When a woman sits down in front of a camera to talk about her fertility struggles or pregnancy loss, there's not a calm bone in her body. Her heart is racing, her mind goes blank and she's thinking about the reactions she'll get to the words she's about to speak.
I know this because I encourage women to do this on a daily basis. It's not a matter to take lightly, and it's something a woman, or even a couple, chooses to do for any number of reasons.
Today I learned about the I Believe campaign by the Sher Fertility Institute. Each year, they hold a contest for two "donated" IVF cycles for infertile couples. I question the veracity of the word donate because the Institute itself seems to benefit greatly from this contest.
Men and women share the most intimate details of their lives, then submit their videos for votes. Only by accruing a high number of votes will they advance to the next level of judging before they might ultimately win the chance at a baby.
This contest gives me pause, and for very good reason.
As part of my documentary, we empower couples to share their stories with the intent of bringing comfort to other people going through the same thing, and to take the stigma away by opening up dialogues. Pregnancy loss and infertility will only lose their stigma by taking the taboo away from mentioning them.
So as someone asking people to do something very similar, I have to ask why I'm bothered by the I Believe contest. And here's the rub of it: Where's the good?
When you ask a woman to tell the world why she's unable to have a baby, you'd better have a pretty damned good reason. Ours is to bring about healing and conversation and hope.
Where's the good in the Sher Fertility Institute's popularity contest?
Make no mistake, this is not a purely philanthropic endeavor. The Institute claims the contest is intended to raise awareness about the lack of access to expensive treatments, and to start a conversation about insurance coverage.
That sounds great until you get to that tricky part about votes. The very first step in their contest requires these people to share their story with everyone they've ever met and make it appealing. They're not just asking for an honest portrayal of the heartbreaking journey through infertility- they want it to sound good. They want likes and votes and page views.
If Sher were truly interested in simply starting a dialogue and raising awareness, their donation would look a lot more like a random lottery, and every person sharing a story would have an equal chance.
While these couples are entering into this contest of their own free will, you have to ask what their motivation is. What is making them hold their breath and sit down in front of that camera?
For our project, the answer is usually awareness. Men and women want to share the stories of their babies and their fertility struggles to break the deafening silence shrouding the topics.
For the I Believe contest, it's raw hope for a baby. Sher Institute has dangled the most tantalizing carrot possible in front of desperate families and asked them to bare their souls for just a chance to grab it.
I Believe asks for families to open the doors to their most private struggles and let the world in, but believing can only get them so far in the face of public voting.
The world is greatly in need of videos like these, created by brave families who are ready to tell their stories--but on their terms, not a fertility clinic's. Prompting people to craft their video for likes by the Internet with the tiny promise of a baby is the worst kind of exploitation.
I love the words I Believe, because I use them every day. I believe we are quickly approaching a world where it's not embarrassing to say, "We've been struggling to conceive for a while now." I believe that the people who push their fear down and create videos to break the silence are forging new ground, and creating a more compassionate world for others. not ready to share yet.
I believe in hope during the crushing battle of infertility.
I do not believe that popularity should play any role at all in the possibility of having a baby of your own. I don't believe in needing to hinge the future of your family on votes. And I certainly don't believe in families broadcasting their deepest secrets to the world before they're truly ready for just the smallest chance of winning a goddamn contest.