Motivated to Action – An Interview with Keiko Zoll

August 2, 2016

“Infertility colors our world and as I’ve so often said,
we’re not defined by our disease but we are each shaped by it.“ – Keiko Zoll

Her “What If” video has received accolades across the web.

Her actions against PETA’s tasteless “Win A Vasectomy” campaign, led to an apology from their President, and the removal of the controversial ads.

She has lobbied “On The Hill” with RESOLVE.

Writer. Blogger. Activist. Keiko Zoll has taken the infertility world by storm, and today we get to sit down and speak with her about her advocacy on behalf of infertiles everywhere, and where she goes from here.

KB -Your blog is called Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed. Who are Hannah and Sarah, and what is their significance?

KZ – Hannah and Sarah refer to two infertile women in the Jewish faith; Sarah, as the first Matriarch and wife to Abraham, learns that after many years of barrenness, she will bear a son in her old age. Upon hearing the news, Sarah laughs with disbelief and amazement. Hannah is another prominent figure in the Torah and Old Testament and perhaps the more familiar, and perhaps more heart-wrenching story of infertility in ancient Judeo-Christian tradition. Hannah weeps and prays endlessly for a child and after a heated encounter with a Temple priest, her prayers are finally answered and she gives birth to a son, Samuel.

When I was first diagnosed with infertility, it was right before Passover. I turned to my faith as an outlet of support and remembered the story of Sarah and even Rachel, another barren Matriarch who would go on to bear two sons. I went looking for other stories of infertility in the Torah and was just struck by this dichotomous response to infertility as a whole: Hannah weeps, grieves, and pleads with G-d for a child whereas Sarah, who has moved on from the idea that she will ever be a mother, laughs upon learning she will bear a child at such an age.

My blog title, while religious in nature, reflects more the complexity of the infertility experience: moments of sorrow, moments of joy. My blog explores these extremes and living my life in between them.

KB -You have documented your infertility journey both as a filmmaker and a blogger, which do you feel to be a more cathartic form of creative expression?

KZ -Writing has always been an incredibly cathartic form of expression for me; it’s always been one of the first outlets I turn to when I need to get something off my chest. I’m a notorious writer of “letters never sent.” I vent, I get my frustration, sadness, or whatever out and then file that burst of emotion away. And then sometimes, I post it on my blog for the world to read.

Filmmaking, on the other hand, is a much more energizing process for me. I find a lot of creative energy in combining visuals and audio into a compelling story. The most cathartic part of my filmmaking experience has been in seeing how other people are moved by my work. It’s immensely humbling.

KB -You have given your name, face, story and voice to erasing the stigmas associated with infertility. At what point did you realize that you were meant to be an advocate?

KZ -I truly didn’t realize just what kind of impact my video was going to have on the online infertility community – I really didn’t. At first there were the comments on the blog post where I first posted the video. Then the emails started coming. To this day, I still get an email a week from someone who felt so moved to share their story with me, to offer hope or to thank me for putting into film the emotions and challenges with which they’ve struggled with for years.

As I kept getting email after email, comment after comment, I finally had to turn to the Universe and say, “Okay, I get it. Perhaps this is the direction toward which I should focus my life’s purpose and passion.”

KB -Your video, What If?, has received accolades from both and RESOLVE. What inspired you to create the film, and had you already gone public with your infertility at the time it was released? How has your life changed since its release?

KZ -I originally created my What IF film as a response to RESOLVE’s National Infertility Awareness Week 2010 Bloggers Unite project. The concept was simple: submit a what if question as it related to infertility, then come back and answer one of those what if questions in a blog post. As I read through the short list posted on Melissa Ford’s blog, Stirrup Queens, I couldn’t help but feel so drawn and moved by every single question I was reading.

I had asked myself so many of those same questions.

And then it all happened pretty quickly. Once the idea for a video popped into my head it was hard to shake it. I drew a rough storyboard waiting in my doctor’s office on a Wednesday morning. That night, I finalized what questions I wanted to film and in what order. I filmed for 10 hours on a Saturday with help from my husband and edited the entire piece in just under 8 hours that Sunday. By Sunday night, I had uploaded the film to Vimeo and the rest was history.

Up until that point, I had been blogging under my Hebrew name, Miriam. But as I conceived the look and feel of this film, I realized that I couldn’t not use my name and face. I wanted people to understand the “everydayness” of infertility – that 1 in 8 is truly someone they know, someone like me. While a good number of my friends and family read my blog at that point, there was a sense of renewed strength in uncovering myself from under a pseudonym. I realized that I had no reason to be ashamed of having a disease.

Sometimes I forget that it’s only been just over a year since I released my What IF film; so much has happened since then that it feels like it’s not possible to have only been just last year. I joined the Board of Directors for RESOLVE of New England. I began meeting professionals from all over the infertility and adoption industry, from the commercial to clinical to legal ends and all the ways in between. My blog readership exploded. Suddenly people wanted to hear more, to read more – my words mattered in a way I don’t think they ever have before in my life.

It was incredibly intimidating and something as the rather neurotic otherwise insecure woman I actually am – I still find intimidating to this day. But I’ve also become more sure of who I am and the work I need to do in this world while I’m here. I’ve become a stronger woman. I’ve built a support network so wide – beyond my real-life friends and family – that I am constantly humbled and grateful for the love that I feel coming back to me, to know that there are so many people who care enough to hold me in their hearts as much as I hold theirs in mine.

I’ve struggled with the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” my entire life. Part of it stems from a short attention span and an ability to not only quickly master a given subject but become just as easily bored by it. I don’t say that to be haughty, it’s just fact: I go through hobbies and interests like most people go through shoes.

In the year plus since my video, I finally know (now that I’m approaching 30) what I need to do with my life. Dreams of parenting aside: I need – no I have to do everything I can for this community.

KB -Your work with RESOLVE led to you lobbying on The Hill this past May. What did you learn from that experience, and which issues do you feel are the most important for advocates, such as yourself, to bring awareness to in regards to expanding the rights of those living with infertility in the U.S.?

KZ -Advocacy Day this past May was simply an amazing experience; quite simply, I’ve never felt more American. It’s not like what we were doing is something that is only reserved for the elite exclusive. Any voting citizen in this country can call their representatives and make appointments to speak with them (or more likely their staff) on Capitol Hill or at their home offices in-state. Granted, Advocacy Day is a highly orchestrated event to make the day as easy as possible for the layman lobbyist like myself, but there’s nothing stopping anyone from making that one-on-one connection with their elected leaders.

I’ve learned that Washington is run by twenty year-olds; it’s a jarring experience to advocate for family building rights and access in front of a group of kids themselves for whom babies are the LAST thing on their minds. That said, you can’t assume that these young staffers are clueless and, if anything, can certainly give you a run for your money when it comes to shared knowledge bases. And sometimes they can totally surprise you in their compassion and willingness to get their legislator on board.

Right now there are two things that I think the American infertility community needs to focus on in the immediate. The first is the Family Act of 2011, a Senate bill introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would provide a tax credit for out-of-pocket costs associated with IVF treatment. The Family Act has been modeled after the already successful Adoption Tax Credit. It has been slow to pick up co-sponsors and so we need people writing their legislators and even making appointments with them if they can to get more widespread support. To further bolster the effort, we need a House version of this bill as well and are looking for Representatives to be original sponsors.

Given that our nation’s current financial situation is in-limbo, the battle for the Family Act feels like an uphill one at best. No matter how the debt ceiling talks shake out in the next month, the infertility community needs to press their legislators about The Family Act.

The second issue that I think more in the infertility community should be aware of is the Affordable Care Act and what it could mean for our community. As of right now, the definition of “essential benefits” is still being decided upon by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sibelius. Best case scenario: infertility treatments are included as an essential benefit and would eliminate the need for individual state mandates. Worst case scenario: infertility treatments are NOT included and thus we’re not sure what the implications would be for those 15 states with existing mandates. This is all new territory for all involved and while there’s not much we can do as individual advocates – the definition of essential benefits rests in Sibelius’ hands alone – it is something we need to pay attention to as developments unfold in the coming months.

The essential benefits definition is anticipated to be released this fall.

KB -What do you wish “the fertile world” better understood about those living with infertility?

KZ -I wish “the fertile world” wouldn’t diminish our emotions by telling us to relax, wouldn’t judge our instincts to desire genetic children by telling us to adopt, and wouldn’t forget our grief when they tell us a miscarriage wasn’t a “real” baby anyway. All of these emotions and experiences are our reality every day. Infertility colors our world and as I’ve so often said, we’re not defined by our disease but we are each shaped by it.

KB -What can we expect next from Keiko Zoll?

KZ -No pressure with this question, huh?

I’m in the process of moving my blog to WordPress, so come August 1stt, Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed will have a whole new look and feel. I’m writing a book about my infertility experience, something I struggle with personally as I’d rather write my complete story than this amorphous as-yet-to-be-determined ending. I have a couple of forthcoming print media pieces coming that are under wraps at the moment, but if you follow me on Twitter or at my blog, I’ll be blabbing about them there soon enough.

And I hope soon, very soon indeed, “mom” will be on the horizon for me, too.

Stay tuned…

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