Will (W): First off, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. All of us at CNY loved your documentary One More Shot and were so excited for an opportunity to speak to you both. For those who don’t know either of you, can you please introduce yourself?
Maya (M): Thanks so much!
I’m Maya. I’m a clinical social worker/psychotherapist in Los Angeles and my practice is now primarily focused on supporting those struggling to conceive. I also produced the documentary, One More Shot, with my husband.
Noah (N): I’m the husband, Noah. I’m a television producer in Los Angeles. I work mostly in unscripted and reality, and I’m the director of One More Shot.
(W) When and why did you decide to document and film your fertility journey? Did the reasons for filming and eventually sharing your story change as years went by?
(M) Noah and I decided to film the first appointment with the RE not really knowing where we were going with the footage. We had already been trying for about 18 months before we saw the RE. Noah and I and our good friend Gabe, who was the director of photography on the film, met in college and took film classes together. We were always documenting something and making short films so it seemed natural for us to document. The more our story unfolded the more we realized we had an important story to share so we kept going. It was hard at times— we didn’t even have a proper camera in the beginning, we were using a still photography camera and it kept overheating and we’d put it in front of a fan to cool off…
(N)The reasons for filming evolved, as did how we wanted to share our story. Maya and I turned the camera on ourselves initially as a way to help process what we were going through. Somehow having a camera in the room, for whatever reason, made it easier for me to talk about how I was feeling and what I was worried about. Like Maya mentioned, we thought this would be just a little short video, we didn’t really think we’d even share it with anybody outside our family. But as time went on, we kept shooting and filling out the arcs of the film, and it turned into something much bigger in scope and scale than we’d anticipated, but we were also able to keep it incredibly personal.
(W)Were you scared about the reaction you would receive from either the general public or from those you know personally when you decided to share your story?
(M) We were never scared but we knew there would be some people who would not receive this film well. Anyone who starts a conversation with “there are too many people on this planet…” or “there are plenty of children in the foster care system…” just might not be able to see our perspective. It was important to me that we portrayed an honest look at what infertility was like for a real couple and that we showed the various ways families can be created. We always assumed most people in our immediate friend and family circle would be supportive. Most were but there were moments we did feel misunderstood.
(W) In One More Shot you mention how it was very hard to find support for what you were going through in the typical places you would normally turn to for support (friends, family, etc). It seems that this is such a common experience. Having gone through this yourself and now working as a fertility counselor, what do you suggest people do to find the necessary support community?
(M) It’s really hard but I do think there are more supports online and more books and just more of an awareness of infertility now than when I started my journey in 2012. I think finding a community— even if it’s not fertility related, is helpful. I got trained as yoga teacher and found that incredibly supportive physically and emotionally, because the philosophy of yoga and mindfulness and non-attachment all really apply when you’re going through fertility struggles. I know there are several “Secret” facebook groups out there and some of my clients are connected to that and find that helpful. Alice Domar writes books that are helpful for people…RESOLVE works to create community…there’s not a ton of support but it does exist. It also depends on what a person is comfortable with. We were really lucky to have been grant recipients from the Baby Quest Foundation and once we were part of that family they were very supportive.
(W) What do you wish you knew back when you started trying to conceive in 2010? Not so much regrets or things you would change, but what resources, information, etc do you wish you had known about? In other words, what are some of your favorite resources for those who are TTC?
(M) I read a handful of books— I’m trying to think back, Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein is the one coming to mind right now, and there are more books now. Really, at the time I didn’t feel there was much out there I related to, that’s why I started my own blog, Don’t Count Your Eggs. It was really helpful for me to write and process my experiences through writing and then slowly I had an audience and my experiences were validated. That’s what we all need— going through infertility and going through life, right? To be able to share and connect and be validated and reassured that we aren’t crazy. Sharing and expressing myself through writing helped me, but that’s not for everyone. Some people are very reserved about all this. Finding a good therapist who can support you one-on-one is always helpful, I think, if it’s the right person. Funny, I didn’t actually see a therapist through our journey, but it probably would have helped me. I just learned about a very interesting (and free) fertility mentor program that people can sign up for called Fruitful Fertility. I had some “mentors” so to speak, so I would recommend connecting with someone who has come out the other side in one piece.
(W) How do you think sharing your story affected your journey and experience? Would you suggest others share their own experience as a way of dealing with the hardships encountered in this incredibly stressful journey?
(M) Sharing and documenting was extremely important for me. I was pretty frustrated and in a way didn’t fully understand why there is so much shame and stigma around infertility. It’s a medical diagnosis, why should I be ashamed if I have a problem with my ovaries? We really wanted to share and help anyone who felt shame, or broken or inadequate or like not a “real man or woman,” see that there’s no shame in struggling to conceive. No one did anything wrong. No one is less of a person. Infertility is just a strange space to exist in for an extended amount of time. It can feel very confusing and isolating and there are identity struggles that come up— like who am I as a person trying to conceive? For me, I am comfortable sharing so it helped me process, and writing about it and documenting on film allowed us to create something tangible and create a coherent narrative amidst the chaos of what we were going through.
(N) I think making the film and it evolving into a work that I wanted to share forced me to confront my feelings and disappointments throughout our infertility journey in a way I might not have otherwise. Maya and I are both creative people and, first in her writing, and then for me with the film, I think we found a way to have an outlet for our feelings. An outlet is very important. I don’t think sharing or having an outlet necessarily means you need to write a blog or make a movie (there are plenty of easier ways). I would always suggest people try their best to actually speak and have somebody who can really, fully listen. Barring and in addition to that, though, if you’re moved to write or paint or make a video or compose music or you’re into tattoos, I highly recommend using your creativity to help you share. You’ll feel better, you’ll be a more creative person, and you will process your pain in a way that you might not be able to if you just keep it all bottled up.
(W) How did your experience with infertility shape you? How did sharing your story affect your life?
(M) I think our infertility experience made us much more aware and sensitive to alternative family building, obviously, because we really knew nothing about any of this until it happened to us. It gave us incredible insight and perspective into a very emotionally challenging experience and allowed us to (eventually) recognize that our crisis provided us an opportunity to grow and be more open-minded and empathic as individuals, as a couple, in our relationships with others, and, especially for me, in our work. It also gave us a certain confidence that the rug can be pulled out from under us and we will find a way to stay standing and figure out. Sharing gave us a community and honestly felt like it gave our heartache more meaning— that we could share and be helpful to others in some way.
(W) Can you talk a little about the medications and how they affected you emotionally? Any tips for dealing with this?
(M) I was a HOT MESS. Clomid was actually the worst. I felt totally crazy and could recognize that my thoughts weren’t rational but felt so much rage I was almost hot while I took that. My OBGYN who prescribed it never told me there could be emotional side effects like this so I was a bit blindsided. So was my family. But it was temporary. The other meds made me cranky and I gained a lot of weight and my skin broke out and I felt like I was always running hot, had night sweats…jeez now that I describe it it was pretty bad. But you muscle through and you tell yourself it’s temporary. This isn’t the new you, it’s a rough and ugly moment in time. Noah and I kind of boarded up the windows and doors and waited for the storm to pass. Expecting some mood shifts might help set the expectation.
(N) Yeah, Clomid’s a helluva drug. My advice: be kind to your partner. Have a thick skin. Remind them you love them every chance you get. The storm will pass.
(W) What was the toughest part for Noah – besides suffering through those horrible antibiotics?
(N) Those pills were BIG and I get tummy aches easily. In all seriousness, though, the toughest part of our process for me was not being able to just fix it all. Another challenge I felt regularly was that after a failed procedure you weren’t necessarily closer to your goal. In most things you do, even if you fail at a goal, at least your experience or perspective or plans put you in a better position to succeed the next time. Not with this. You start a zero, you get what feels like so close, and then when it doesn’t work you’re back at zero. That was a lot for me to get through.
(W) Noah, so much of the infertility story is focused on women. Can you explain the male perspective a little? What was it like for you? How was what you went through similar and how was it different than what Maya went through?
(N) Every case is different but for us, all my pain was emotional and mental. I am good at compartmentalizing things and I think that skill came in handy during infertility. I was (mostly) to brush aside the bad and disappointment and focus on next steps. Maya had to physically endure all of this. I can’t imagine the frustration that comes when a doctor tells you your body just doesn’t want to do what it’s supposed to do. She was such a warrior through all of this.
(W) Noah, what advice would you give men who are going through infertility difficulties with their spouse or partner?
(N) It’s tough to give any blanket advice. Every relationship is different. You have to play both sides of the ball in this. Be relentlessly positive, but acknowledge sadness and disappointment when they’re there. Have a plan, but give yourself the space to be disappointed when things go wrong. Battle every day, but understand this is a long game. And buy flowers or bring home dessert for no reason.
(W) In the world of infertility, women appear to be much more vocal. How do you think men can begin to contribute and help bring about positive change?
(N) It needs to start with men being able to talk about this with each other. And it’s not that if you tell your buddy the situation he’s going to reject you and tell you your broken and make fun of you to your other friends. He may not have an idea on how to help but that’s fine too. You need people who will listen. The best thing a friend said to me was, “I’m sorry. That really sucks. Tell me about it any time.” That’s it. Men don’t always need to fix things or have an answer. They just need to be able to acknowledge that this sucks. More often than not, though, that friend knows somebody or knows somebody who knows somebody who is dealing with infertility too.
(W) One More Shot was such a well-made film. I think people would be really interested in seeing some of Noah’s (and Gabriel’s) other projects. What else have they been involved in? Will Noah be directing any feature lengthy films in the near future? What should we look out for in the future?
(N) I’d love to direct another feature. You got a script ready to go? My day job as a television show runner keeps me pretty busy. I’m finishing a show for History Channel at the moment. I’m also in the process of developing a couple other projects, including somewhat of a sequel to One More Shot. I’m hoping that One More Shot can help me land some higher profile gigs but if nothing else it’s shown me that I’m capable of producing and directing a feature film and can survive the process intact.
(W) You and Noah seem to have such a good relationship throughout your journey. What can we learn from your journey and how did you stay united as a couple?
(M) Noah and I met when I was 20 and he was 21. We started trying to have a baby ten years later. So we had a really strong foundation and friendship before shit hit the fan, and I am grateful for that. Noah is also just extremely rational and patient, so however nuts I got he was able to stay grounded. I got lucky in the husband department. But I think for many couples this is very destabilizing. Finding a way to stay connected, taking a time out from the fertility talk a few times a week to remember why you came together in the first place. Noah and I kept trying to do the things we liked to do— go to rock shows and baseball games— it wasn’t the same, it did feel like we were trying to do fun things at times to remind ourselves that we weren’t totally miserable people, but it did help to just connect. Intimacy and communication can get very strained so being able to talk honestly and try different ways to stay connected is important.
(N)Yes, what she said. She’s always right.
(W) What do you think are currently the three most pressing issues in the world of infertility?
(M) Changing a cultural of shame.
Access of treatment for people, not just those who can afford it.
And nearly everything surrounding third party reproduction and the lack of coherence in that world and a lack of focus on what is best for a child conceived through third party reproduction.
(W) What are the three most common things you discuss or help your client through as a professional fertility counselor?
(M) Depression and anxiety are highly associated with infertility, so much of my work centers on helping decrease these symptoms. When someone has tried many things and has not been successful there is a lot of fear and a lot of expectation that anything they try also won’t work— so I try to help my clients connect to the hope that lives in their hart and learn ways to combat a lot of fear-based negative messages that naturally invade their mental space. I help people process trauma because pregnancy loss as well as the loss of what could have been during an IVF cycle can feel very traumatic for some people. I work with couples to help everyone get on the same page and depending on the situation there can be many discussions about what to do next. This conversation usually has a lot of factors to process and if moving to a third party situation it’s figuring out how to process the grief while holding onto the hope and possibilities of third-party help. I also focus on what is best for children born through assisted reproduction and third-party reproduction and help people let go of any shame or negative baggage from the fertility journey so that it doesn’t follow them into parenthood.
(W) What was your experience with the Oaxacana healer like?
(M) I don’t know where to begin. It was a two-minute scene in the movie but a two-day event in real life. It both seemed totally crazy and made me totally hopeful at the same time. Looking back I think I was also feeling very desperate and superstitious— we didn’t include some scene that were… really intense and insane. I don’t regret it. Like everything else, each person has to do what they need to do to feel like they’ve done everything they can. For me this was part of it.
(W) At CNY Fertility – Embryo donation is a very important service we offer, but our ability to offer this service in a timely fashion is often hampered by the availability of embryo donors. Can you talk a little about embryo donation and the impact embryo donation has made in your life? What would you say to families who are unsure what to do with remaining embryos after their family has been completed?
(M) Embryo donation is still fairly new and I think a lot of people struggle with the decision of what to do with remaining embryos. Obviously, embryo donation made a HUGE impact on my life in that it gave us our child, and I believe it can be a good option for some people but it’s not for everyone. I think with more education, people can make better-informed decisions on both sides of embryo donation and what is again most important is the child and how this child understands how they came to be. There is a company called Embryo Options that provides different services to different clinics but also gives some good information about embryo disposition options and what they mean. I think clinics should collaborate with mental health professionals to educate patients so people aren’t just paying storage fees indefinitely because they don’t really know what else to do. I’m thinking of doing some talks like this— maybe via a webinar or something, so I can help educate others. Though I am so grateful for embryo donation I am not necessarily an advocate for it. I just believe everyone needs to make the best choices for themselves and clinics need to be more prepared to store and do FDA testing and keep records in a way on the front end of an IVF cycle so that they can be prepared for embryo donation as an option on the back end. There is another clinic in Florida, called Embryo Donation International that has been around for a while and specializes in this.
(W) Have you contacted the donors?
(M) Not yet. We don’t have a lot of information but I’m hoping to get more. I think it is really important to be able to have information for both medical and psychological/emotional reasons.
(W) How do you think being a professional social worker and psychotherapist affected your journey through infertility? Did you seek any 3rd party professional help yourself?
(M) I think it was helpful that a lot of my friends are therapists and I felt a good amount of support from my colleagues when I needed it. I think it was hard at times when I thought I should be coping better with a situation but all I could do was cry it out. I reached out once to a therapist in my area who was very seasoned in infertility but felt very ashamed and judged by this person, which made me immediately realize the need for empathic therapists who can meet a client wherever they happen to be o their journey. My yoga teacher was my therapist. And my acupuncturist. I found support just not in the most traditional places.
(W) When do you suggest people use counseling services for dealing with infertility?
(M) I think it is always helpful to find support and process what’s going on— when that seems necessary for people is a personal decisions. I think if you’re gearing up for another IVF cycle after several haven’t worked and you don’t feel hopeful, that could be a good time to seek support. After trauma experiences or losses, moving to third party, if you and a partner are not on the same page, if you’re feeling more agitated and anxious and sad—- really any time in the fertility process I think a good therapist can come in really handy. Sometimes people also just feel so isolated and misunderstood that a therapist who gets it and can validate the experience and essentially speak the same language can feel really grounding.
(W) How can people seek your counsel?
(M) I’m licensed in CA and located in West Los Angeles. I’m trying to work out ways to provide support to people around the world and that might be through educational materials… right now I just see client’s locally but if people go to my website and sign up for the mailing list I can keep people posted if I do any educational talks or classes etc.
(W) What’s it like to be a Mother?
(M) It’s who I’ve always known I was supposed to be. I had a very… fluctuating identity as a woman with infertility trying to conceive for many years, and it didn’t feel good. Caring for our kid— that feels right. While I do feel so grateful to finally be part of the club, I also often feel like an outsider. There is something that might be a little different had we not struggled. I can’t always put my finger on it but it’s there. But our little girl is my world. She is such an amazing human and I know it was my purpose and mission to bring her into this world. She might actually be a superhero, I’m not totally sure yet, she’s still young. Also— I know I’m not “allowed” to complain (I really don’t like that people say that to folks who have struggled if they complain about anything once they are a parent) but I’ve never been this tired in my life.
(W) Noah, what’s it like to be a Father?
(N) Being a father is fun, exhausting, exhilarating, humbling … Did I mention exhausting? I love it. Having a child, maybe even having a daughter specifically, has tested me in some new ways that I never thought about. But I love it.
(W) What tips would you have for Mothers and Fathers who struggled with infertility before having a child?
(M) Process your process. Understand the impact the “journey” has had on your self and your relationship. Figure out if there is shame you need to leave behind and remember you are coming at this whole parenting thing with a bit of an emotional deficit if not emotional fatigue. Just because you really wanted this doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and unicorns and you have the same rights as anyone else to complain or have parenting challenges.
(W) Do you have any plans to further expand your family?
(M) I’m scheduled to transfer the last remaining embryo in our daughters batch— her full genetic sibling at the end of the month. It’s the last shot. Wish us luck 😉