Infertility Support with Alison Prato: Podcast Episode #220
Kristin Revere chats with Alison Prato, Infertile AF Founder and author of “Work of ART,” a children’s book about IVF and ART.
Hello, hello. This is Kristin Revere with Ask the Doulas, and I am so excited to chat with Alison Prato today. Alison wears so many hats, but she is the Infertile AF group founder. She’s a podcaster. She’s a new author, and she is a reproductive organizer. Welcome, Alison!
Hi! Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to talk to you.
Yeah. We’re both Hey Mama members, so I tend to see a bit about your rally and some of the work that you’re doing in the fertility space, and I’ve been so impressed.
Oh, my gosh, thank you so much. Yeah, Hey Mama has been such a great way to connect with so many women doing incredible things. So I’m happy to be here.
Totally agree. So let’s get into a bit about your background and what led you to making a career of your personal journey.
It’s so funny because I never would have imagined 20 years ago or more that I would be in this fertility space, but it kind of does make sense. I have a journalism background. I got a journalism degree from the University of Illinois in Chicago, and I started right away working in magazines when I graduated from college. I always wanted to tell people stories. My favorite thing to do was to write profiles about people. I ended up, over the course of the two decades that I was in magazines, I did a lot of celebrity cover stories for magazines, a lot of features just about getting with a group of people and kind of talking about what they did all day. A lot of college stories, a lot of music stories. I’ve just always been fascinated with people who have big personalities who are doing interesting things, and that was kind of my career path for 20 years. I started working for Playboy Magazine. That was my first job out of college. It was awesome. I worked there for ten years as an editor, and I was their music editor. And that was a really great background because the whole cliché that everyone says they read it for the articles, Playboy – they really did have great articles, so I grew up kind of around all these really great journalists and writers, and they kind of taught me how to do my thing and helped shape me into the storyteller that I am now.
Anyway, I did magazines for a while, moved to New York, bounced around a lot, worked for everybody from Rolling Stone to Harper’s Bazaar to Teen Vogue, and while I was doing that, my husband and I are high school sweethearts, and we had gotten married in 2002. It’s kind of nerdy, but we always say we did go to two different colleges and we dated other people in college, so it’s not that quirky, but when we moved to New York, all of our friends back in Chicago where we had originally been from were starting to build their families and have kids and stuff, and we were like – we were just turning 30 at the time, and we were both like, we can’t have kids right now. We’re moving to a whole new city. We have to start from scratch. We don’t have really a lot of friends. We don’t even know how to ride the subway, so we’re not ready to have our kids.
And this is all leading to kind of our fertility journey because I did put it off for a while, having kids. And I say this all the time now: I didn’t know much about my fertility. I didn’t realize that at the age of 35, things kind of start going downhill in terms of being able to have kids more easily. I was looking at Hollywood and being like, well, Halle Berry just had a baby at 46. Janet Jackson, 50. Not knowing behind the scenes what might have been going on. I’m not going to speculate. They never really, either of them, came out and told their stories about how they actually had their kids. But point being, I just thought that you could have a baby whenever you wanted. And I honestly thought that.
So we did start to try when we were in our mid-30s. I did get pregnant, and we had my daughter when I was 34. Then second kid – we always talked about having one, but we didn’t start to try for the second kid for two or three years, and that’s when I started down the infertility journey, which I never thought I would be in. At that point, I was having a lot of problems not getting pregnant, but staying pregnant. I had four miscarriages after I had my daughter, trying to have our second kid. And that’s when I found myself in this world of infertility and being like, what’s going on? Tell me if you want me to stop because I feel like I’m just droning on and on.
Oh, no, I am loving all of it. And I feel that secondary infertility is not discussed enough.
There’s a lot of focus on that first conception, but as you mentioned, you delayed a couple years. You started later in life. I also – we have many parallels. I started later in life, as well. I had my kids at 36 and 38. I didn’t have fertility struggles, but I delayed having kids for multiple reasons, career being one of them, and I also have a journalism degree.
We are living parallel lives.
So, yeah, after I had my first miscarriage, I kind of felt like – I have so many friends who’ve had miscarriages, unfortunately, and it’s always very sad and devastating, but to be honest, I was like, okay, this seems pretty common. It’s maybe kind of like a rite of passage, I guess, if you’re trying to have a baby. I didn’t think too much about it. But then once I had the fourth one, I was like, okay, something’s wrong.
So we did end up going to a reproductive endocrinologist who ended up being the doctor that we worked with, this amazing doctor, Joshua Klein, who now works for Extend Fertility in New York. He’s awesome, and I got very lucky because it was just kind of – a friend had recommended RMA, where he worked at the time, and I ended up with him, and he was just great. So basically, he did the workup on me and realized that it was age related. It was that I had a healthy egg reserve, because now I was about 37, 38. I had a healthy egg reserve, but the reason that I was having miscarriages was because the unhealthy eggs were meeting with the sperm, so they weren’t healthy embryos. So he basically said to me, in laymen’s terms, your body is doing the right thing. It’s getting rid of pregnancies that aren’t going to be healthy. But that doesn’t make it any easier, obviously. So he said, you’re the perfect candidate for IVF. If we can find the healthy eggs and then put those with the sperm, then we should be good because we know that you can get pregnant. It’s just a matter of having a healthy embryo when you do get pregnant.
So that was the way that it was explained to me. I never even heard the term secondary infertility until later, which is kind of wild, because I feel like it’s so much more out there now. But it was really, really hard. Those four losses, and between my daughter and my son, I got so depressed. I’ve been really open about relationship problems. My husband and I were kind of not on the same page after a while. He’s like, why are we doing this to ourselves? And I totally understand his side of the story in retrospect, but at the time, I was like, you don’t understand. I’m going to die if I don’t have a second child. I just felt like our family wasn’t complete, and it was so devastating to me that I just couldn’t have this second baby.
And yeah, you mentioned secondary infertility. The thing about it that’s so unique and kind of hard to explain is that you kind of get sometimes some pushback from people. Like, oh, that’s not a thing, or that’s not as hard as not having a baby at all. You already have one. You should be happy with what you have. And they kind of make you feel guilty for wanting another one. Not everybody, but some people.
Yeah, I get that. I led some fertility support groups during the pandemic, and some of the participants had expressed exactly that. Some of that shame, almost.
Yeah, shame or you’re being greedy. And what I always tried to explain was that I’m not being greedy. I just love being a mom so much. My daughter was everything to me, and I just wanted to do it again. I wanted to be a mom even more, if that makes any sense. It was coming from a place of love, not a place of greed. And it’s kind of hard to explain, I guess, if you haven’t been in that position. We always talk about in Fertility Rally, which is the community that I co-founded four years ago – we always talk about, it’s not the pain olympics. Everybody’s got a different story, and when women kind of try to compare or say, oh, you haven’t been through as much as me or that’s not as hard as what I’m going through, I feel like we’re really doing ourselves a disservice and doing each other a disservice. So I try not to compare pain. I feel like with infertility in particular, a loss is a loss. The loss of having a retrieval that didn’t go well and you didn’t get what you wanted, or having a failed transfer or an embryo that doesn’t fall correctly and you aren’t able to use it anymore or an early gestational miscarriage, a chemical pregnancy – all these things are losses, and at the end of the day, it’s all the loss of a dream. It’s all the loss of how you thought your life was going to be, and it’s all hard.
It really is. I love that you have the rally as a safe space and an education option for just the general public. You’ve gotten a lot of publicity, and you’re getting the word out so people who aren’t even considering having kids are getting exposed to things that we might not have during our own pregnancies.
Well, thank you for mentioning it. I’ll tell you a little bit more about it in a second, but I will say, the whole thing for me was when I was going through all the miscarriages and the infertility and then we ended up doing IVF, which again, I didn’t really know anything about, and I say this feeling so embarrassed on my own behalf that I thought IVF was for people that wanted multiple babies. I didn’t realize – I had no idea what it was. I was so completely clueless, and I feel like such an idiot even saying that. But when it was proposed to me, I was like, wait, IVF? What? Like octo-mom? That was a thing at the time. I don’t know if you remember that.
Right. Oh, I totally remember that. Unless you had family or friend that went through the IVF process, how would you know?
Absolutely. And turns out I did have some friends that went through it, but nobody was really talking about it at the time. I remember going to the book store and looking for books about IVF and miscarriage, and there was really, like, a handful, and that was it. And I was like, what? Where are all the books? Why is no one talking about this? And that’s why eventually after I had gone through IVF and had my son, thankfully, we did one round and that was kind of our Hail Mary round because we were like, it had been years. We were – our marriage was kind of crumbling. We were like, this is – we didn’t have enough money. We had to borrow money from my parents and my husband’s parents to do the IVF because it was all out of pocket, and if people don’t know, it’s $20,000 or $30,000 per round, depending.
It’s very costly, and if you’re not a celebrity, how can you afford it?
Yeah. Some people have insurance, thankfully, that do cover it, but we didn’t. So we did do the one round. I got so incredibly lucky. I only had one healthy embryo to transfer. We had five that were tested. Four were chromosomally abnormal. One was healthy, and that ended up being my son. So it was absolutely a miracle, if you ask me. The odds were pretty low that it was going to work out, but it did. He just turned eight. My daughter is 14 now. But point being, when I was going through, I really just didn’t have resources. I didn’t have a group. I didn’t have – Facebook was kind of a thing, but I had poked around on there, and I couldn’t really find my people. There weren’t really any podcasts that were really talking about that. So that’s why I did start Infertile AF, which is my podcast, where every week, we tell different family building stories. I started with – episode 1 is me telling my story. Episode 100, I went to my husband, and we had some drinks, and I interviewed him about his side of the story because even though we were in it together, he had a totally different version of what he was going through, which is kind of interesting.
I love that. I’ll have to check that one out.
Yeah, it’s good. So we started that in 2019, and this week, the 254th episode will come out. So it’s been every week. I interview everybody from celebrities to people I’ve met through Fertility Rally to people who email me or I’ve met through Instagram. It doesn’t matter. I feel like everybody’s story matters. You don’t have to be – people sometimes will write and say, I don’t know if my story is interesting enough, and I’m like, that’s BS. Everybody’s story matters. It doesn’t – you don’t have to go through X, Y, and Z to make it interesting. I think these are all human stories and human experiences. So we talk about same sex family building, single parents by choice, surrogacy, egg donation, adoption, people who don’t end up with babies and are childless not by choice at the end. I just want to put as many stories out there as I can to let anybody who’s going through something know that they’re not alone because I felt so alone when I was going through it.
It’s so needed. You didn’t have that community, and you built your own. I love it.
Yeah. I started with the podcast, and then in 2020, Blair Nelson, who’s someone I met through Instagram, who’s also a big infertility advocate, she and I formed Fertility Rally. We started just kind of doing Zoom support groups during the pandemic. It was literally mid-lockdown. And it just kind of spiraled and snowballed, and people were like, we need this every week. So we started doing a weekly group, and we formed this membership community called Fertility Rally. Today, we have over 400 members. We have six support groups per week hosted by us and other people that we’ve hired. We have events. We have Fertility Rally Live twice a year, which is an all-day virtual conference, if you will, with speakers and giveaways. The whole thing, the whole overarching theme is just letting people know that they’re not alone and providing support no matter what people are going through when they’re trying to build their families because it can be so hard and so lonesome and so devastating. To just have a group of people that get it that you can come on and you can cry or you can laugh or you can say something, and people will be like, don’t think I’m an asshole, but when I met my sister’s baby, it didn’t make me happy, and we’re like, we get that! Stuff like that.
Exactly, and some people don’t have access. I mean, if they live in a rural area, the option of these remote virtual rallies and this membership group makes them feel less alone. I mean, obviously, in New York and Chicago and some of the more metropolitan cities, there are more resources as far as support.
Yeah, there are, but yeah, that’s the good thing about being virtual is that we can have somebody who is in New Zealand, for example. One of our members, Jenny, who comes on, and it’s the next day for her, because we have our calls at night. And we’re like, Jenny from the future. It’s Thursday morning for her, and it’s Wednesday night for most of the rest of us. We’re able to meet people in Hawaii or the Pacific Northwest or here in New York and New Jersey where I am, or Blair’s down in Texas. We’ve also had these IRL events. We had one in Chicago last summer where – we had 40 people come in from all over the country to spend a weekend together and just bond and have fun, and they all met through Fertility Rally. It was just amazing.
That’s beautiful. Yeah, nothing replaces in person. But certainly, having virtual options is more accessible.
So let’s dive into your journey as an author and your Work of ART. This is a children’s book, correct?
It is, yes. I wrote a children’s book. I actually just got the hard copies delivered to me yesterday. I hadn’t had them in my hands until yesterday, and I opened the box and just started crying because it was so cool. Such a cool moment.
Like I said, my son is 8, and we’ve always been super open with him about how he was born. You know, he hears me doing the podcast. He’s heard me talking about infertility and Fertility Rally and IVF and all this stuff. And I realized that there weren’t that many books out there that explained to kids about assisted reproductive technology or IVF. There are some, and the ones that are out there are wonderful, but I wanted to do my take on it. So I just wrote this manuscript a handful of months ago, and I called it Work of ART, the ART being assistive reproductive technology, and it’s the story of me telling my son how he was born in such a cool way and how wanted he was. And my daughter is in the book, as well. It’s kind of just our little family story. Again, it’s just to demystify assistive reproductive technology, and there are so many kids out there who are born this way. Just to have parents share with their kids, if they feel comfortable doing so, this is how you were born. We wanted you so badly. You were made in the lab. Isn’t that cool, that science is so cool? That’s kind of my spin on it is just explaining to him. He overhears me talking to another mom on the playground that he’s an IVF baby, and in the car on the way home, he says, Mom, did you say – what was that? Did you say something about ivy? And then I say, oh, do you want me to tell you tonight what I was talking about? So I explain it to him.
I found this really incredible illustrator, Fede Bonifacini, who is in Buenos Aires. He sent me some stuff. I sent him the manuscript, and it was just exactly the tone and the level of cuteness and coolness that I was looking for. The illustrations are gorgeous and fun, and he really – there’s a lot of easter eggs in the book, like little things. There’s a little Infertile AF logo hanging in the car. Just little things that people can kind of pick up on. There’s a place where I’m wearing a sweatshirt that says Worst Club, Best Members, which is our Fertility Rally tagline. Stuff like that. It’s for young readers. It’s a hard cover book. I’d say it’s for ages 4 to 8, maybe a little older, too. But it’s just something that people can share with their families. It’s been really embraced, which makes me so happy. The first 150 copies, I’m personalizing and shipping for free in the US, and those are sold out. So that’s awesome.
Wow, congrats! That’s huge!
Thank you! I’ll do another run, and they’re available on my website, which is infertileafgroup. And this is the first in what I hope to be a series. I already have the second and the third and the fourth ones kind of swirling around in my head. I want to do one about donor conception. I want to do one about same sex families. I want to do one about surrogacy. They’ll all be under the Work of ART umbrella. I just think it’s such a good thing to have these available to normalize the conversation, you know?
Exactly. And not all of your readers have the background that you do, so to be able to have a frank conversation through a book is such a wonderful gift because it can be overwhelming to have a discussion with a four year old or an eight year old, as you mentioned. A book is a great guide, and then being able to share their own personal story after reading the book with their child.
Right, yeah. And in this story in particular, I say to my son – he’s like, IVF, is that like NBA? That’s with basketball. So we kind of tie in some basketball stuff in there, and then there’s a whole thing about secondary infertility, and kind of like I explained to you earlier how I loved being a mom to Ever so much, I wanted to do it all over again. It’s not super heavy. I had to try to keep the tone digestible for little kids. It’s not really scientific. But we do talk about how he was made in a lab, and he’s like, I don’t think Jack was made in a lab. And I’m like, maybe he was. There’s a lot of kids who were. That’s kind of foreshadowing to one of my future books. I’m going to have another. My friend Jack will be in one of the next stories. So, I don’t know. It’s exciting. It’s a good creative outlet for me, and it was really, really fun to work on it. I hope everybody loves it as much as I loved writing it.
Well, I can’t wait to pick it up. Any tips for our listeners who are either pre-conception stage or struggling with infertility? What are your top tips?
My tips would be, if you’re comfortable talking about it, find people that you can share with. It doesn’t, obviously, have to be Fertility Rally. There are so many resources out there. But find your people, whether it’s via Facebook or just friends, whatever. I feel like talking about it and sharing makes it so much easier, and you realize you’re not alone, and these feelings that you’re having of devastation and jealousy and especially around the holidays, it’s so hard. Everyone’s being like, when are you going to have a baby? You know, asking questions like that. So to just kind of have a place where you can vent and share and cry and laugh I think is really, really important. People can always reach out to me. I’m on Instagram @infertileafstories. They can DM me. My DMs are totally open. I’ve been there. I know how hard it is and how sad it is, and even if you have a partner, sometimes you’re not on the same page as the partner, and that can be really hard, too. People are welcome to reach out to me at any time.
My other piece of advice would just be, be true to yourself. One thing that really kind of bothers me, I guess I would say, is when people are like, don’t give up, don’t give up. And I kind of feel like I don’t like that terminology because I’ve talked to a lot of women who have gone down the infertility path and then pivoted because it wasn’t happening. They weren’t having babies, and they felt shamed, that they felt like they quit or they gave up, but it was like, their mental health was struggling. Or they realized that they could have a really happy life without a baby. So I always try to veer away from that language of don’t give up, and I think that if somebody has been doing this for a while and it’s not happening, it’s okay to walk away. It’s okay to pivot. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be happy. And there’s really, really good resources out there. Childless Collective – my friend Katie started this, and it’s for people that pivoted from infertility. She did it for her mental health reasons. She was like, I can’t keep doing this for years and years and years. A lot of people have to walk away because of financial reasons.
Makes sense, yes.
It’s okay if it doesn’t go the way that you thought it was. There’s a community waiting for you there, as well. I just want to give people resources like that, as well, because you don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s the most frustrating thing about infertility. It’s so out of your control. You can only control so much, and some of it really just has to do with luck and science. Even if everything’s lined up perfectly well, sometimes it doesn’t work out the way that you want it to, and that’s so devastating. But just know that there’s people there, no matter what the outcome is, to catch you when you’re falling.
I love it. So how can our listeners find your book? You have the website, of course, infertileafgroup.com.
That’s right, yes. They can go there. There’s a bunch of different things on there. That also links to Fertility Rally, if anybody wants to check it out, go to a support group. Just DM me and be like, I want to see if it’s my jam, and if it’s not, no harm, no foul. You’re welcome to come and check out a group for free. We just want people to be exposed to stuff. But people can also find me on Instagram @infertileafstories. There’s links in that bio, as well, for the Rally and for the book. And again, if people want to just DM me and connect, or if they have questions, I’m totally available. I can put you in touch with doctors or experts or things like that. It can be really overwhelming, but I’m there as a resource, so please, lean on me if you guys need to.
Love it! Well, thank you so much for sharing your story, and all of the amazing resources. It’s been a pleasure. I’ll have to have you on when your next book comes out.
Thank you so much for having me! This is really, really cool, and I love what you’re doing, as well. Thank you to you for having this platform.
Well, thank you!