How TikTok Supports People Battling With Infertility
Brand Insights in 3 Sentences: Discussing fertility issues are still considered taboo today, but a group of people, mainly women, on TikTok have decided to take charge of the conversation and opened up about their struggles on the platform. The TTC (Trying to Conceive) community they’ve built reveals that this issue is widespread, but they are extremely supportive of one another and have even formed their own abbreviations and acronyms that they all seem privy to. Infertility remains a sensitive topic, so brands should remain aware of the language they use in their communications and not put out anything that may be triggering to them.
Jennifer Aniston recently made headlines talking about her private struggles with infertility to Allure Magazine and how she had tried in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The actress also discussed how the topic of her being pregnant had been subject to extreme media scrutiny for years and how hurtful assumptions were made about how she had chosen her career over having children.
The scale in which she had faced these questions is unimaginable, but it’s an unfortunate reality that many women face. “Are you pregnant?” seems innocent enough and oftentimes comes with good intentions. But, for a woman struggling with infertility, it can elicit emotions of pain, loss, and anger.
Even in 2022, fertility issues are still taboo. It’s a conversation you have in private with your partner or doctor, not something you bring up in casual conversation unless you want to make it uncomfortable or awkward for people. If you do decide to bring it up, this admission opens you up to even more questions and possibly unempathetic comments or criticism, As humans, we are supposed to be biologically wired to procreate, so acknowledging that having trouble doing just that is an admission of being a failure, or being “less than.”
In short, infertility can be a silent struggle. It often weaves into a narrative of blame and self-isolation. However, there’s a group of people on social media who are trying to create space for themselves and others undergoing fertility issues. TikTok in particular has emerged as an important platform for them to tell and destigmatize their experiences.
Using Sphere, and our own qualitative research, we wanted to take a look at the conversations taking place around infertility and understand how people interacted and portrayed the issue on social media.
An explicit observation we made first was that almost all the #InfertilityTok creators were women. It’s estimated that “up to 7% of men are affected by infertility and 50% of fertility problems within a heterosexual couple are due to the man. In around half of male infertility cases, the cause is unexplained.” Search interest also reveals that men are the ones searching the most for ‘fertility clinics’ and ‘fertility doctors’. Even with these statistics, however, women tend to be the ones to shoulder the societal burden of infertility and men suffer just as much in silence.
The men that are featured in the content are often shown as support systems to the women, being the ones to comfort them when they receive bad news or helping to administer IVF injections. It portrays them as having to be strong for their partners, and not as people who are suffering themselves. Videos under #maleinfertility does show that this issue takes a toll on them emotionally as well, but it’s evidently underrepresented within this community.
The content these creators make tend to be real and raw representations of their fertility experiences. They show footage of themselves undergoing fertility treatments and showing their real-time reactions to results of their pregnancy tests each cycle. In fact, the Clearblue pregnancy test kit was the most detected logo amongst all the videos we reviewed.
Many of them show their journeys with the goal of being authentic and not sugarcoating the pain they endure and to let other people with the same experiences know that they are not alone. They also do it for themselves, in the hopes that one day they’ll have a successful pregnancy and be able to document the very moment they found out.
Sphere detected a number of different terms and acronyms that were accompanied frequently with this content. The acronym ‘ttc’ which stands for ‘trying to conceive’ for example, was found in more than half of the posts we reviewed. Other phrases like ‘1in8’, ‘cd, (cycle day) and ‘dpo’ (days past ovulation) were also mentioned as well. These all appear to be a part of the vernacular used by members of online communities dedicated to fertility when discussing their experiences.
A few notable phrases that appeared in the top list of words were ‘ttcafterloss’ and ‘rainbow baby’, which is defined as “a healthy baby born after losing a baby due to miscarriage, infant loss, stillbirth, or neonatal death”. It’s believed that various reasons for infertility can increases the chances of a stillbirth or miscarriage, so this is an experience that many of these content creators sadly share. They use the term ‘rainbow baby’ when discussing the child they yearn to have, or if they do successfully manage to conceive one.
While the actual causes behind their infertility doesn’t seem to be the main focus or goal of this community, Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and Endometriosis are the only two health issues mentioned within the reviewed posts. They are both known to be common causes for fertility issues, and most content creators mention it in the context of spreading awareness, rather than offering advice on how to cure or treat them.
Fertility concerns not only affects the individual both physically and emotionally, it impacts almost every aspect of their lives and the people in them. Ovulation and pregnancy tests, and fertility treatments can be a huge financial burden. Sexual intimacy between couples also becomes more of a job, which often leads to a complete loss of affection and sometimes the break down of relationships. In some societies where childbearing is highly valued, infertility can sometimes even lead to violence between partners.
Despite how difficult this issue can be, the discourse around it is actually largely positive. There’s a lot of hope in the way this community makes videos and the way they talk to one another. They provide encouragement and reassurance, celebrate each other’s wins and crack jokes about their problems.
It’s worth mentioning however, that there are people who believe that this community is almost too positive, and even toxic. Some people raised that community members shouldn’t be spreading false hope and telling people what they want to hear, while others talk about their experiences being discredited if their journey hadn’t been as long or as difficult as others.
The days of polished perfectionism on social media are waning. Authenticity on these platforms are now the zeitgeist, and TikTok ascended at just the right time. Because of its novelty, it also provided the perfect distraction from seeing friends post about sometimes triggering pregnancy announcements and babies on other social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
Members of the TTC community felt safe to jump from anonymous, online message boards to showing their faces and being vulnerable online. Infertility is a seemingly endless waiting game, and incredibly lonely, so if TikTok brings them comfort and community then we hope this is a space that continues to thrive.
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