Book week: Interview with Fiona from The Waiting Game

Fiona McPhillips blogs over at The Waiting Game and has a book out in March about fertility issues. The book is called: Trying To Conceive. Fiona will be one of the people on the panel discussing blogging and writing a book on the afternoon of the Blog Awards. She was kind enough to answer some questions I sent to her. As well as being nominated for the Blog Awards, her blog has been shortlisted for the Digital Media Awards on February 7th. Best of luck to her. (Transparency: I’m judge for the DMAs)

Tell me a little bit about The Waiting Game, why did you start the blog? I sometimes blog as I find it thereaputic and sometimes I feel I have to blog to get the word out about something, almost like I have duty to inform people. Do you feel the same?

I started the blog after I had my first miscarriage in September 2005. I called it the Two Week Wait because that’s how long I thought it would last. The “two week wait” refers to the time between ovulation and when you can test for pregnancy. It can be a very long two weeks and your mind can go into overdrive imagining pregnancy symptoms. If you google “two week wait symptoms”, you get hundreds of thousands of pages of women discussing symptoms and potential symptoms and trying to work out if they are pregnant. The idea behind the blog was that I would document my two week waits for a couple of months until I became pregnant again and then someone else could take over and so on until we could build up a good resource of bona fide two week wait symptoms for others to obsess over.

Well, two weeks came and went, and another two and another two and before I knew it I had unwittingly documented the slow descent into infertility. Most infertility bloggers start out at this point but mine begins in a much more hopeful place and slowly slips into despair.

I didn’t tell anyone in real life about it for a long time. I mentioned it on parenting and infertility boards and that’s where most of my traffic came from at the start. Then I started reading other infertility blogs and we swapped links. There’s a great network of support around the world and some brilliant writers in infertility blogland. It’s not a subject that people ramble about indiscriminately and I think that most bloggers tend to choose their words carefully, which usually makes for interesting reading. And of course there’s the soap opera element of month in month out fertility treatments, doomed pregnancies and fraught personal relationships with the outside world. The lack of understanding of the fertile world is often something that is turned into comedy by bloggers and, despite the difficult subject matter, infertility blogs make me laugh out loud a lot of the time.

When I got nominated for the Irish Blog Awards last year, I started to mention my blog to close family and friends. I was also going through an IVF cycle at the time and realised it would be easier to explain myself in writing than face to face most of the time. It really has worked. Most of the time when you try to explain how you feel, the reaction is something along the lines of “Oh, it can’t be that bad, you can’t possibly feel that bad”. Followed inevitably by “You seem very stressed, maybe you just need to relax”. Stress does not cause infertility any more than it causes diabetes or myopia. That is because it is a medical condition that needs to be treated or cured. But popular opinion tends to believe otherwise. As does the media. So you tend to get a torrent of advice (or assvice as bloggers prefer) every time you mention the subject. Writing a blog means that you can say exactly what you want to say without the fear of assvice. And when you say it often enough and consistently enough, it starts to sink in. I get considerably less assvice today than I did a year or two years ago. Maybe people still think I need to relax/get over myself/move on/be thankful for what I’ve got but they no longer say it to my face so that’s good enough for me!

Blogging is also useful for answering the Sunday supplement type reports on infertility and miscarriage that raise their ugly heads periodically. Whenever such a lifestyle piece is published, you can be guaranteed that come Monday morning, you will get several emails telling you the good news that going on a cruise or drinking red wine or playing tennis will indeed help you conceive. Infertility is not taken seriously as an illness in the media and a blog is a useful outlet to answer back with scientific facts when necessary. I have a reasonable readership (400-800 hits per day depending on where the soap opera is at) so I hope that someone somewhere is persuaded every now and then. I get a lot of googlers, often asking the specific question I am addressing, i.e. “does swimming cause miscarriage?”, so I hope I can be of some help to them too.

I find your blog a tough read at times, there’s so much to deal with. What kind of reaction do you get from friends, family and strangers?

I generally get a really positive reaction from people that mention that they read it. They are usually very sympathetic and supportive and nearly always mention that they had no idea how difficult infertility/IVF/miscarriage can be. That is the most satisfying part of writing the blog, that I have managed to get the word out about what one in six couples goes through. I think that’s one of the ways in which blogging is truly revolutionary – the fact that you can now get a first-hand insight into how certain events and situations affect people’s lives. It’s a job that was previously left up to authors, playwrights and scriptwriters and that usually meant compressing the information into a specific format. Now people can read about almost any issue, no matter how difficult or personal, as it happens and in whatever format or style the author wishes.

On a personal level, it means that I don’t have to explain myself all the time. If we are going through a particularly difficult time, then friends and family can have a look at the blog and decide for themselves if it is a good time to call. I think it has helped them deal with me and vice versa.

How big an issue is fertility in this country and in the developed world as a whole? Is it one of the many unseen, yet common issues of modern times?

It affects one in six couples and this figure is rising all the time. Everybody knows somebody who is going through it, whether they know it or not. Some people prefer to keep quiet about it, others try to talk about it but whether or not they are open, everyone comes up against the cruel, thoughtless comments that are bandied about on a daily basis. “Maybe you weren’t meant to have children”, “You’re so lucky you don’t have kids, mine are a nightmare”, “Why don’t you just adopt, then you’ll get pregnant”, “It’s because you drink wine/drink coffee/exercise/don’t exercise/work too hard/obsess too much/live in the city/are too fat/are too thin/don’t eat meat/eat red meat/don’t eat fish/need to relax that you haven’t conceived yet”. You really have to have an answer for every thoughtless comment and after a while, you gather quite a portfolio.

The bottom line is that it is a very, very common medical complication and it is rarely spoken about very misunderstood by the fertile world. It’s bad enough that you have to watch your friends and family have so easily what you would literally give your right arm for, without having those same people betray their lack of understanding with an insensitive comment. You’d think, if most people know how much joy a child can bring, that they would understand how much pain not being able to conceive or carry a child might bring, but no. There needs to be a lot more discussion about how stressful it is (studies have shown infertility patients to have stress levels equalled only by cancer and AIDS patients) and how family and friends can support those suffering.

So the book. How did that come about? Did you consider writing a book for a while? What else is there out there in this area?

I thought about writing it when we had been trying for about a year (I thought I knew it all then – ha!). Then I got pregnant by IUI and everything seemed to be going well and the book fell on my list of priorities. When I miscarried again at three months I thought, right, I’m going to make something good come of this mess and so started to write a proposal. That was October 2006. About two months later, I sent the proposal to four publishers and two got back to me straight away. I spoke to both of them for a couple of months and eventually signed a contract with Liberties Press in March 2007.

The book is called Trying To Conceive. It’s a guidebook that takes couples through every step of the process, from the heady early days right through to IVF and beyond. It’s not autobiographical but I do offer a lot of insight into all the processes and suggest coping mechanisms for everything that infertility can throw at you. Coping with infertility involves about 10% of going through the motions of treatment and 90% of dealing with the emotional side of it, something that is not discussed much in other books or in society in general. There is nothing else out there like it, and nothing at all written from an Irish perspective.

I didn’t get the book deal because I have a blog but it certainly helped to have an existing profile, an audience and a substantial body of work. It is also a useful means of publicising and verifying my status as someone who has been there, done that.

What’s the work ethic for a book? Make a plan, do it, chapter by chapter or gather all data and then sort it all out?

I got some great advice from a friend who was about a year ahead of me in the non-fiction writing process. She had done a huge amount of preparation before sending in a proposal and suggested I do the same. I already had most of my data in my head so I did some market research, wrote detailed chapter plans and a substantial amount of background information, which all went into the proposal. I also wrote one complete chapter. When the time came to write the rest of the book, I didn’t deviate much from the original chapter plans. There was a certain amount of research to be done as I wrote but the main story didn’t change much.

How long have you been working on this?

Almost a year in total.

When do we get to see the fruits of all this effort? Has it been worth it, do you think?

It is due out at the end of March. It has definitely been worth it and I hope it’s going to help lots of people. At the very least, I hope it sparks some debate about infertility in this country.

Do you know how it will be marketed and promoted, will you be actively doing so?

I’m hoping to do lots of media when it comes out. It’s such an emotive topic and it’s rarely out of the limelight for long so I think there will be plenty of people willing to talk about it.

What’s next after this?

Well, I’m hoping to have a baby in May!

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One Response to “Book week: Interview with Fiona from The Waiting Game”

  1. fiona mc phillips says:

    hi fiona ,congats on the birth of your daughter.i feel connected.not only did i do iui but we share the same name and also my beautiful son was born in 2003!keep up your inspiration and hard work.FMcP!!!!