The Complicated Reality of Bringing Millions on Your Fertility Journey

Photo Illustration by Aly Lim

“Have never cried so much over someone else’s news that I don’t even know.” “I have watched from the beginning and I’m so excited to watch your family grow.” “No one we are collectively happier for.”

These are some of the comments that appear on posts from content creators detailing their fertility journeys online. And while it’s easy to discount these comments as exaggerated internet speak, the emotional stakes are significant for those who follow couples trying to conceive. The same goes for the people doing the posting.

Jaci Marie Smith announced her pregnancy in January after over four years of trying to conceive. The content creator and her husband, Leif Carlson, underwent countless tests, three IUIs before starting IVF, and two embryo transfers, with the second being successful. Her pregnancy announcement has since been viewed 1.6 million times on TikTok.

When she first started posting about her fertility experience in 2021, Smith says the response was overwhelming, and she began to connect with a number of women. “Being a woman can be really hard, whether you go through infertility or not,” Smith tells PS. “Between health challenges or hormones or birth control, we go through a lot.”

At the time, Smith wasn’t seeing much fertility content online. “If anything, I felt like the content that I would see is people just getting pregnant all the time,” she says, noting how it feels like algorithms favor celebratory news. “It is very isolating when you are on social media trying to get pregnant and you feel like you’re bombarded with people having a lot of success at that.”

Though fertility and pregnancy loss are still largely underrepresented in media, there are gradually more spaces for people to share their experiences: the hashtag #ttc, meaning “trying to conceive,” has over 600,000 posts on TikTok, with many of them frequently surpassing millions of views, even from smaller creators.

The hashtag houses all kinds of announcements and developments, but mostly, it’s a space for people to document the daily struggle of infertility, the tedium, the financial burden. They compare notes, commiserate, and, at times, celebrate.

Demi Schweers‘s story is one cause for celebration: the content creator and her husband, Tom Schweers, are currently expecting their second child after previously facing many challenges conceiving their first.

Schweers was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after starting to try to conceive in 2021. She’s experienced pregnancy loss, an ectopic pregnancy, and underwent surgery to remove her right fallopian tube to correct a hydrosalpinx, which is essentially a fluid blockage in the fallopian tubes.

Then, with the help of IVF, the couple welcomed a daughter in May 2023. And now, they’re expecting a son due this summer. “We were pleasantly and very surprised when we found out that I was pregnant again,” Schweers tells PS. “It’s been quite a journey – lots of ups and downs – but we’re so thankful and grateful for our journey and where we are today.”

After her ectopic pregnancy, Schweers began posting about her experience, and decided to document the IVF process. That said, it wasn’t without some consideration. Schweers says there were “definitely some hesitations,” particularly from her husband. “There are certain topics that I’m more open to talking about than Tom is.”

The couple eventually decided to share after realizing how helpful it might be for others. (Schweers estimates they’ve since received hundreds of thousands of messages.) Plus, they felt isolated: Schweers says it was difficult to watch the world keep moving as they privately faced hardships. Even now, however, they continue to have weekly talks on what they’re comfortable sharing on social media.

For other couples trying to conceive and facing similar challenges, Schweers stresses the importance of communication. “You and your partner are going to have to lean on each other so incredibly much,” she says. “Leaning on your people is so huge – and do it, because I feel like it can lead to a pretty dark place, if not.”

Though there are success stories, many don’t always get their happy ending, at least not linearly. Sarah Carolyn always knew she wanted to be a mom. In all her childhood photos, she’s holding a baby doll. So, when she and her wife, Cindy Moyer, began to explore their fertility options last year, Carolyn knew she wanted to carry the baby.

In the process of undergoing fertility testing, Carolyn was diagnosed with PCOS, which could present some challenges. “I remember my heart falling into my stomach,” she recalls. “It was like tunnel vision. All I could hear and see was darkness.”

Then, Carolyn received more bad news: a mental-health medication, which she says “saved” her life, had not yet been FDA-researched, and was therefore not deemed safe for pregnancy. Fertility clinics were not willing to take her on as a patient. They determined then that Moyer would carry the pregnancy instead.

At the beginning, Carolyn posted about trying to conceive with “pure excitement.” Even after her difficult diagnosis, she was heartened by the messages of support she received from others who had similar experiences. But somewhere along the way, things changed. Followers began to demand updates and answers. Privately, Carolyn and Moyer struggled.

In September, Carolyn and Moyer explained on TikTok that they would no longer be posting about their fertility journey. Then, in March, they announced their separation. “I’m experiencing a type of grief,” Carolyn says. “I am mourning the loss of the imagery that I had of being a mother.”

There are downsides to making such a private matter very public. For starters, there’s the unsolicited advice. Schweers remembers it now: “You should try this diet, you should try that. Why don’t you just not stress about it? If you don’t think about it, it’s gonna happen. Do this, drink this water, swim in this pool.”

While many mean well, it can get noisy. “Everyone wants you to be comforted and wants you to have a good result, and so that truly is where they’re coming from,” Smith says, “but I think you just have to learn to tune it out honestly.”

Mostly, though, it’s the pressure that’s hard. Entire data servers worth of pressure.

“I still get asked every single day, ‘Hey, what’s the update?’ And I don’t have one.”

Schweers remembers feeling an obligation to share updates after doctor’s appointments. “If I didn’t have an answer on something, it was really tough,” she says. “Even now in this pregnancy, there’s some issues with his development, and I don’t have any answers. And I still get asked every single day, ‘Hey, what’s the update?’ And I don’t have one.”

Since becoming pregnant, Smith describes feeling a sense of imposter syndrome. She wanted it so badly, and for so long, it almost doesn’t feel real. Plus, there are millions rooting for her. Smith says the pressure increased her anxiety ahead of appointments. “I always thought or assumed that once I got pregnant, the burden would be released and I would be so happy and would have no worries anymore. I felt a little surprised that I had some worries still. Now there’s something to lose and I hope that this still goes well and that I can have this good news.”

For Carolyn, the scrutiny ramped up after she announced her separation. “I mean, the flood of questions: Well, weren’t you having a baby? Weren’t you getting pregnant?” Even so, she gets it. “I had to say, that’s fair. Because we were sharing things extensively, and then all of a sudden, I abruptly made the decision to stop,” Carolyn says. “Once you put it out there, it’s public information. People wanna know, what’s the next step?”

Things can also turn ugly. Some details Carolyn shared on TikTok, about her mental health, for example, were used against her. “People were throwing my mental health in my face, saying, ‘Oh, well, it’s a good thing you can’t carry ’cause then the babies are gonna get all messed up,'” she says. Conversations and conjectures about her moved from TikTok to Reddit. “And the Reddit forums just ate me alive.”

Smith hopes people don’t lose sight of the fact that this isn’t just content – these are real people. “Infertility is really impossible to neatly package or demonstrate in any content ever,” she says. “Yes, they can see me talking to a camera talking about how this has been hard, but they’re not physically me living in my body, dealing with the stress and the mental energy and the way that it drains you.”

All three creators agree on the best way to create some distance and put up a healthy boundary: do not post in real time. You need a buffer.

Smith’s posts were typically a few months delayed, so she was sharing her reality, but on her own timeline. She remembers the strangeness of sharing a video about the lead-up to her first embryo transfer. Many followers commented saying they had a good feeling about it, but in the present, Smith already knew it was unsuccessful. “I wanted time and space to process information on my own and news on my own,” she says. “I really felt like if I wanted to share this journey, I wanted to do it on my own terms.”

Schweers posted both in real time and on a delay. Her IVF experience was all shared in real time “because there wasn’t an expected answer at the end,” but she gave herself a two-week buffer following her embryo transfer.

Carolyn would also take weeks to process news before posting. “We need to internalize before we can externalize the information,” she says. “Also, part of me was embarrassed. There was a weird shame to it. This is what I’m supposed to do as a woman, and I can’t even do that.”

Smith reminds herself that, offline, it’s normal to take some time before sharing big news. “Most people don’t get pregnant and immediately run to social media when they just found out,” she says. “I was trying to remind myself, I don’t owe anyone this information immediately, but I do still wanna share it, so I’ll do that on my own timing.”

It would be understandable for there to be regret – to want to put the toothpaste back into the tube – but that doesn’t seem to be felt for these three.

Carolyn says it was all worth it because of the connections she’s made. She also thinks many queer content creators make conceiving look easy, so she’s happy to provide a different testimony. “Why do I look different than all these other TikTok lesbians getting pregnant?” Carolyn recalls thinking. “This is a story that really needs to be shown. It needs to be heard, especially in the queer community.”

Smith hopes her posts helped educate people more on IVF. Even her close friends would reach out after watching her videos, saying they hadn’t realized how involved the process was. “They’re not at home with me every day doing shots and seeing all of my doctor’s appointments and all of the things that I was doing behind the scenes,” Smith says.

Ultimately, she wants others struggling with fertility to feel “validated” or, at least, “less alone.” Smith says, “All we want as human beings is to feel connected and to not feel like we’re going through something very isolating. If people can relate to me in any way, I feel really grateful and I feel like it’s worth it to share.”

Schweers wants her story to illustrate the importance of health advocacy, as she switched fertility clinics several times when she wasn’t feeling respected and heard. “Especially as a person of color going into a health space, you really do have to advocate for yourself,” she says.

Carolyn hasn’t lost hope, and she plans on doing more research to find a clinic willing to take on her high-risk case. “The maternal instinct in me is very strong,” she says.

In the meantime, she’s taking a break from fertility content online. “It can feel like there’s this finish line and so many people are getting to it, and I haven’t even started the race yet,” Carolyn says. “The caveat here is that I don’t wish to relate to other women in this sense. I don’t wish infertility on anyone, it’s so hard. But when I come across someone else who maybe hasn’t started their race yet, I feel that I’m not alone. I’m in this space with someone else.”

Related: The $11,390 Cost Breakdown of Freezing Your Eggs in New York City

Kelsey Garcia is the associate content director of PS Balance, where she oversees lifestyle coverage, from dating to parenting and financial wellness. Kelsey is passionate about travel, skin-care trends, and changes in the social media landscape. Before joining the PS team more than eight years ago as an editorial assistant, she interned at Elle and Harper’s Bazaar, among other publications.

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