who may misunderstand this disease is a win. When you do, it makes it less taboo and it gives those who may think negatively of assisted reproduction a chance to understand life on the other side of the tracks."
When Wohl and her husband finally had a daughter via a surrogate (or as they put it, "Our bun, her oven") she too dressed her new baby in a slogan onesie, this one bearing a microscope photograph of a fertilized egg and the words "My First Baby Photo."
"The onesie was actually a gift I gave to a friend who also experienced infertility. She came out on the other side but then stood on the sidelines cheering me on. When she returned it in a pile of clothes for our daughter, it took my breath away. I never thought I would see it again. I had lost hope that I would ever have a baby to dress in anything. It wasn't just a onesie, it represented so much more."
Wohl knows she is one of the lucky ones. Some women never take home a baby despite years of trying. But this isn't about forgetting what it feels like to fail, she stresses. "The moment I kick dirt over my infertility struggle, I will lose the one thing that led me to motherhood: human will. It is the most powerful force out there. I decided to talk about my infertility, write about it and advocate for legislation to make it easier for the next me. I have skin in this game—I have a daughter. She may be part of the one in eight statistic of people diagnosed with infertility. If that is the case, I hope she will never feel alone."