Lena Dunham did what a lot of folks do when they’re going through in-vitro fertilization treatments and visiting fertility clinics — she looked for support online. What the Girls mastermind found was a community of women who were sharing their wins and losses with each other through Instagram and other social media pages. In the hashtags and comments, however, their supportive words soon turned into something far uglier.
Lena Dunham’s Fertility Journey Was Difficult
Dunham penned a personal essay for the cover story for the December issue of Harper’s entitled “False Labor,” which came with a powerful sub-heading: “Giving up on motherhood.” The occasionally controversial writer explained how she started exploring her fertility options as she recovered from the removal of her uterus, cervix, and an ovary as a result of endometriosis. She eventually began looking into IVF and the culture around it, consisting mostly of women calling themselves #IVFWarriors or using similar hashtags to identify their posts.
“These hashtags are what you seek out online if you want to ask questions that doctors won’t answer, if you want to be cautioned or pardoned for excessive medication use, or sometimes just believed,” Dunham writes.
The community was dedicated, consistent, and full of advice. With a near-constant stream of advice about fertility-boosting diets and mournful posts about failed treatments, Dunham soon saw a pattern in the posts. “Once you’re inside, you learn the customs,” she writes. “Celebrate when you start a cycle. Pray as you end it. Save any leftover medication for the next cycle, which is not only possible but probable.”
Soon, she became familiar with the type of woman who joins these groups and posts things under the hashtag, and although they weren’t the most diverse group, they still shared the same journey. “The women have given up jobs, moved across the country, gotten divorced and then remarried, losing friends and precious fertilized embryos along the way,” Dunham adds.
Support Groups Aren’t Always There To Help
Once Dunham learned that none of her remaining eggs were viable, she quickly realized that the supportive community of hopeful mothers wasn’t all that supportive for everyone. “If there’s one person less welcome among the IVF Warriors than a new mother, it is a woman who has given up on becoming one,” she writes. “For though these communities were created to support women trapped in the fertility-industrial complex, they hold fast to its founding commandment: never quit, because nothing is impossible.”
As a result, Dunham was forced to step away from the pages to avoid the non-stop parading of possibilities and hopes for a successful pregnancy that she no longer shared. “There is a lot you can correct in life — you can end a relationship, get sober, get serious, say sorry — but you can’t force the universe to give you a baby that your body has told you all along was an impossibility,” she writes.