‘I Felt Seen’: Childless Women React To Jennifer Aniston’s IVF Story

Jennifer Aniston was considered the girl next door. She fell in love with America’s heartthrob, married him and … never had a baby. For years, the paparazzi focused with cutting precision on the shape of her abdomen, speculating, was she or wasn’t she?

Aniston somehow endured this media frenzy while keeping her personal fertility journey private. But now, in a new interview with Allure, she says she has “nothing to hide.”

“It was really hard. I was going through IVF, drinking Chinese teas, you name it. I was throwing everything at it,” Aniston, 53, told the outlet.

If the perfect girl beamed into our televisions via nonstop syndication couldn’t have a baby, then, truly, it could happen to anyone. And if she picked up the pieces of that heartbreak and went on to have a successful career and a fulfilling life — what might that mean for the rest of us?

“If it wasn’t for going through that, I would’ve never become who I was meant to be,” Aniston told Allure.

The fact is that at least half of all IVF cycles don’t result in a pregnancy, but it’s hard to tell how modest the real numbers are beneath the celebrated success stories of people, both famous and not, who never gave up hope, who kept trying, and in due time, were awarded with their miracle baby.

There are other stories like Aniston’s ― people who have faced infertility and are finding their strength in one another and within themselves. HuffPost asked some of them how it felt to hear Aniston speak openly about childlessness for the first time, and what they would like the rest of us to know about life after IVF.

These types of stories about IVF aren’t often told.

“I felt seen,” Diana Smith, a 39-year-old from Ontario, Canada, told HuffPost of hearing Aniston’s revelation. “Stories like ours just aren’t told, and by sharing, she gives a voice to so many people.”

Many felt validated by the coverage, considering that fertility stories that don’t end with a baby aren’t often highlighted in mainstream places like magazines or other media outlets.

“I almost never see stories of those who are childless not by choice in the media,” added Katy Seppi, a 40-year-old in Utah.

Seppi, who now runs an online community for childless women and hosts an annual gathering, said that in Aniston, it’s “inspiring to see an example of someone who wanted kids, couldn’t have them, and is still filling her life with joy, meaning, and love. There aren’t many scripts for what womanhood looks like outside of motherhood.”

Seeing a very popular celebrity talk about a common issue also felt reassuring.

“Most public figures or celebrities only talk about their experience with infertility once they have a baby,” Seppi said. “It can feel like everyone else got their miracle baby and we’re the only ones who didn’t — which just isn’t true. I know because I’ve connected with literally thousands of others who are childless after infertility.”

Natalie Barry, a 42-year-old in Colorado, told HuffPost that she also found some comfort in Aniston’s story. “Infertility is such an isolating experience. You feel betrayed by your own body, cheated of what so many other women seem to experience effortlessly, and judged for every decision you make.”

“Stories like ours just aren’t told, and by sharing, she gives a voice to so many people.”

– Diana Smith

IVF that doesn’t result in pregnancy is more common than you think ― and people often blame themselves.

Aisha Balesaria, a 42-year-old in London who endured over 11 rounds of IVF and four miscarriages, told HuffPost that the strain of IVF goes far beyond the side effects of injectable hormones. “People say, ‘just do IVF’ all the time, but they don’t understand the huge implications,” she said.

“When going through IVF, you desperately want to be on the right side of statistics ― when you’re not, it’s devastating and it takes huge emotional strength to pick yourself up. Constantly living between hope and fear throughout the process is a very difficult space to be in,” Balesaria said.

Not every IVF cycle is successful, and people often undergo multiple cycles, stopping when they have exhausted their finances. According to the infertility advocacy group RESOLVE, the live birth rate per fresh non-donor embryo transfer is 47.7% in women under 35. Success rates decline with the age of a woman’s eggs, and by 43, the odds of becoming pregnant via IVF without donor eggs are less than 5%, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

“You begin to question everything when IVF fails. What did I do wrong? Did I eat something I shouldn’t have? Did I take the medication correctly? It’s soul destroying,” Balesaria explained. “There’s a huge misconception that IVF ‘guarantees’ pregnancy success and [that] the outcome is determined by the effort you put in.”

When fertility treatments don’t work, many people assume “that we obviously ‘gave up’ too early. The message is that if we’d really wanted to become parents, we’d have found a way,” Seppi said.

The choice to stop trying is often due to a number of factors.

Choosing to move on requires its own kind of strength. It could be because of financial reasons (the median cost of an IVF cycle in the U.S. is $19,200). The choice could also be due to the toll it takes on a person’s physical and mental health.

After surgeries and a round of IVF, Seppi said, “it really hadn’t occurred to me that I could just step off the hamster wheel and start processing the fact that I wasn’t going to have a baby and what that meant for my life and future.”

Similarly, Tanya Hubbard, a therapist in Vancouver, Canada, who went through one miscarriage and three IVF cycles, told HuffPost that she stopped trying because “I simply could not take it anymore.”

“I felt like a shell of my former self and I developed severe insomnia and needed to grieve all that I had lost in this process. It had touched every corner of my life and I needed to take back my life,” Hubbard said.

“I work with many people who have been traumatized by treatments,” she said. “Deciding to get off the roller coaster is most certainly full of grief.”

Barry, who endured four IVF cycles, said she wished she had a ‘miracle’ baby that made all of the struggle worth it. “All I have is debt and trauma, and the knowledge that the life I thought I would have didn’t happen,” she said. “I am expected to keep my chin up and carry on like all is well, but I feel like part of me has died.”

“When going through IVF, you desperately want to be on the right side of statistics ― when you’re not, it’s devastating and it takes huge emotional strength to pick yourself up.”

– Aisha Balesaria

It takes work to come to terms with the outcome.

Smith, who was diagnosed with “unexplained” infertility, endured a number of fertility procedures hoping to avoid IVF. “I just really never thought it would come to that. I’d had so much hope.”

When her IVF cycle produced no viable embryos, Smith decided with her husband and doctor not to pursue any further treatment. She did, however, seek out a therapist.

“I realized how many people out there are living fulfilling, unexpectedly childless lives, and I started to consider what that might look like for us,” Smith said. “More than a year out from stopping fertility procedures, I can honestly say that I feel free.”

For others, treatment ends not in one particular moment but over a longer period of reckoning. Cathi S., a 55-year-old in Maui, told HuffPost that she was “terribly depressed for a very long time.”

“Did I really let go? No. We kept trying other things … different fertility drugs … I even talked to a couple of psychics,” she said. “My heart still aches but I have learned to live with it.”

Adoption is neither “easy” nor a “fix.”

Discouragingly, some of the commentary on Aniston’s interview invoked the myth that adoption following fertility treatment provides a cure.

“As I predicted, the morning after the article was published, the ‘why don’t you just adopt?’ comments flooded social media,” Balesaria said.

“What people need to understand is that adoption is complex — it isn’t a substitute or a quick fix for childlessness,” she continued.

The pain of not being able to have a biological child with your chosen partner is real and cannot simply be set aside.

“I’d always been very open to adoption, but I hadn’t expected that the grief of knowing that there would never be a child with the golden curls that run in my husband’s family or the downturned eyes that run in mine would be so physical, so visceral,” Smith said.

Jacqueline Fernando, a therapist who specializes in fertility-related issues, told HuffPost that while infertility is not life-threatening, it can really alter a person’s life and worldview.

“It can encompass various types of grief simultaneously,” Fernando explained. “One can experience the loss of a personal goal and identity, the loss of ever becoming a parent, and disenfranchised grief,” which she described as when “others around you don’t acknowledge or validate your loss and this creates an additional dimension of pain.”

“My heart still aches but I have learned to live with it.”

– Cathi S.

“Just adopt” is precisely the kind of comment that can invalidate grief and exacerbate the pain. The desire to have a biological child “is not a passing phase and it is not something that you just ‘get over,’” Barry said. “I am grieving the death of the life that I thought I would have. I am grieving the dream of being a mother. I am grieving the future I imagined, my children, my grandchildren.”

For Cathi S., the child she couldn’t have is a continued presence that still meets her in her dreams.

Seeking support from others in the same position can help.

Smith said she felt “left behind” watching others in her circle have children, but found community with other women facing similar circumstances.

“Several women in my circle were experiencing infertility at the same time, so we were able to support each other along the way,” she said. “Some of those women are mothers to beautiful children now, but there are a few of us who remain involuntarily childless and it’s honestly really validating to have people in my life who have been there and who get it.”

Hubbard, who is also a therapist specializing in this area, has helped create a community for childless women on Instagram under the hashtag #EmbracingChildless. Smith calls it a “vibrant” community. There are also loads of support groups on the internet.

“I am glad that I have found communities of women going through infertility online, and it makes me wonder how hard this was for women before social media,” Barry said.

Additionally, people facing infertility can find therapists, support groups and more at RESOLVE, a national advocacy organization.

Cathi S. stopped her fertility treatments before online communities existed, but she did find support in her life partner.

“Life without children can be a happy one. My husband and I have a wonderful marriage and we enjoy every minute that we spend together. We only have each other to focus on,” she said. “We have a full life.”