From miscarriages to stillborns to adoption issues, I have had too many friends go through pregnancy hardships. One in six couples are infertile. Below I talk with John Murray and Silvija Ozols, two actors/writers, each part of a couple, who have endured pregnancy issues. When their stories of infertility were presented to me, I knew I had to help tell their story. It took some time for our schedules to line up, but the stars aligned and we finally got a chance to sit down and talk about the return of their show Infertile: A Sketch Comedy.
The show is based upon each of their real-life experiences with infertility. As actors/writers, they both were able to find the humor in these very difficult situations. Through the comedy world, they met, swapped stories and knew they had to write this show together. Infertile: A Sketch Comedy makes you wonder what it takes to pregnant? This show has all the answers. Learn how to handle doctors, pregnant couples, and God himself.
Infertile: A Sketch Comedy will play Upright Citizens Brigade Chelsea (307 West 26th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue) on Friday, 10/7 at 7:30pm & Monday, 10/24 at 8pm and a special performance on Friday 11/4 at 7:30pm as part of the New York Comedy Festival!
1. This October, your show Infertile: A Sketch Comedy will be returning to Upright Citizens Brigade. The show is based on both your real-life experiences of trying to get pregnant with your respective partners. How soon after you met each other, did you learn you were both going through similar situations? Then, how long after that, were you like, we can find the humor in this and write a show about it?
Silvija Ozols: John and I had known each other for years through the comedy world. John heard through a mutual friend that my husband and I were going through treatments and reached out to provide sympathy and support. For a few months, whenever we saw each other, I’d complain and he’d commiserate. It wasn’t until our sketch team, Stone Cold Fox, broke up that he pitched the idea of us writing and performing a show together. He actually had two different ideas for a comedy show: (1) infertility and (2) the funeral of his mother, who had just passed away a few months earlier. Obviously, dark subject matter does not scare John. Which is extra funny because he is one of the most upbeat, easygoing guys you’ll ever meet.
2. Before you met, did you think separately, you'd each write a show about your experiences or did the idea happen only after you met?
John Murray: I was thinking about writing the show for some time but I was looking for the right person to collaborate with, specifically a woman. I wanted the show to have both points of view accurately represented. I didn't want to write it by myself and have the show be "Mansplaining Infertility: A Sketch Show." When Silvija and I were on a sketch team together we didn't get to collaborate a lot, but when we did, I remember thinking, "Man, that was fun and easy." When I found out that she and her husband were having problems getting pregnant, I wanted to help. I thought writing a show about the process would give Silvija someone to connect with and a reason to laugh at the hardship she was experiencing.
Silvija Ozols: I realized how much I was internalizing my anger, because I couldn’t quite get a comedic slant on it at first. I was writing sketches that were just rants about bureaucracy and paperwork (see: my answer to question 9). John very gently steered us toward something more active and funny. I was also surprised by how much I was willing to share. I've always considered myself fairly private, and here I was talking about getting probed every other day.
John Murray: I was surprised by how much of the information I retained from the process. The show became a good outlet for that info not to go to waste.
4. How did your spouses react to the idea of you writing a show together? Have they seen the show? If so, what were their thoughts?
Silvija Ozols: Our spouses have been nothing but supportive. They’ve both seen the show and have read countless drafts and given us a lot of input from day one. I hope by now my husband, who is also a comedian, is used to me reading him something and asking, "Is this funny?" And even before we started writing the show, John connected me to his wife, who was nothing but sweet and supportive. She just got it. And she helped flesh out the show from the woman’s point of view.
John Murray: I see both our partners as having a hand in what we created. My wife's bravery is what inspired me to write the show.
5. One in six couples are infertile. Here I am talking to 2 couples already. Prior to becoming one of these six couples, did you ever think, even for a moment, about infertility and think, gosh, that could be me as much as it could be the person next to me? What were your first thoughts after learning you were infertile? How did you get through it?
John Murray: I think at first I was that typical person thinking, "That won't happen to me." Once I was dealing with infertility, the only time I really felt like we were "The Infertile Couple" was when we were around couples our age with kids. Otherwise, the fertility process is always moving forward, so you don't ever look in the mirror and think, "We're the couple that can't have kids!" You're in it, it's a thing you're working on, so you don't really step outside of it to comment on it. Your aim is to become your goal of "couple with kids."
Silvija Ozols: John’s right. It didn’t feel like there was one moment when I was told, "You’re infertile." It’s a gradual process: you try to get pregnant on your own for about a year, you don’t, your ob-gyn recommends a specialist, you start doing tests…By the time you’re dumping your life savings into IVF, you’re truly sucked in. It’s like that old analogy of the frog in the boiling water; the temperature goes up so slowly, you don’t realize you’re being cooked.
Silvija Ozols: I don’t want to discount the idea that infertility can be very hard on a marriage. It’s psychologically and financially stressful, and it can exacerbate a lot of other issues. But I never had a (major) problem with my husband. We were in it together. We were a team. Both John and I blamed ourselves ("Are my eggs too old?" "Is my sperm bad?"), but we never blamed our partners. It might have helped that in both our cases, doctors never found a specific reason for the infertility. So we never knew whose "fault" it was, which is an awful way of looking at it anyway.
In our show, John and I play a married couple, and there’s very little conflict between the two of us — the conflict is always between us and some outside entity (condescending doctors, blithely fertile young people). Partly that’s because I didn’t want to write a stereotypical "idiot slacker husband/shrill striver wife" couple, but mostly it’s because that wasn’t our real-life experience.
7. Was there ever a moment of excitement during one of the times you got pregnant or was it always clouded with anxiety, fear, and sadness because of what you went through? Or was each time considered new hope?
John Murray: My wife and I were anxious when we were pregnant with our twins (who are now four years old). Not rush-to-the-doctor anxious, but kinda like, "Is this gonna last?" That's not to say we didn't try to enjoy being pregnant (we thought we'd never be pregnant again, so we tried to soak it in as much as we could), but we had already had six miscarriages. We were definitely watching our backs.
Silvija Ozols: This is one of those very hard questions, where I felt very differently about it before getting into it. Beforehand, it seemed very easy: why didn’t childless people "just adopt?" That was before I started doing the research.
John Murray: Like a lot of infertile couples, we (both couples) looked into every option because we wanted a child so badly. And we discovered that adoption has as many steps as fertility treatments. With foreign adoption, each country has laws you have to follow regarding how many children you can adopt, at what age, how long it will take. In some countries, you have to live there for a year with the child. Others have restrictions on the age gap between the parent and child. All of that might not fit with your family plan. Stateside adoptions come with their own challenges, including negotiations between adoptive and birth parents, restrictions placed by adoption organizations on who can adopt, the lack of a guarantee of a baby, and the cost of advertising, agencies and lawyers. None of that might fit with your family plan, either.
Everyone deserves the family they want. So if you have the money and time and feel that fertility treatments are going to work, who is anybody to judge you for trying to create your family? The same applies to adoption, which gets tossed off as an easy answer to fertility problems but is just as much, or more, of a process and struggle. It's a disservice to families who adopt to ask those who didn’t, "Why didn't you just adopt?" They deserve more credit for all the work they've done to start their family. Adoption fit their family plan!
Silvija Ozols: In emotional terms: I have no great advice. It sucks. It’s stressful. Don’t be afraid to get whatever support you need; whether it’s a close friend you can complain to, or a group of people who are going through it, or a licensed therapist who specializes in infertility loss.
In practical terms: A lot of medical professionals will tell you, "Be your own advocate," and it’s completely true — if you don’t, you’ll get screwed. Treat this like a second job. Expect to spend hours on the phone with various billing departments, insurance, and pharmacies. Ask every question, especially the "dumb" ones. Be polite but stay with it until you get the answers you need. Research everything. Keep overly detailed records. And be very careful about the money. Doctors either don’t think or don’t know about the costs when they advise you to do another procedure. The money can add up quickly, there’s a limit to what your insurance covers, and you may not know you’ve exceeded that limit until months later, by which point you may owe thousands of dollars. Before you even walk into your first consultation, decide how much of your savings you’re willing to spend on this. Are you willing to use your retirement fund? Put off buying a house? Think of it like gambling: decide before walking in how much you’re willing to lose, and walk away from the table when you’ve hit that limit.
10. In this show, you learn how to handle doctors, smug fertile couples, and God himself. So, how do you handle them now?
Silvija Ozols: Mostly with profanity.
John Murray: And some obscene hand gestures.
John Murray (writer/actor) was named "Comedy’s Next Almost Star" by Esquire. He co-created the IFC Comedy Crib series John & Geoff Are Married and co-hosts the live show Low Standards (named one of NYC’s "Best Screenings with Benefits" by Time Out New York). TV: Difficult People, Broad City, 30 Rock, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Cooking Channel. Web: Above Average, Funny Or Die, UCB Comedy.
Silvija Ozols (writer/actor) improvises with longstanding UCB Theatre group The Stepfathers ("an exhilaratingly inventive show" —The New York Times). TV: Broad City, IFC’s Bunk. Web: Above Average, UCB Comedy. Her writing has appeared in Time Out New York, Playbill, Cosmopolitan, and Hipster Animals.