*This post may contain spoilers for the documentary discussed herein.*
As an employee of a company that offers genetic testing services, I’m familiar with IVF and its accompanying medical procedures. I can also say that I am aware of the almost inevitable heartbreaks that can come with failed IVF cycles, though I haven’t undergone these myself. Despite what feels like a thorough understanding of fertility treatment, I still found myself nervous during CooperGenomics’ recent joint event with pregnantish and CCRM Boston, a screening of One More Shot; the documentary follows Maya Grobel and her husband, Noah Groskin, as they go through fertility treatment in an effort to start a family. Having walked in before the film, gripping popcorn and a soda in the usual way, my heart was already pounding. When the film began, I could feel myself drifting closer and closer to the edge of my own seat.
Several times during the film, watching the film’s subject and producer, Maya Grobel, became uncomfortable for me. This was mainly because seeing Maya and her husband go through their IVF journey made me realize just how much could be at stake when I’m eventually ready to start a family of my own. Maya and Noah recount how when they first married they took the time they needed together as husband and wife before they decided to start a family, assured that many couples around them were doing the same. Unfortunately, those who are diagnosed with infertility don’t often know until they start trying to conceive, and 1 in 8 couples are affected. Once they started trying to have a child, they would come to find out that they were the ‘1’.
For those unfamiliar with IVF, know that it is not a simple process. One or both partners are medically evaluated, and the female partner will face daily injections with hormones over roughly 10 to 14 consecutive days in order to produce eggs. Once these eggs are mature, they are retrieved and fertilized using the male partner’s sperm in the hopes that healthy embryos will be created and then transferred back into the woman. If the embryo(s) implant in the uterus, she is considered pregnant. If they don’t, it’s considered an unsuccessful cycle. After a failed cycle, the process may be repeated by couples who still wish to try again. However, IVF can wreak havoc on one’s physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as their finances; so much so, that they may choose not to go through another cycle if the first one isn’t successful.
It was hard to watch Noah give Maya hormone injections in the days leading up to her transfers. While I have never been the type of person to be nauseous around a doctor’s office, watching Maya grit her teeth in pain during her injections was decidedly terrifying. I thought about how my partner might feel, having to pinch my stomach and pierce it with a rather large needle, and how unnatural it must feel for a man to inject hormones into his wife just so that they might have a chance of conceiving a child—a feeling that echoes in the film’s title. Also in the theater with me that night were several attendees who were currently going through IVF, or had gone through IVF previously. Crowded in amongst such strong men and women, I wondered how different it must have been for each person in the room to watch as the Groskins were met with bad news at almost every turn. Perhaps it was hard for them to watch and to presumably relive their own experiences of infertility through another’s eyes.
Following the film, a panel discussion took place where some audience members chose to express how the documentary moved them and asked questions of a knowledgeable and talented group of panelists. The first to speak was Maya Grobel, herself, who offered her opinions based on her personal experience with IVF, as well as from her experience as a social worker and psychotherapist. Following the birth of her daughter, she mentioned how it was important for her to take the IVF process slowly and remain open-minded—and how she would do it all again just to have the child that she and her husband had so desperately wanted. Grobel was eager to answer an audience member’s question, “Can you be too positive [about IVF]?” Grobel shared that it was important for her to not only stay positive, but also to seek out others who were hopeful and share their stories along with her own. “Those [other couples’] stories were making me optimistic. The optimism came as I was interviewing others.” Some of the other couples she mentions appear in the documentary and speak openly about how they’ve been able to build their families through IVF, adoption, and sometimes, through surprise natural conception following the birth of other children conceived via IVF.
Both Grobel and another panelist, Dr. Aaron Styer of CCRM Boston, spoke about the importance of couples prioritizing their wants and needs in regard to building their families. “It was very important to me that I could carry,” said Maya Grobel, on her choice to transfer a donated embryo. Dr. Styer discussed ways in which being a parent could play into your life goals and made comments about shifting the focus from ‘having a biological child’ to ‘being a parent to a child’, and what this shift in thinking could mean for IVF patients and their families.
Other panelists included pregnantish founder Andrea Syrtash, who spoke about her own ongoing fertility journey, and what it means to her to be able to use her platform to encourage women who are going through their own battle with infertility. CooperGenomics’ own Jenna Miller, a Clinical Science Liaison and genetic counselor by training, also gave her thoughts on how preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) may improve a couple’s likelihood of a successful implantation and resulting pregnancy. Miller noted that PGS wasn’t as common back when Maya and Noah started to undergo IVF, but now PGS is frequently performed alongside IVF to give patients and doctors information about embryos’ chromosomal health and insight into which one may have the best chance at a successful outcome.
With a focus on factors of infertility, the film and the panelists that night made clear, however, that there are many methods to building families, and that it is important for each family to make their own decision. For someone like myself, who has no idea what her future will hold, it is reassuring to have all the information I can on the IVF process, and also to know that there is a strong community of patients and professionals who are willing to share their experiences with those like me should the need arise.