If we’d thought Brooke Shields was living a pretty charmed life, we found out otherwise when she revealed, with the publication of her recent book, Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, how she had suffered after the birth of her daughter — to the point where she considered suicide.
Now Brooke is talking about a similar dark period in her life — the two years before the birth of daughter, Rowan, when she and husband, Chris Henchy, were desperately trying to have a baby; how she lost a child in-between; and how emotionally destroying infertility can be.
Brooke recently agreed to lend her name to Fertility Lifelines (1-866-538-7879; www.fertilitylifelines.com), the free, 24/7 information and support line for questions on fertility, provided by Serono, manufacturer of fertility medications. The hotline is a resource she says she wishes she’d had access to when she and Henchy were going through their infertility trials, a period of two years. Typical of the general lack of knowledge in this area, Brooke revealed that, “while it took two years, it was a year before we even knew we had a problem.”
According to reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Richard Scott, of Reproductive Medicine Associates in Morristown, N.J., these are the two reasons contributing to a state of infertility, physiology aside: waiting too long to start a family, and waiting too long to acknowledge that it’s not happening. Once women hit 35, fertility starts a downhill slide. In the medical community, the term “infertility” is used after a failure to conceive after about 12 months of trying (six months if the woman is over 35).
Brooke Shields and Dr. Scott joined forces last month to talk about infertility, meeting, appropriately, at the theater where the show, Infertility (The Musical That’s Hard To Conceive) is running (see sidebar). They talked informally about Brooke’s personal journey, and Dr. Scott’s optimism. “I never thought I would have problems,” Brooke commented. “I thought we’d decide to start a family and I’d soon become a mom, and it would all be easy, and glorious.” Now, looking back, she says: “I never dreamt I would become so informed about women’s fertility.
“After a while, when you’re not successful, you start to associate the word ‘failure’ every time you pee on a stick and it doesn’t come out the right color. What starts out as a dream becomes a project that’s all consuming — everywhere you look, women are pregnant, and every song on the radio seems like it’s all about being pregnant! It becomes a very frustrating, frightening place.”
Brooke and her husband became one of the one-in-seven couples who experience infertility, the couples who are keeping specialists like Dr. Scott very busy. The endocrinologist has supervised 19,000 IVF cycles; 14,000 of these have resulted in successful pregnancies.
Dr. Scott urges couples to be proactive. “These days,” he is happy to report, “you can be diagnosed in your OB/GYN’s office in less than a month. And in the first three or four months of treatment, most people will be successful.” Those who aren’t should then waste no time seeing a specialist. “Outcomes are so good today,” he reports, “seventy percent will be successful [with treatments like IVF], and that number continues to improve all the time. The average couple in my clinic spends five months, and then they’re pregnant.”
Dr. Scott predicts that, with technology constantly evolving, the field of genetic diagnosis is the one which holds the greatest promise. One day soon, he believes, doctors will be able to evaluate who can get pregnant “easily” — and who can’t.
Such pre-knowledge, he believes, can only result in more happy endings — like the one Brooke Shields and Chris Henchy are currently experiencing. Now over the devastating postpartum depression (incidentally, studies have shown no connection between infertility problems and PPD), Brooke is returning to her ‘charmed life’ — with a healthy two-and-a-half-year-old, and a new baby on the way.
“As natural as we’d all like it to seem, it’s important for women to be aware of potential problems and to take control,” she urges.
“Two eggs do not an omelette make”
The new musical, Infertility (The Musical That’s Hard To Conceive), was written by transplanted-from-the-Midwest New Yorkers, Amy and Chris Neuner. It’s a poignant and humorous look at infertility, based on the journal Amy kept over a five-year period of trying to become a mom.
The musical (with great voices, signing good songs!) follows the journey of three sets of people longing to become parents: a heterosexual couple not unlike the authors; a lesbian couple; and a career woman with a ticking bio-clock.
Typical of the in-your-face but humorous material in the show, Chris Neuner admits that the idea came to him on one of his numerous visits to the doctor “to collect a specimen”. “I was sitting there, trying to do my thing, and I thought, ‘This is a musical!’”
And because he figured “nothing is taboo in New York!”, he set to work writing songs that are both droll —“Two eggs do not an omelette make.” “I’m bouncing checks at the sperm bank” — and poignant: “We used to make love and the whole house shook/Now we make love by our date book.”
Chris and Amy can also share a happy ending. At their first attempt at IVF, they conceived twins, now two-and-a-half.
Will their musical cause some seat-squirming because of its very subject? “Laughing at things is the best medicine — if you can hack it,” says Chris. And Brooke Shields agrees: “The quicker you can get past the taboo of it, the faster you can ask the questions you need to ask.”
Go see it! As Chris Neuner says: “Names have been changed to protect the infertile.”
Infertility is playing at Dillons Dinner Theatre, 245 West 54th Street, Thurs.-Sat. at 7pm, through December 31. Tickets, $60, from www.smarttix.com.