Ep 60: Coping with Infertility Through Humor with Jennifer Palumbo
Fertility Forward Episode 60:
Anybody who has struggled with fertility knows how heartbreaking and emotionally tumultuous it can be. We all have to find coping mechanisms to deal with the pain. Today, we speak to Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo, a freelance writer, avid women's health advocate, and a ForbesWomen contributor. She frequently covers topics such as infertility, women's health, pregnancy, and being the mother of an autistic child in some of America’s biggest news outlets. She is also a standup comic who has used levity to cope with her own struggles. Today, she shares her personal struggles with infertility with the added pressure from her Catholic family and explains how she relied on her sense of humor to help her through some of the hardest moments of her life. She came to realize that her infertility was a medical diagnosis and not a personal commentary about her, and we talk about the many of the other ill-conceived misperceptions and stigmas associated with fertility treatments, how celebrities both challenge and reinforce these misperceptions, and the importance of advocacy. As the mother of an autistic child, Jennifer also sheds light on how fertility treatments are like autism, nothing is black or white, just different, and she elaborates on the importance of hope, empathy, and maintaining faith in yourself, no matter what you face. For some profound inspiration, wise advice, and a lot of laughs, tune in today!
Rena: Hi everyone. We are Rena and Dara, and welcome to Fertility Forward. We are part of the wellness team at RMA of New York, a fertility clinic affiliated with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Our Fertility Forward podcast brings together advice for medical professionals, mental health specialists, wellness experts, and patients, because knowledge is power and you are your own best advocate.
Rena: I'm so excited to welcome to Fertility Forward today, Jennifer Jay Palumbo. She is a freelance writer and an avid women's health advocate. She's a Forbes Women contributor and has had pieces included in Time Magazine, Parents Magazine, Huffingtonpost, and Scary Mommy. Ms. Palombo has covered topics such as infertility, women's health, patient advocacy, pregnancy, relationships, parenting, being the mother of an autistic child, and more. As an infertility subject matter expert, she's been interviewed on news outlets, such as CNN, NPR, Fox, NBC, and BBC America, and was featured in the documentary Vegas Baby. She also contributed a chapter in the book, Women Under Scrutiny, by Randy Susan Myers and performed in the CoverGirls Stand Up for Beauty with Aisha Tyler. She's been highlighted as an influencer in media and well-known magazine. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Yay. Thank you so much for coming on. I'm so excited to have you
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Likewise. Wow. That was a hell of an introduction. I forgot. I'm like, wow. I did all that. When did I have any?
Rena: It's such an honor. I feel like, you know, our paths have crossed before with Resolve and Advocacy Day and just, you know, I feel like you're someone who's kind of like all over the space.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah. I feel that way often. And you are too. It's funny because you've had so many great people on your podcast and then there's so many posts just that you do. Like, I feel like you're fertility famous in your own way,
Rena: God. I’m blushing.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Just I'm really like, Ooh. I'm so I'm so excited to be here. Virtually here.
Rena: Yes. Virtually. And before we even started, I said, wait a second, do you want me to call you Jennifer or Jay? And you said, well, actually in the infertility world, I go by Jay and there's a story behind it. So I said, okay, let's tell it on air. So I'm so curious to know, tell me, Jay, in the infertility space?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: It’s actually slightly...it's a little embarrassing, but no one will understand why, but me. But basically, so everyone that was born around the time I was like in the seventies was named Jennifer. I'm exaggerating only slightly. So in school we had all these Jennifers like one Jennifer after another. And I was a big fan - I'm dating myself right now - of run DMC. When they first came out, I was like, Oh my God, this rap is so cool. And I was all about it. And so they started, some of my friends started calling me jam master Jay. So Jay, as a nickname, and some people would use the nickname, not everyone, blah, blah, blah, and then cut to, I'm trying to conceive. I'm trying to figure out how to cope with it. And right before my first IVF, I decided to start a blog called The Two Week Wait, and this is the God's honest truth. I didn't want my mother-in-law to know I was blogging about infertility. I didn't want her to know anything about it. She's a lovely woman. Bless her heart. But sometimes she'll say things that are just not the most sensitive, supportive of all things. Again, lovely woman. And so, instead of writing Jennifer, I was like, okay, I'll use my nickname, Jay, which in retrospect, I just should have used Jennifer because there's so many Jennifers who the hell would have known. So I use Jay and then I got a really nice following on The Two Week Wait. A company called Fertility Authority, which is now Progyny saw my blog. And they were like, Hey, would you be interested in working with us? So they knew me as Jay. So they just called me Jay and it is kind of like, it started becoming an infertility moniker, but I kind of like it because I feel like, well, especially when I was working directly with patients, it was easier to spell Jay than Jennifer. But, I kind of like the, maybe this is bizarre, but I like the compartmentalization of it that like, Jay, is this person who I like actually way more than Jennifer. She's like, she's an advocate. She's hardworking. She's kind of positive, has a sense of humor. And then there's Jennifer who's, you know, like in her, PJ's eating a pint of ice cream.
Rena: I love that so much for so many reasons and on so many levels. I think that's amazing.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: But I kind of, especially when I was working, full-time in an office, it was nice because Jay was my day person and then I would come home and I'd be like, all right, now I can go back to Jennifer and actually was psychologically helpful.
Rena: Yeah. Well, so tell me a little bit about your journey. Did you, so are you like so many of us in this space, you kind of got into this because of your own journey?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo:Yes. I got, I met my husband. I was 33. And it was funny because you know, I'm Italian and Catholic and my whole family we’re like, that was like an old maid. Everyone else in my family, except for maybe one cousin of mine, got married in their twenties, including my sister. So I was definitely an outlier and they were all like, are you putting your career first? And I'm like, no. Like, I just haven't met anyone I can stand. And I met my husband, Mike, when I was 33 and we got married when I was 34. It happened very quick. And then we started trying to like right after I turned 35 and I really thought it was going to be easy. You know, I feel like everyone says that. And it just started this long process and unexplained infertility. So it was so difficult because it felt like it was like I was trapped in a story I never knew it was going to end or not or how it was going to end because they could never figure out what was wrong with me. So, you know, we did all the usual things, time cycles, IUIs, several IVFs. And on my last IVF, they retrieved 13 eggs, which is the most I've ever retrieved. And I only had one embryo. And I'm like, that's it. It's not going to work. Like, it's just not for me. And somehow, thankfully the one embryo stayed and is now my nine-year-old son, but the whole experience changed me, my job, my friends, my focus, for the good. I mean, I would never say I'm grateful for infertility because I just don't feel comfortable saying that, but so much positive came out of it. You know, when I started blogging again, that's when Fertility Authority saw the blog, they hired me, it changed my career and I became a huge advocate with Resolve and on a New York State level. And it just, it's been a very fulfilling experience, but yeah, it's very unexpected. I didn't expect this to be my thing.
Rena: Mmm. I love that. I mean, so much of your story resonates with me too, you know, same thing. It totally changed me and my career, you know, got involved with Resolve, everything and yeah, and I, I think, you know, I meet so many women in this space who same, you know, and then they kind of fall into some sort of career or other kind of side project based on an outlet, you know, taken up while going through infertility, like for you, it was, you know, blogging under your your not so pseudonym.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: I know my not so secret name. And the thing is too, I worked at an investment banking firm by day and I did stand up comedy at night. So I was always joking that I was corporate by day comedy by night. And when infertility happened and then Gina Bartasi, who is now the founder and CEO of Kindbody, when she asked me to work with them, it was a really small company at the time. It's since become Progeny as you know, and it was weird that my experience working in a bank gave me administrative skills. Being a comic, I was good at writing and having a sense of humor and being an instant protagonist where I needed to be. And then dealing with infertility, I understood the patient experience. So it was like this great trifecta for that role. And it became so much more rewarding than telling drunk people jokes just like randomly. Like it was a powerful lesson in how you could use your humor, not as a defense mechanism, but as a coping mechanism.
Rena: Totally. I think levity is so important to bring to the experience. You know, I try and do that with patients too. Sometimes you just, you need to find something, right? Because otherwise you can get so, so intense.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: You know, I'm so glad you said that because I wanted to ask you, if you don't mind me asking you a question, I just did this thing with International IVF Initiative. It hasn't aired yet. It's going to be in May, but they asked me to talk about humor and healthcare and I read all these studies about it, but I know, and I totally understand, especially in the infertility sector, so to speak, it's hard and scary because you're dealing with very sensitive patients and you don't want to offend them that I'm curious, how do you balance like levity and the heart wrenching emotions of infertility?
Rena: Sure. I mean, I think look, you know, you're a comedian by night, right? So you read the room, right? I think it's kind of all about reading a patient and you know, if it's my first consult with someone and they just had a loss, you know, then no, probably not. Like they don't know me that would probably not be super appropriate, but I think the longer I work with patients, you know, the easier it is to find levity. Right? And whether it not about their situation per se, because there's nothing funny about a loss or infertility, but you can find other threads, like maybe something their partner's doing or something that happened in their work, like things in their outside life kind of? You can pull on like other threads to kind of, you know, loosen it up a little. And the more you get to know someone, the easier it is. And, you know, especially now with everything on Zoom, like sometimes people's dogs come into the frame or their cats or their partners and you have to laugh, you know, because people need a little something to kind of get outside that and to remember there's something else besides the grief or the stress, right?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah. Well, I mean, like as me, I can't think of a description for me. I think I can get away with more humor because I'm not a physician nor have I played one on TV. So that's why I was like, God, it's gotta be hard when you're in the medical field in some capacity or not to be like, all right, how do I navigate this? But I think humor saved me tremendously. It just helped.
Rena: Totally. And I think, you know, again, it's about reading the person, but I think especially now where everything is kind of just so heavy in life in general, people really do appreciate the humor and you know, again, not about their specific situation, it's not about humor in a loss or infertility, but you know, is it about maybe their work from home situation or something else outside that just to remind them, you know, I'm a human, they're a human we're kind of, we all right now have this common thread right now going through the pandemic. So it's about kind of just bringing something lighthearted to it because otherwise it's just, it's super heavy and you know, people want to get out of that, you know?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah. For the most part, I mean, and since leaving Progeny, I've done a lot of projects either for clinics or genetic companies, you know, whether it's content writing or sharing the patient experience and I get asked about humor a lot and depending on who the client is, it's really funny. They'll be like, don't be funny. This is not a Jay piece. And then there are other times where I'll write something and they're like, Oh, could you add more of your humor? And for the most part, people are receptive to it. And I really, I mean, I know I've offended people here and there unintentionally, but it's a fine line to walk. But for the most part, I would say, overwhelmingly, people respond to it. Even, I had this joke when I was trying to conceive that every time we went to brunch, someone would be like, how do you like your eggs? And I would say fertilized and implanted. And I think people liked that it was a quotable thing that they could use, you know, in their own lives. So I like, when I think about comedians I like, it's usually ones you quote or you're like, Oh my God, I so relate to that. Or it resonates with you. And so some of the humor people really appreciated, but I'm always worried about offending people.
Rena: Totally. Yeah. I mean, again, I think most of the time, a lot of time we're dealing with, you know, really fragile people. So I think it’s about reading them. But I think I see part of my job as, you know, a therapist and a counselor is someone who can help people get back to themselves and help them kind of exist in this world while going through something so dramatic. Right. So how do you kind of balance, how do you exist in this world and socialize, you know, in whatever capacity that means to you right now, you know, see friends or family, baby announcements, colleagues, et cetera. Like how do you still exist in this world while, you know, going through infertility. And I think it's helping people to figure that out. And I think sometimes with that, you know, come some humor, you know, and laughing like, okay, like my fifth friend of the month announced their pregnancy. Like, let's figure out how to laugh about that and not cry about it.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: After my first IVF, this was when I still worked at the bank, my doctor at the time, I don't know why, he wanted me to stay home for my two week wait. So I took two weeks off for vacation, which in retrospect, I'm so sorry I did that cause it wasn't, wasn't really much of a vacation unless you count watching RuPaul's drag race a vacation.
Rena: People would.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah. I mean, well, I do recommend it for your two week wait because there's no pregnancy plot lines or, you know, like, no one's getting knocked up on that show if they do, that's pretty noteworthy, but I came back to work and the cycle didn't work and my boss was like, Oh, Hey so-and-so and so-and-so were pregnant. Can you plan a joint baby shower for them? And I literally, it was like the first day after my first IVF that was not successful and I had a plan a baby shower and the only I could do it was to dig deep to find a sense of humor because there were a lot of people pregnant at the time. And I remember a coworker being like, God, there must be something in the water here, you know, that everyone's pregnant. And I'm like, yeah, I guess I'm drinking at the infertility vending machine because it's not happening for me. And I was joking we should play pin the tail on the sperm, like, to make myself, I guess, to distract myself from what a big failure I felt and how painful it was to be planning a baby shower when you're getting your period after an IVF cycle.
Rena: Yeah. That's horrible.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: I had to dip into my sense of humor. That's why people, like I said, they say it's a defense mechanism, but for me it was coping.
Rena: Totally. Yeah. I mean, I think it can be either. I mean, that's amazing that you did that. That's really pretty incredible. Talk about something horrific.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Well, and now when I look back on it, just the timing of it was nuts. There was also a time and this I cannot make up. It was after one of my IVF cycles, it was a different one. I was like, okay, I'm not even going to think about anything. Like, I did the transfer. It's the two week wait. I'm just going to distract myself. And some woman, I don't know at all, I guess was announcing her pregnancy on Facebook and she was having twins and she accidentally tagged me as embryo A. I was like, how did I end up in this strange woman's uterus? So I messaged her and like, hi, I don't know you, but you tagged me in your twins’ sonogram photo? I mean, it was just, I mean, who could plan that? It was, and she was very apologetic. I mean, she didn’t even know about my own fertility issues, but she was like, Oh, hi, I'll get you out of my uterus and untag you. But it was just like, jeez, like here I am trying to distract myself. And then this, it was nuts.
Rena: Did you, I mean, I know you had the blog. Were you open about your journey or you kept it pretty private and kind of just on the blog you were doing?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: I was very, very private about it, which is sort of funny to think about now, but I was very private about it until around my third IVF cause I'm like, Oh God, you know, like, this is just getting too difficult to try to, I don't know, deny who... I'm a big believer, at least for me, I have to be as genuine as possible. And that's not necessarily for others. Just for my own sanity, because I feel like when I was younger now, I feel like I'm having a therapy session now, but when I was like in junior high high school, I think I was so worried about being liked and getting along and, and fitting in that I would like just do these gymnastics to be something I think I wasn't cause I thought it was the better thing to be. And I've always been told, you know, tone down your sense of humor. You're too talkative. You're too bossy. You're too this, that and the other. And when I was in college around age 19, I like sort of hit a wall with pretending to be things I wasn't. I'm like, this is exhausting. I can’t keep this up. And I was thinking about how they say when you build a house, you have to have a strong foundation. And I realized my house was built on crap. It was not sustainable. And so this is all around age 19. I like sort of rebuilt a new foundation and kind of made a commitment to myself. I mean, not to be a jerk, you know, to people, but to really know who I was and stick with that. And so my, even my standup routine, like my husband's a comic as well. His routine is like maybe 5% accurate to his life. Like most of it's not him. Like my mother, like when we first started dating, he had this routine about how he wants to be inclusive. So that's why he's half Mexican, half Jewish and his parents are two lesbians and that's not true. And my mother's like, Oh my God. I'm like, no, no. It’s all for the act.
Rena: Wait a second - you're really shedding some light for me in the comedic industry. So you're telling me all these comedians - 5% truth?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Well, not all of them, but a good amount, like Gilbert Godfrey and I actually opened for him once at Caroline's on Broadway and he and I were in a dressing room together just the two of us. He is not at all like he is on stage. Not, I can say this completely firsthand. He doesn't talk that way. He was very quiet. Yeah, no, not at all. It depends on the comic. Some people like Cathy Griffith is always just talking about her actual life experiences which I think gets her into trouble. So she's very genuine, but there are like Mike had, that's my husband, Mike had a nephew he was talking about named Nate. He didn't even have a nephew. Like
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: It really depends on the comic, but for me, and I remember someone saying this to me, for me, my act was very, everything was mostly true. Like I would exaggerate things here and there to be funny. But for me, I couldn't go up on stage in front of people and make things up because then I wouldn't remember what I made up, you know? So then here's this infertility thing. And I kept saying, Oh, you know, we're going to have kids eventually and you know, I'm just focusing on other things right now. And it was all BS that eventually I was like, all right, I got to get over this. And in retrospect and something, I, I tell anyone who asks for any advice now, I think the thing is with infertility, I thought it was like a personal commentary on me somehow.? Like I internalized it and it wasn't until later in the journey, it really is just a medical diagnosis just like diabetes or arthritis or anything else. And it's not a statement on anything you've done or not done. And I wish I knew that sooner because I think it would have removed the shame. But yeah, eventually now everyone knows about my eggs and uterus and everything.
Rena: Everything. Well, I'm glad you said that because I think, you know, that's unfortunate with so many people do is they internalize it and there's so much guilt and shame and feeling like it's, you know, our fault and you know, as you said, it's a disease and it's medicine, you know, it's all about collecting data. It's all about kind of putting together pieces of the puzzle to figure out, okay, you know, what do we need to do to get you to your end goal? But I think, you know, it's so hard and, you know, especially as women, I think we're so hard on ourselves. You know, I know when I went through it, you know, I always say I spent the first year isolated and alone and keeping everything inside. And then I was kind of like, what am I doing? I'm trying to create a life and I'm no longer living one. And that's when I started being open about it and sharing. And it totally changed my perspective on it. But I think it's so difficult and both men and women, I think suffer in silence and you know, there's this total stigma of it's, you know, our fault. And it's only, you know, my diet had been different or I wasn't stressed or, you know, whatever we come up with, but that's so not accurate. It's just, it's a disease, you know, like diabetes, as you said.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah. I don't know why I couldn't see it that way in the beginning. I think cause I just didn't expect any of it. I wasn't prepared for any of it. No one in my family had had infertility issues at all. And I think I was, I don't even know what I thought I did, but I was like, obviously something's wrong with me or I'm being punished. But I really admire people today. And I feel like there's more people speaking out now than there ever has been. And maybe it's just my perception, but certainly celebrities like back when I was trying to conceive, which was like around 2009 to 2012-ish, there were like maybe one or two celebrities who had mentioned they had trouble with infertility. And now I feel like you have so many people to point to as examples. And I think, I mean, I'm a big believer in people using their platform to talk about this. Like I, you know, I get very frustrated when I know celebrities have probably done treatment and they're not open about it, which I know is probably not fair cause it's their business, but they're doing such a disservice to those in the trenches that I think especially it's one of the most supportive communities that whenever a celebrity is open about their journey, you see the community like rush to them, whether it's Amy Schumer or Gabrielle Union, or I don't know, there's been so many, Carrie Underwood, that they all share their pregnancy losses or what have you. But I think they realize, okay, this really is not uncommon and nothing wrong with me.
Rena: Yeah. It doesn't discriminate. Anyone can be affected.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah, completely. I feel bad about that with select, because back in the day I was, well, it's your business, whatever. But as the years have gone on, maybe I'm getting crustier. It just ticks me off. I mean, especially I was talking to someone, this was like two years ago and she was just diagnosed with really aggressive endometriosis. And she was like, I don't know, I want to have children, but I don't know if I want to deal with the whole treatment thing. She was like, and then look at Janet Jackson. I mean, she got pregnant at age 50.
Rena: Right. That stuff irritates me, right? Because it impacts people and then you become my patient and you're upset. And you say, I wish someone had told me, you know, I didn't know. And I see, you know, Janet Jackson or whoever getting pregnant 45, 50 and I thought I had time. And so they're just perpetuating this and then, you know, people don't know,
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: No, they really don't. And I felt so bad because I said to her, I'm like Janet Jackson probably used donor eggs or I don't think she froze her eggs cause I don't think vitrification was around when her eggs were healthy. I'm getting all up into Janet's uterus. But that's, I mean, it's exactly right. It's exactly what you said. It makes people have an incorrect perception of how much time they have or that they don't need treatment. But that's why, I mean, you can't make someone be upfront about something if they're private about it. Like even I hate talking smack about J-Lo however I'm about to talk smack. She had her twin babies - boy and girl. I forgot how old she was. Maybe in her late thirties? And someone asked her if she did fertility treatment or whatever. And I don't know if she did fertility treatment, but what she said was, no, I prayed a lot. Now there's nothing wrong with praying. Again, I'm Catholic. But to me, the implication to people who are dealing with infertility and trying to conceive and it's not successful, it's like, Oh, you're not praying hard enough or J-Lo has God's private line and you don't. Yeah, exactly. And if anyone would have a private line to God, it would be J-Lo. But yeah, I mean, I think they don't realize what they're saying sends a message to those dealing with it at that moment. And you have to be really careful and be a little bit more responsible I think.
Rena: I agree. I mean, my hope is that people who have a platform, right, use it for good for education, you know, be it about endometriosis or PCOS or, you know, whatever their struggle is. And you know, I think as you said, this community is so supportive, it's really an incredible community and people just rush, you know, to, you know, give people good wishes and good vibes and good energy. And so I do think it is such a shame when people don't share because you know, I know your goal and my goal is to, you know, erase the stigma and raise awareness and change the dialogue. And until more people speak up and do it, you know, we're not going to make a change and then there'll be more and more patients who, you know, come to me and say, well, I wish I had known. I would have frozen my eggs or, you know, I would have sought out help earlier and now I feel like I wasted time. And so I do think there is still this disconnect between sort of the dialogue and then the general population's understanding of fertility.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Well I remember when Michelle Obama came out as having pregnancy losses, Holy hat! The next day, everybody who I follow that's in the infertility world posted about it, you know, Resolve, Pregnantish, Fertility Within Reach, Line for Fertility Preservation, patients, you know, everybody. And I don't remember the statistics off hand, which I feel bad about, but there was this major increase after she shared her story of those in the African-American community, seeking infertility help because there was a study that Oprah and Women's Health Magazine did - I cannot believe I have this in my head. This is why I'm no fun at parties. They did a study, I think like two years ago that people in the black community were more likely to have an infertility issue, but less likely to seek help. And again, there was this study done that once Michelle Obama shared her story, it made this major impact and people were like, Oh, okay, let me, you know, it's okay to go to the doctors of Michelle had it and you know, you know, it's okay. And so I think that's the power of when you do share it, it can change a whole population's view on, on whatever the issue is.
Rena: Totally. And I see, you know, with a lot of my patients, depending on their background, there's so much disconnect between themselves and their family. And they're really afraid to share with their family because they feel like their family wouldn't be supportive. I don't know if you dealt with that at all. You know, being Catholic, if that came up?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Well, the church, you know I’m not even like a major practicing Catholic, but my family really is, and I'm sorry, I'm laughing. When I did finally get pregnant with my oldest son, Michael, he was due in January. And so I always do a funny Christmas card. It's my thing. And so, because I was very pregnant around Christmas, I dressed up as Mary and my husband dressed up as Joseph and we were holding luggage outside of the Bethlehem motel.
Rena: Oh my gosh, can I get a copy of that?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yes, I’ll send it to you. And everyone, my neurologist, by the way, he was like, Oh my God, that was the best card I've ever gotten in my entire life! He still has it up in his office. My OB GYN loved it. So people really loved it. I will send it to you. Cause it was, it was our best card. But my uncle Carmine, who I really do have. At my wedding I had to bring him to people because people thought I made him up, but I really do have an uncle Carmine and he's exactly how you would expect him to be. And it was like around Christmas, we were getting together and he was like, okay, I know you're a comedian. Ha ha. He's like, but that was a little much. And I'm like, no, it was an homage. I was telling him, I said, because Mary didn't conceive through sex. Neither did I.She was pregnant with a boy. Me. I was like making a case for it. So he was tolerant of it. I don't know if all my family was, but I think by then they were just like used to my unconventional lifestyle, you know, being a comedian and getting married in my thirties. Shocking! But what I will say is when I finally had Michael and I went to get him baptized, which was really important to my mother, we went to the Catholic church where I lived and because I'm me, I said, I'm so excited because we really tried forever to have a child. And we went through fertility treatment and so I basically was open with them about it and they wouldn't baptize him. I know. People cannot believe that. They were like, you know, we don't really support IVF, blah, blah blah. So my sister who converted to like a Episcopalian or Lutheran, I love that I didn't even know. She talked to her church because she's actually very active in the church. And they said they would baptize Michael. So Michael's technically a different religion because the Catholic church wouldn’t baptize him. And then years later I actually ended up getting pregnant on my own out of nowhere, like a hail Mary. I was a week away from turning 41 and he was Matthew. That's why I said, Matthew who's conceived the old fashioned way. And so he was baptized Catholic. So I have two children, technically two different religions because of the Catholic church's feeling on IVF. It's so me.
Rena: That is so disheartening though.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: It is, it really is. And it's funny, our nanny who was watching Michael at the time, very big Roman Catholic, there every Sunday, she was pissed because she was like, and I took this as a sign of support. She was like, you know, you shouldn't punish the child for however the parents conceived the baby. That's what she said. She was like, the baby is innocent. You can't hold it against the baby. And I'm like, thank you. I was like fine. But she, I did take it as a sign of comfort that she thought it was pretty crappy which it, it was I guess, but I mean, they are who they are, what are you going to do? But I don't think Michael's the worst for it, but it is unfortunate because I love how like Orthodox Judaism supports egg freezing and all of this and I was like, maybe we should all just change and be Jewish just to be consistent.
Rena: There you go.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah I mean, I grew up on Long Island. All my best friends are Jewish. It's the way to go really.
Rena: Totally. There is like still so much, you know, ill conceived, you know, misconceptions about fertility treatments, you know, in this sort of quote, unquote test tube babies, designer babies. I think there is still that stigma out there and people really don't understand and they think, you know, people choose to do it so they can choose gender, whatever.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: And Paris Hilton didn’t help as we know.
Rena: Oh gosh, yeah, that was a big.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: That was awful. That was so embarrassing. And cause she made it like, um, yeah, they can pick the gender and you can have twins. It was like all like one inaccuracy after another, she made it sound like she was going through a drive through. And she was like, yeah, I'll take twins with my fries.
Rena: Right, right. I know that was, but you know, the community really came forward righ, to say, and they slammed her and said, you know, no, that's not how it, how it goes. But I think, you know, it's still, there is a lot of sort of general misconceptions about it and what it is.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah. And I mean, whenever we advocate and I remember you being in Albany, I think it was right before the pandemic, when we last, it was crazy. We like got that advocacy ind right before the pandemic.
Rena: We did because I remember Clorox wiping the seat down on the Amtrak train on my way there.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yes. And you know, I remember too, I don't know if you recall this not to get off topic of too much, there were anti-vaxxers in Albany the same day we were there. It was right when COVID was hitting. And I'm like, I, this is, it was really odd, but whenever we advocate, we always talk about it's a bipartisan issue. And I do think it really is about just family building. I think the thing is like, I remember Dr. Grassy from Genesis Fertility was in my group and he was like, as a reproductive endocrinologist, I want to help create life. Like nothing could be more pro-life than my job. And I remember him saying that to a lawmaker in a meeting and it was really kind of touching, but it's always the, what do you do with the embryos thing I think is where the Catholics get hung up on. But it's hard, you know, because like I said, my family's very religious. If any of them, because it's entirely possible that some don't approve that I did IVF, but they just wouldn't say. I mean, what are you going to do? I think when it comes to family building you're right. I think people don't understand. It's not a choice. I mean, I look at insurance companies. Like even, I just wrote a piece, bear with me. I just wrote a piece on tampon tax and tampons are still considered luxury items in the majority of the United States.
Rena: That’s so ridiculous.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: It is! I wrote this piece for Forbes and I didn't know how bad it was because this company is trying to change that. And so I was writing about them and interviewing them and I did research and I just couldn't believe tampons and maxi pads. And like I said to my husband, of course, my sense of humor. I'm like, when I have menopause, I'm not still going to be buying tampons because they're luxurious. Like you will not see me continuing to like, Oh, I miss tampons. I'm just going to keep buying them. But I think in the same type of vein, many think IVF is, Oh, you just didn't want to have kids when you were at your most fertile or you didn't want to, what is it, go on vacation or even a lot of people think there's a people that pursue surrogacy because they didn't want to get fat. I mean, they really, they think it's like a choice.
Rena: They don’t think the expense, the emotional turmoil, the difficulty. I mean, okay. So if someone asked, I mean, would you go back and choose to have fertility treatments?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: If I had a choice?
Rena: Right. If it was that or conceive naturally. Would you choose fertility treatment?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: No. I mean.
Rena: Me either.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah, exactly. And I remember when I worked at fertility authority, I got an inquiry from this couple. It's a very weird story. But they said they had been married through an arrange arrangement. It was an arranged marriage and they wanted to have children, but they didn't want to have sex with each other. They're like, so would a doctor treat us to do IVF even though we technically aren't infertile? And I wanted to say, I didn't, I wanted to say, I've had sex and I've had IVF. Guess which one was more fun? Make it happen. I'm just saying! Guess which one was easier?
Rena: Yeah! And cheaper! And I mean, just for crying out loud, I always remember that though. I'm like, wow, this must have really been an arranged marriage if they really can't even touch each other. But yeah. I mean, I would never have wanted to go through it if I didn't have to. And even when I had my younger son, some people were like, Oh, do you think then maybe you shouldn't have done IVF because you ended up getting pregnant naturally?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: No, because I really - I don't know how you feel on this - for me, I believe IVF is partly diagnostic. They can't always figure out what's wrong with you. Sometimes when they do IVF, you're like, Oh, this is becoming like clearer now. And with me, they kept retrieving all these eggs, like I mentioned, and then I would only have like one embryo. And my doctor said, she's like your eggs have like really high standards, I think. Like either it's going to be a perfect eight cell embryo or nothing. And that's what kept happening because I had friends who had like embryos that were like four cells or six cells for me. It was like one eight cell and then zip. And so she said to me, if you ever do get pregnant on her own, odds are it's okay because you seem to only when you do produce an embryo, it's viable, but it took me technically, Oh my God. When did I get pregnant with Matthew? 2014. And I started trying like 2008, 2009. So to me that long to conceive. So I guess if I had all the time in the world, I don't know, but I still needed treatment. I mean, I just did. And that was a hail Mary, if ever there was one.
Rena: That's crazy. I mean, I love hearing crazy stories like that. And I know that they certainly inspire hope in people too. I mean, I think the body is such a, you know, complex thing and, you know, certainly doing IVF and the hormones sometimes, you know, people do conceive naturally after and for no kind of rhyme or reason. But I think, you know, as you said, it it's diagnostic. Right? And we find out so many things about our bodies that we wouldn't have found out if we weren't trying to conceive.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah I wouldn’t have known any of that. But the thing is, I mean, I remember some people asking me and I don't, I don't know your feeling on this as a therapist, but people were like, Oh, do you think you were in a place where you were just relaxed and you let go? And I'm like, no, we were like moving at the time. And my older son was having some health issues. So we were like getting MRIs and it was a really crazy stressful time. So I don't know. Well, I know how I got pregnant, but it was a major, major shock. And my husband, I couldn't believe it. We had given up all of our baby stuff, donated it. And again, we had just moved and we were going to have this little extra room as an office and we kind of were resigned to, okay, I guess we're just going to be, you know, a one child family. So I really, I don't think there's any magic trick to it other than sometimes you just get lucky.
Rena: Yeah. I mean, that's a wild story, I think. I'm a big believer in the universe and kind of just embracing and believing that the universe has your back and is going to guide you where you're supposed to go. And it's about how you receive it. You know, it's all about our perception and, you know, we can receive something as negatively and then it will be negative or we can receive and perceive something as positively and it will be. You know, it's obviously easy for me to sit here and say that now. Certainly if you had told me that when I was in it, you know, or going through a stressor, I'd probably want to punch you in the face. But you know, the kind of work I've done and research I've done, I do believe that. But I think sometimes when you're in it, it's really hard to see that.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: And I think the thing with me personally, that's, it's so corny, but it's true. You know, my older son was diagnosed as being autistic around 18 months old. And so when we were making peace with not having a second child, Mike and I were like, well, you know, he has special needs. It's probably just as well, that way we can totally focus in on him and get him everything he needs and be super attentive and support him. And then, you know, I get pregnant with Matthew and we were like, we had to like adjust our whole, not that it was a rationalization, but we, like, we had to kind of like transition our way of thinking. And now Michael is nine and Matthew is five and everyone has said it, Matthew has been one of the best things that's ever happened to Michael in terms of his autism, because Matthew is neuro-typical and he's like me, he talks a lot and he kind of is like, yeah, yeah, you have autism, but we're going to play here. So get over it because you're going to interact with me whether you want to or not, you know? And we're very, we've explained everything to Matthew and reread books about it. We talk about Michael's autism all the time, but Matthew just gets Michael to engage in a way that I don't think even the best therapist could. And in the end it's been a crazy story because here, I never thought I could have any kids then I ended up having two, and they have been so good for one another, especially again with Michael's autism. So, like what you're saying, you know, it just seemed like the universe was like, no, this is how it should go. And it just had to endure it and keep a sense of humor. I think.
Rena: That's beautiful.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Well, I know, I feel kind of corny saying it, but it's true. And I would never have known that. Like I never would have guessed another, I wouldn't. We really thought when probably having another child would be too difficult, but it's been the true blessing to the whole family, but particularly Michael. I don't know if he always sees it that way when Matthew's busting his chops, but eventually, hopefully
Rena: One day. I think that's beautiful. You know, I think part of my job with people is to help them, you know, find their hope and you know, so much about life is we have an image in our mind. Right. And it sounds like you sort of had this image, like, okay, we're going to be, you know, one child family, and this is why, you know, we're going to focus on, you know, autism and, you know, we can really be there and focus on him. And that was sort of your image.And then, you know, the universe gave you something else and you were able to pivot and you know, now you're, you know, living this beautiful life and, you know, but I think a lot of times, you know, again, when you're in it, it's very hard to see something else. And it's hard to adjust, you know, if you've come up with sort of a, a picture, you know, for yourself and your life.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah. I mean, and that's, I mean, I think that's exactly what we did and I should say, cause I always feel the need to mention this, people do ask, Oh, do you think Michael is autistic because he was through IVF and Matthew isn't because he was conceived naturally?
Rena: People say that?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah. Every time I share that story with people they're like, Oh my God. I mean, I think after all the years of infertility, I get used to these questions. It's very rare that someone will ask me something. I mean, people will ask me things that I think are dumb, but it's rare that someone asks me something that I, I get offended by it because I really think they just don't know. I mean, I'm like, well, at least they're asking, but for the record, they did do some research about ICSI and a possible connection to autism, but it was disproven. So I don't think it has any connection. I think the big thing I always want to say, which sounds maybe obnoxious is if it is, what do you want me to do?
Rena: Right. Should I send him back? Can I get a new one?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: And I do think there's also, infertility prepared me for autism tremendously. More than I even could ever have known, but advocating for Michael and removing the stigma and not being, I guess, too down about it because it really isn't good or bad. It's just different when you're on the spectrum. And it's amazing how it sort of all complemented each other because I think the same thing about family building and man, you're the best supporter of this. I’ve certainly seen this in your posts that if you do build your family through donor eggs or IVF or donor sperm or surrogacy, it's not good or bad, it's just different. And I think universally, if we could all kind of look at things like that, as it's not black or white, it's just another path that would be so great
Rena: Nothing is ever black or white. I think our big mistake is when we see things as such, it's not, you know, I know, I mean, same as you, it sounds like the world, you know, kind of gave you so many obstacles and things to work through and you know, same with me. And so I think again, it's about how you pivot and then, you know, how you adjust, you know, to kind of, to work with what you've been given, you know, and just to sort of see the world through a different lens. And sometimes it really is about adjusting. And sometimes we need help to do that. You know, when we're in something very hard, you know, and I struggle with this still and always need help. You know, I often pigeonhole myself and that's why I think continuing to work on yourself is so helpful. It's very easy to get stuck. And sometimes we need people to help us unstick ourselves. It's really hard to do it alone and nobody should have to.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah. I love that. Cause there were a couple of people who are like, Oh, I figured out everything I need to figure out. And I'm like, Oh my God, like, I'm always checking in with myself. Like, all right, how am I doing? How am I, even like this past week, we're trying to do a new routine with the kids to get them to go to bed at a reasonable time. Like you're always adapting and adjusting and adapting and adjusting. It's like a constant process. And while it can get tiresome sometimes because there are definitely times where, I mean like, see here I dealt with infertility, then Michael's born a little early. He's in the NICU. Then he gets diagnosed with autism. I'm like, Oh, for crying out loud. Like how much am I going to be given? But I don't know in the end, not that I'm planning on dying anytime soon, but in the end it's really been okay. It's just, you just constantly, it's funny. I did this talk last week for National Infertility Awareness Week with patients and I said to them, and I do believe this, again, super corny, but sometimes you don't know what's going to happen, but you know your self and that's the thing to focus on. It's not like, you know, what's going to happen? Am I going to become a parent or you know, is Michael going to go to college or am I ever going to lose 50 pounds? Don't get me started. While you don't know sometimes the end result, you know you. And when I look at my history, I always end up figuring it out somehow. So I'll figure it out. And so I think whatever it is, but particularly with infertility, while it's hard to have faith in what the end result will be of your family building journey, you need to just continue to have faith in yourself that you'll figure it out. Again, so corny. I could punch myself in the face, but I believe it.
Rena: No, I love that. I think, I'm a big believer in the stoic philosophy, which is basically that life continues to throw you challenges in like the dark part of it is it throws your challenges because ultimately it's preparing you for the biggest challenge, which is death. So that's a little bit dark.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: I like it though.
Rena: A little dark for a little afternoon chat. But I mean, I do believe that that life in the world, you know, throws you things to prepare you for the next, right? You know, I feel like I was, you know, thrown infertility and then I got divorced and then I, you know, dealt with the pandemic and all the things in between and you know, whatever life throws at me next, you know, certainly a ton of challenges. But if I hadn't had one, I wouldn't have been prepared for the next and that I fully believe.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yeah. Wow I’ve never heard of that. I like that. And it's funny. I was just watching Fleabag. Yes. I know. I was like, what is this hot priest that everyone keeps talking about? So I was watching Fleabag and he has a line about part of the funeral. Is it effigy? Is that life doesn't end, it transforms. And so it kind of fits in nicely with your, not that you, I don't think you came up with it, but the stoic way of thinking is that maybe it is preparing you to transform just to something else. I don't know. It’s just far more enjoyable to try to roll with it and have a sense of humor about it than be depressed about it.
Rena: Totally right. We can sit here and feel sorry for ourselves and be a victim or we can pick ourselves up, you know, sometimes you have to break down to break through. And I think, you know, without hope, it's sort of, what do we have? And I know, you know, so many people going through this, they lose hope. And so I think it's super important to work with someone who can help you find hope and you know, again, help you find the humor and help this become a piece of your life and not the whole, because it can be so all-consuming.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Oh Yeah. And I think that was also something I wish I'd done differently. It became a complete definition of who I was. And you always have other things. I mean, whether it's your job or your relationships, or I don't know, your financial state or your emotional health, like, it's amazing how, when you're dealing with infertility, it can often be like, well, I'm infertile…
Rena: And that's it.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: And that’s it. You forget that you have other things to your life.
Rena: Totally. And I think, you know, again a good therapist or support should help you realize that. This should be a piece of your life, not the whole. And I think, you know, again, like the community is amazing and I think so many people, you know, kind of after their, you know, on the other side, whatever that means, if you have children, you choose to live child-free wherever your journey takes you, they find a lot of, you know, kind of therapy and solace and then giving back to the community. And I think that's really incredible. Be it, you know, be it counseling or volunteering or advocacy, whatever. I think this experience definitely changes people. It humbles people I really think for the good. I think the experience made me such a better person.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo:I don't really, I'm sure you’re an even better therapist?
Rena: Oh, sure. Yeah. I mean, I think my personal experience, you know, it helps me understand and in a different way, but I think, you know, just sort of being humbled in that way, I think was a really important piece of personal growth
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: And I hope people can view it that way. It doesn't always feel that way, you know? And when you're, like you said, in the thick of it, but... I mean, I think it definitely taught me more empathy just in general that you really it's, I saw this image today where someone it's like this line and it says something like, this is how much you know about somebody's life and this is what you see type thing. And I think infertility really brought that home. That you don't always know what someone's dealing with when you interact with them and to try to be a little bit more empathetic because maybe there's something influencing their behavior. I mean, it's easier said than done sometimes but it’s true.
Rena: Oh totally. Absolutely. And I think, you know, you can always tell that when someone's really angry, I always feel really bad for them because it sounded like it’s not about me, you know, if someone snaps at me, I didn't do something, you know, it tells me that that person is going through something. Right? And that, that's how they're kind of lashing out, you know, or, you know, dealing with their emotions. And I think it's, it's tough. So I think it is so important to just have empathy and, you know, we don't know what goes on behind closed doors and, you know, certainly with social media, people paint a really, really pretty picture and it's not often kind of what's happening.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: No. And I mean a quick lesson in that is if you just ride the New York subways because there's always someone waiting to have an argument and it has nothing to do with you. Just like someone sitting there like, and I don't know, looks at somebody the wrong way. And then they have an argument and you're like, okay, like this person was waiting to have an argument here I am.
Rena: Yeah. Well, so before we wrap, tell me, I mean, what sort of coming up on the horizon for you with, you know, any fertility work, anything exciting? I'm sure many exciting things.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: I know, I'm like, I'm actually, I've been telling people how I've really, I need either a wife from the fifties or I need to duplicate myself, but what is coming up with me? I'm actually about to write a book, not about infertility, but there's a chapter in it that's going to be about infertility that I'm really excited about. I'm doing something with the American Fertility Group in May. I love this. I can't even remember the details of anything, but just basically, I'm just continuing to find opportunities to keep this going. Because like even we just finally got Governor Cuomo. I don't know if you saw that. I shared it on, on the social media to proclaim New York. Oh my God. But we got it. But things like that give meaning to the whole experience. And so anytime anyone's like, Hey, do you want to speak on this? Do you wanna speak on that around infertility? If I can do it, I always jump on the chance because you know, like we're saying to kind of come full circle, when I was really in the thick of it, I wasn't very vocal about it. And I wasn't able to go to Albany or go to Capitol Hill and advocate. And I know that while I'm doing that, now there's someone who's like me then where they're at home and they can advocate for themselves and they just got their period and they're depressed. So if I can, you know, represent them now that I've reached my journey end, then I love to do that. So people can just send me a line and see what I'm up to.
Rena: I thin that’s amazing. You’re such an incredible asset to the community and such an inspiration.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo:Thank you.
Rena: Yeah really. I’m so happy that you took the time to come on. It's so good to see you
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Oh likewise. I was really glad when I finally got to meet you in the flesh for the first time cause I'd seen your name everywhere.
Rena: I know. Well, same, same. And I think you really are such an inspiration and such a powerful voice. And so the community is so lucky to have you.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Thank you. It’s nice to hear that when I have no makeup on and my hair isn't done particularly.
Rena: I think you look great.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Thank you for lying to the people listening
Rena: Everyone to know you're beautiful and you look very professional. It's like you have this professional podcasting studio.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Exactly. I know. How funny is it?
Rena: I love it. So I like to wrap up the episodes on a note of positivity and each share a gratitude.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Oh, I like that. So something I'm grateful for?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: The first thing I thought was I'm grateful for my sense of humor, but I think I'm going to go a little further. I'm grateful my husband has a sense of humor, because last week with National Infertility Awareness Week, I was so busy, crazy in a good way. It's like the Superbowl for the infertility community. And so anytime I get stressed, if I can't access my sense of humor, he always is very good about making me laugh. So I think I'm grateful for both a humor and that I married someone whose, who makes me laugh and can help me find that humor when I lose it.
Rena: Oh, I love that. I think that’s such a good one.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: I’ll have to tell him I said that. He won’t ever know.
Rena: Yeah. You’ve got to have him listen to the episode.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: That’s right.
Rena: I'm just always going to remember if I meet him and he tells me about a nephew named Nate. I'm going to know that that's a comedic lie.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: You’ll be like, that’s crap!
Rena: It’s a comedic lie! I know it. I know it. I guess I will say I'm grateful for something you said made me think about the concept of fitting out. And I just love that. You know, I think you were talking about when you were 19 and always trying to fit in and it's exhausting and embracing, fitting out is something I found later in life and it made me finally feel really free. So I just love the concept of fitting out and meeting other people who also embrace that because I think life is just so much more fun when you can be your authentic self.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: And I know Dumbo is a controversial film. However, Dumbo really resonated with me because there's this line that his friend, the mouse has, don’t you love that I’m quoting this, that the thing that's held you back is the thing that's going to set you free. It's something like that. And my younger son loves Dumbo. Again, has not aged well, but the main message is, you know, here's the thing that he's getting made fun of for being different all the time. And that's the thing that makes him exceptional. And that really resonated with me.
Rena: I love that! I didn't know that quote. I love that!
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Again, keep in mind. It has not aged well, but I'd really recommend seeing it. He literally says that right after he realized his Dumbo can fly. Oh, it's so great.
Rena: Oh, I love that so much, what a good, good quote.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Yes. You should just edit out all the dated stuff
Rena: And just fast forward to that. Oh, I love that. That's great. Well, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story and your humor and you're such a force to be reckoned with and really excited to have you on and share your energy with everybody.
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: Oh, thank you. Likewise. Really, I'm so thrilled to talk to anyone I'm not related to right now. I really appreciate it.
Rena: You won’t tell Uncle Carmine?
Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo: No, no, my God. I really do have to send you that picture of that. I'll send it to you the Christmas card.
Rena: I would love to see that.
Dara: Thank you so much for listening today and always remember: practice gratitude, give a little love to someone else and yourself. And remember you are not alone. Find us on Instagram @ertility_forward and if you're looking for more support, visit usat www.rmany.com and tune in next week for more Fertility Forward.