It has never been easier for the public to express their opinion on topics such as gun control, women's rights or immigration through online articles or social media. Actually, these days, people can get into heated online arguments over what a celebrity recently named her baby. From the comfort of your own home, you can get involved in a flame war in a matter of mere seconds. Whether it's a stranger you call a moron or unfriending someone on Facebook after they posted a cartoon making fun of the President, voicing your opinion on any topic can get downright ugly.
I don't enjoy online debates and although I consider myself outspoken, I never set out to offend anyone. When it comes to hot button issues, I try to fly under the radar. However, it's not always easy when I read something on the subject of infertility, which is an issue I'm passionate about.
I endured several years of fertility treatment and through my role at Fertility Authority, I've connected with countless others who want nothing more than to have a child. I often share my fertility journey online. My hope was to let other fertility challenged folks know that they are not alone and to let the fertile world at large know that not everyone has such an easy time conceiving.
In making my voice heard though, it does open me up to criticism, negative opinions and many who think I'm just plain wrong. I've received comments such as, "Maybe God didn't want those people to have children." Or "If you can't afford treatment, you shouldn't have kids." Do these comments upset me? Sometimes. Am I going to get in a flame war over it? Not on your life. Even though I hope my openness has helped educate or provide empathy to others, getting into online arguments isn't always the best way to make a difference on an issue you care about.
This is why on the morning of May 7th, 2014, I woke up at 6a.m., put on my Wonder Woman underwear and got myself dressed to head to Capitol Hill for Advocacy Day.
Advocacy Day is an annual event planned by RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, where women and men dealing with infertility meet with Members of Congress to ask our Senators and Representatives to support legislation that will allow more people to afford IVF treatments, allow wounded vets to seek IVF treatment to build their family and to help provide access to those who would otherwise not be able to build their family through adoption. You can learn more about these issues by clicking here.
While at the hotel the night before Advocacy Day, I happened to catch a documentary on Gloria Steinem called Gloria: In Her Own Words. It made me realize that it wasn't that long ago that women not only fought for equality but were so incredibly and vehemently dismissed. It was such a powerful reminder in how much these activists had to tolerate, how often they were belittled but also, how much of an impact one group of people can make.
One of the last things Ms. Steinem said at the end of the film was that it isn't so important that women today knew who she was as much as they should know who they are.
Many in the "fertile world" don't understand the pain of infertility. It strains your marriage, your finances, and your sense of self-worth. There are many loving, incredible, generous people who are not able to have families simply because they can't afford treatment. For whatever reason, infertility is not universally recognized as a real medical issue, which it very much is. If there were insurance coverage for these couples, it would make something so many struggle with a little easier. I was hoping that going to Washington D.C. to share my story with an elected official would make a real impact on infertility rights.
Although I still believe "the pen is mightier than the sword" and blogging can help get a message out there, one of the lessons I took away from my trip to D.C. is to also channel my opinions (right, wrong or otherwise) in places where I feel I can make a difference. If someone on Twitter thinks gays should not have the right to marry, my 140 retort back isn't going to change their minds. I've never heard anyone ever say, "Someone posted a .jpeg on Facebook and now I'm a liberal!"The only thing we can do is respect each other's opinions while making our own efforts to become active and involved in the issues we feel strongly about. At one of the meetings I had at Advocacy Day, a representative said to me,
"Being here and telling us your story is the most powerful thing you could do. It either makes us care about the issue, or it makes us realize that the people who vote for us care about this issue."
Since that day, I've become active in several areas that mean a lot to me. I know not everyone will agree with the causes I've taken up but I still hope to make a difference as opposed to making an enemy. The same should go for anyone reading this now. Whatever you've been personally affected by or feel passionate about, I encourage you to get involved whether it's through letters or phone calls to Congress, be a part of a local community groups that supports your cause or even starting your own group. It's an incredible right that so many of us do not take advantage of!
At present, thanks to the efforts of RESOLVE and the 154 Advocates in attendance, Advocacy Day helped add 13 co-sponsors to the bills we discussed on May 7th. I can't say for sure if these bills will be passed. I only know two things for sure: That the people involved left feeling inspired and motivated (which is a long way from feeling powerless and alone) and that getting involved is far more empowering than a flame war.
Follow Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jennpal