Andrea Syrtash has dedicated her life to helping people navigate their relationships. But for the past seven years she has been negotiating the most personal relationship that exists, the one with her own body. For seven years, which breaks down to 84 months, or 2,555 days, Syrtash has been trying to get pregnant. Once you have let that sink in, make room for this— she has gone through eighteen infertility treatments.
An author and media personality, she hosts TV shows, writes books (five to be exact) and is regularly featured on national major outlets. As such, she has gone public not only with her own story, but with the story millions of people share, frequently far from the public eye. Nearly a year ago, she launched a website called pregnantish, the first ever non-medical platform for infertility. It has since become a phenomenon.
Periel Aschenbrand: Tell me about it.
Andrea Syrtash: My mission with Pregnantish, beyond having good content, is to break down some of the misconceptions. The biggest complaint I hear is stop telling me how it worked for you. That’s not helpful for me, when I have a disease or a medical issue. If you’ve thought of it, and I’ve gone through years of this, then I’ve thought of it already. The best thing you can do is say, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need?” or “I’m sorry.” Simple as that. What people do wrong is they tell you what you should do. And that’s very hurtful for someone in this process because we are often depleted, financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Being told that we haven’t done something right, indirectly makes us blame ourselves and that is not helpful.
PA: People probably do that anyway? As women? The implication is that you are doing something wrong.
AS: People will say, “Just relax. It will happen when you stop thinking about it.” Really? I have blocked tubes! What are you talking about?
PA: Right. I’m sure. And in relationships in general? What is everyone doing wrong?
AS: A lot of times when people hear what I do, they ask, “So what’s your number one tip?” which is a really hard thing to answer.
PA: I’m glad I didn’t ask that.
AS: The secret sauce is so simple and so hard to follow. Acknowledgement. People want to be seen, heard, and valued. What it boils down to is that we all want to be appreciated and acknowledged for who we are.
PA: That doesn’t sound like brain surgery.
AS: Acknowledgement is a very powerful thing. Whether you are talking about an office relationship and you tell someone they did a very good job or a lover who just does one small act of kindness. That goes a really long way. People usually think in terms of all or nothing, but that’s not it at all. It actually is sweat the small stuff. The smallest ways of acknowledging someone can transform someone’s whole day.
PA: So basically, just be a decent fucking human being?
AS: Be a decent fucking human being.
PA: Is that really it?
AS: One of the best things I have ever heard—and I have interviewed thousands of people about this—was from an old woman on her advice on her long, long marriage. Her secret was, we never fell out of love at the same time. Good one, right?
PA: Really good.
AS: I’ve written about having a crush when you’re married. I kind of push the boundaries of relationship advice. I wrote Cheat on Your Husband with Your Husband because we don’t need to be rescued, but we shouldn’t be bored. I challenge conventional wisdom with common sense. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Why is that news? I don’t know. I got hatemail.
PA: Gotta love hatemail. And after all this, you spread your wings and created what is now known as pregnantish. Did you ever imagine doing that?
AS: No. Well, -ish. That’s my answer to a lot of things these days. I want to say on record that I am really into the –ish of things. I don’t want to be in boxes. And there is less anxiety and boxes in the –ish.
PA: Is that very Jew-ish?
AS: It is. Ish is a very freeing liberating way to look at life.
PA: I love that. It is. Unless you’re trying to get pregnant.
AS: Well, it’s not fun when you’re trying to get pregnant. But we live in a culture where everyone wants quick fixes and it doesn’t work like that. We’re multi dimensional, things are not that way. So part of my pregnantish platform is that it started as a book, this was in 2013—I have been navigating this wacky world of trying to get and stay pregnant with a medical issue I’ve had since I was fourteen years old—I had endometriosis. But you don’t think about that at the time. I always thought it might take me a little longer, but I never thought anything like this.
PA: You’ve been trying to get pregnant for seven years?
AS: It’s really been. . . I’ve actually lost count, literally. But when I wrote this book proposal, I wrote a fifty page proposal called Pregnantish, about how you can be a little bit pregnant. And I hate that people say you can’t. Because I have been. For years. I’ve had an embryo in me. I’ve lost pregnancies. I’ve been so hormonal through fertility treatment that my body has thought it was pregnant. So you can be. So I told my agent this and then I miscarried. And I said, I can’t write this. And then a year went by and I said, I think I’m ready. And then I lost another pregnancy and I said, I can’t write it.
AS: So I stopped the book process but this idea has been in my head for five years. So I launched the website. And it’s for everyone. Singles, couples, LGBT. Everyone. We want to inspire and encourage people and navigate what is an overwhelming process. Every story is stranger than the next. It’s stranger than fiction. The content is amazing. And the stories are important. And the advice that people give you is unbelievable. Like, “Why don’t you just adopt?” It’s so complicated and time consuming and expensive and it’s a wonderful option for some people but it’s not for everyone and there is certainly no “just” involved in it. I get this piece of ‘advice’ from people at least once a week. It’s as inappropriate as my telling someone who is single and adopting to get married before they have children.
PA: It’s an insane piece of unsolicited advice. The goal, I imagine, is to raise awareness?
AS: Part of it. I’ve been frustrated that the content has been medical and clinical and that is very important but it’s not what I’ve needed the whole time. Or, they’re blogs. And blogs are great but they’re first person or they are message boards talking about ‘baby dust,’ which is not helpful for me.
PA: Talking about what?
AS: Rainbow babies, baby dust… There is a whole language in the world of infertility where people are wishing each other well with acronyms like “DH,” which I believe stands for “Dear Husband.” I don’t speak like that. I’m like, are we in The Handmaiden’s Tale? What is happening? I figure I cannot be alone in this. There are over seven million people navigating this. A lot of us of them are educated and savvy and thoughtful who want smart content. So I launched it as the first non-medical platform to help people navigate infertility.
PA: As you navigate it yourself.
AS: As I navigate it myself. This is a relationship platform as well. Because it affects your relationship in the deepest way. It rocks your world. Not only your relationship with your partner, if you have one, but spiritually. And it affects your friendships because it feels like the whole world is getting pregnant and having babies and you’re cheering them on while you’re isolated and silently suffering this. It affects your job because if you’re going through IVF you have to be at your doctor’s every day for weeks on end. It affects your relationship with yourself and your body as a woman, as a man, why isn’t this working? It’s really deep.
PA: I think it’s really courageous and brave of you to share your story so publicly while you help so many people.
AS: Thank you.
PA: May I ask you something?
PA: You grew up in Canada.
PA: You’re a Jew.
AS: Yes, I am a Jewish Canadian.
PA: Does that factor in here at all? Because we’re always told—I don’t know what your mother-in-law is like, but mine thinks I’m committing a crime against humanity by only having one child, so I can only imagine.
AS: I will say something Jewish-ly… But first, the two words I am telling everyone to stop saying is JUST and SHOULD. You should have another kid. You should adopt. You should just have another kid. STOP IT. Those words undermine the experience. This is our deepest value, the highest stakes. You can’t put those words next to that. And it’s often out of our control. People want to be challenged, not changed. That’s one of my biggest Andrea-isms. The minute you do that, you’re stepping on their values. The second you do that, you lose credibility. Because people want to be valued for who they are, not who you want them to be. My dad is a Holocaust survivor. He was born in hiding, in Hungary. He lost a lot of family. My parents had me late. I’m younger than a lot of Holocaust survivor kids, because my parents were together for over ten years before they had me. Nevertheless, I am the daughter of a survivor and that experience has its own baggage, commitments, and responsibilities. There are few people on my dad’s side because of the Holocaust, so I want to give my dad and family a hopefully biological kid. So that’s the Jewish part. And my husband’s parents are Egyptian Sephardic Jews who escaped as Jews. We both have refugee Jewish parents and there is no doubt to me that that contributes to my desire to have family.
PA: Again, it’s very kind and courageous of you to share all this.
AS: I came from a culture of really being kind to your neighbor. Canada really values its citizens and I can’t have people feeling isolated. I like that I’m a Jewish Canadian because I think they cancel each other out. Not just being inwardly focused is a Canadian value which I appreciate.
PA: It’s a Jewish value too, I think.
AS: It’s both. What’s great Jewish-ly—we know the guilt—but any time someone is hurt, the community really cares. Anytime anyone ever hears what I am going through, they connect me with someone they know.
PA: It’s such a Jewish thing.
AS: Every single time. It’s such a Jewish thing.
Periel Aschenbrand, a comedian at heart, is the author of On My Kneesand The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own.