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Stateside Podcast: Cheyna Roth on the loneliness of infertility

Sad Black couple after negative pregnancy test result
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Cheyna Roth said her experience of infertility issues left her feeling incredibly lonely, so she started reaching out to other women who had gone through the same thing.

Television advertisements constantly bombard viewers with products targeting any number of medical maladies. Watch 10 minutes of cable, and you’ll be encouraged to ask your doctor about meds for erectile dysfunction, psoriasis, depression, nicotine addiction. But there’s a pretty common medical problem that’s not talked about as much—one that affects as many as one in 10 women of childbearing age: infertility.

Cheyna Roth is one of those women. A journalist and former politics reporter for Michigan Public Radio Network, Roth and her husband tried in-vitro fertilization (IVF), and it worked – they had a child. But no one prepared them for the possibility that the treatment might not work again, that their dream of having at least two kids might not come true.

“[I]t really starts to feel like you get on a hamster wheel and you can’t get off—that you will just sort of start doing it and it doesn’t work, and you just do it again, and you do it again, and you do it again,” Roth told Stateside host April Baer. “Because every time, you’re thinking, ‘Well what if this is the one that works?’”

After years of unsuccessful, emotionally draining, and costly IVF treatments, Roth felt completely isolated. So she set out to find other women experiencing the same thing, and eventually wove their stories into an episode for Slate’s podcast The Waves—a show about gender and feminism, where she works as a producer. That episode, called “What I Wish I Knew Before I Started IVF,” recently won a Writers Guild Award.

“[W]hen you can’t have a kid, you are constantly inundated with stories of people who are like, ‘I don’t know what happened! We just had one night and suddenly we were pregnant'. . . and it’s just never-ending.’” Roth said.

So she decided to share more stories of women like herself—women who want to get pregnant, who jump through hoops and empty wallets for IVF, sometimes with no results.

“There were so many times when I felt guilty, when I felt that I had done something wrong or was doing something wrong,” Roth recalled. “It really feels like your body is betraying you in the most basic way of what it means to be a woman, or at least what society tells you it means to be a woman. . . [T]hose thoughts go through your head like, ‘This is supposed to work. This is supposed to be one thing I can do.’”

But when it’s not, there’s few other places—or people—to turn to.

“[T]he weird thing about infertility medicine is that it is very much a business,” Roth said. “[T]hat interplay between money and medicine was just so difficult to wrap my brain around and difficult to work through. Because you just never quite know, do the doctors have my best interests at heart, or are they just trying to sell me yet another procedure so they can make money?”

Roth documented her experience for Slate after nearly a decade of infertility treatments. She said her only regret when making the episode was having waited so long to find other women enduring the same thing.

“I wished that I had realized sooner on that if I just asked, if I just sort of started being more open about what I was going through, that people would find me. And that other people were hungry to find other people they could talk to about this. I think that would’ve made the process, and the last, you know, six, seven, eight years a lot easier.”


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Music in this episode byBlue Dot Sessions.

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April Van Buren is a producer for <i>Stateside</i>. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.
Ellie Katz joined the Stateside team as an intern in September 2022.