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7/26/2015

BlogHer '15 and Space for Infertility

Last weekend at this time, BlogHer '15 was wrapping up.  I registered for my non-refundable pass in December, before I had any guarantee that we'd end up pregnant by the time July rolled around.  I didn't appreciate how gusty? illogical? that was until I was at the Hilton, walking around and sitting in on panels.

Since I've been going (2009), the BlogHer conference has always been geared to what used to be "mommy blogs" and what are now usually "parenting blogs."  (That shift is all to the good, by the way.)  So I could hardly feel surprise that sponsors were heavily parent/kid-centric.  There were multiple baby food brands, Medela, Merck for Mothers, pediatric vitamins, the Today Show "Parenting Team," and more.

If anything the panel topics were less parent/kid centric than they used to be.  For instance, this year there was also a marked uptick since 2012 (the last year I went) in panels solely for the business, revenue generation side of online work-life.

But here's what stuck in my mind:

- There was a single panel on disability and blogging.  There was a single panel on mental health/illness and blogging.  These were the closest panels that would've approached anything touching on infertility. 

- The Saturday lunch keynote included a short film and a "fireside chat" with professionals and activists (the head of Merck for Mothers, and Christy Turlington Burns, a doula, and the moderator) discussing maternal mortality in the U.S.  During this panel, someone onstage made sure to appeal to the crowd by reminding us that "most of us" there had experience (or would do) childbirth. 

- The Voices of the Year keynote on Friday almost exclusively featured a heavy contingent of parent voices.  (Including, I should note, an honoree who built her family through adoption.)

- The conference has become, from my privileged perspective at least, consciously inclusive.  The panel speaker groups this year were better balanced than I'd ever seen them, in terms of not being 80% straight white ladies.  But in every panel I saw, no matter the topic, there was a parenting site whose pictures were put up on the projector.  Or there was a moderator breastfeeding her daughter throughout the panel (which is awesome, by the way, where can you do this if not at BlogHer?).  Or there was a Voices of the Year installation featuring a piece on adoption and the piece's picture of an 8-month pregnant belly.

So what stuck, not just in my mind but in my throat, was how completely impossible it could be to attend BlogHer as an infertility blogger.  Whether actively pursuing treatment, waiting out finances or health issues or life issues on the bench, or whether making your way to redefining yourself as child-free not by choice, BlogHer could be just. completely. impossible. 

I can't describe what it's like to be bombarded by pregnancy and parenting while you're not sure you'll ever get to be a part of them.  If you want to participate in something like BlogHer, you either muscle through it, coping moment to moment as best you can, or you don't.  You don't go.  You skip family birthday parties and holidays.  You stay away from places where parenthood and children are bound to come up, or you steel yourself when you can't get out of it. 

You try to explain to people who've never been where you are just what it feels like, and sometimes they get it, and sometimes they don't, and you just have to deal with it.  You live, either temporarily or maybe forever, with the fact that the culture just doesn't include you in this important way.

This is nuts, when you think about it.  1 couple in 8 goes through infertility.  1 in 8!  That's not exactly rare.  There are plenty of blogs chronicling parenthood on the other side of infertility treatment, so this isn't a blanket ignorance thing, which makes it even harder for me to parse the complete lack of safe space IF/CFNBC bloggers might find at a women's blogging conference, run for women, by women. 

Anyway.  If sheknows media sends around a post-conference request for opinions, you can be sure I'll respond.  (They acquired BlogHer early this year, so we'll see how they handle post-conference outreach.)  But in the meantime, do me a favor and think a little about the ways in which we take pains to make spaces safe and welcoming for different histories and experiences, and how one in eight people can relate to this particular experience, the numbers involved in a space like BlogHer, and how those things come together. 

2 comments:

  1. I know so many couples, or even single moms-desiring-to-be, who struggle with fertility issues. I wish more people talked about it. I think it would help the numbers of adoptions if people talked more openly about it, too. So hell no on the STFU idea. If there isn't space for people to talk about these issues at a women's blogging conference, something is wrong in the state of the women's blogging world.

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  2. Hi Ali, I hope you are doing well and the family is okay. Let us know how you are! Much love, Shannon

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