As it has for people suffering from cancer or other illnesses, the blogosphere offers the infertile a place to chronicle their personal stories, create community, seek support, and raise awareness about their condition. “One of the great things about technology today is its democratization,” blogger “Bea,” of “Infertile Fantasies,” says. “You don’t have to be a professional writer or film school graduate to tell your story online—anyone can do it, and even if it’s of interest to only a small percentage of people in the world, they can find you.” (Throughout this essay, bloggers will be identified by their noms de blog—whether their real names or pseudonyms.) These blogs offer a unique perspective on the lives of infertile men and women, revealing the many ways the infertile are tackling the tricky questions reproductive technology poses: What does it mean to be infertile? If treatment succeeds, what, if anything, do you tell your family, your friends, and the children you have conceived? When, if ever, should one give up on fertility treatment? And, perhaps most importantly, how do these technologies transform our understanding of what it means to be a family?
The intersection of medicine and the Internet has been getting a lot of attention lately; interested readers might take a look at a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, “Practicing Patients,” about the website PatientsLikeMe.com. I focused more on the emotional support side to patient blogging than the medical, which I found less problematic than the author of the NYT piece. (Although, I must say cyberchondria is my new favorite word.) Most of the bloggers I interviewed had tried some things that were probably not medically sound—mostly herbal medicine and other “natural” remedies—on the basis of an ecstatic blog testimonial or two. But no one used the blogs or other infertility-related sites to replace their doctor and his/her advice. The Web served more as a supplement, particularly about things a doctor might not think about: e.g., How do I give an injection and not leave an ugly bruise? How can I best pack my meds for an overseas trip?
That said, participatory medicine does have a downside. Not everyone is as responsible (or as reasonable) as the bloggers I interviewed—as the ongoing blog debate over mandatory vaccinations and autism has amply demonstrated. Doing “yoga for fertility” or drinking Chinese herbs might not help you get pregnant, but it certainly won’t harm you (well, maybe just your bank account) or anyone else. Encouraging people not vaccinate their children (I’m not linking since these people don’t need any encouragement) leads to things like the mumps outbreak in Iowa last year that infected 219 people.
RELATED: I am interviewed here about infertility bloggers by TNA’s own Adam Keiper.