Gay Talese’s Basement
She’s worried. The woman writes to the magazine advice column that she and her husband have tried to get pregnant for months but receive only repeated negative results from home pregnancy tests. Like more than 6.1 million women and their partners in the United States, or about 10 percent of all Americans of reproductive age (according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine), the woman and her husband desperately want children but cannot have them easily. She and others like her are the target audience for the Orlando-based Conceive, a magazine devoted to helping women of all ages make sense of the challenges involved in starting a family.
Conceive’s founders, Kim Hahn and Robert Clarkson, wrote that they created the magazine, which sports the tagline “Celebrating the creation of families,” to support other families struggling with infertility. Both of them have gone through it themselves. After years of infertility treatments, Hahn ultimately adopted; after a miscarriage, Clarkson and his wife had a child. The two said they couldn’t find magazines with the information they needed. They want Conceive to serve as a resource for families who pursue reproductive assistance as well as those who decide to adopt.
The tone of the magazine indicates that the editors want readers to stay optimistic during what can be, for many, a long, demoralizing medical journey. There is a happy ending to every anecdote and story. Got polycystic ovarian syndrome? Take your meds and you’ll conceive. Have recurrent miscarriages? That doesn’t mean you won’t conceive eventually. Does your husband have a low sperm count? With time, you’ll conceive. This is one of the few magazines with editors who honestly seem to hope their target audience will one day no longer want to buy their product.
Readers respond positively to the upbeat attitude. In the letters section, cleverly named “The Support Group,” they praise the editors for covering infertility so closely and suggest stories about egg donations and other issues the magazine hasn’t covered.
Conceive looks and feels like a thinner combination of Woman’s Day and Parents, with its articles kept short and filled with tips and suggestions. Like those magazines, the soft-focus photos that illustrate the stories are posed with models and rarely depict any of the people who are quoted.
Just in case readers don’t get the message with the editorial matter, advertisements for fertility-related items are there to tug at the heartstrings of parents-to-be: cord blood storage, a hypodermic pen for administering those pesky hormone shots, sperm banks and adoption organizations.
The magazine’s editors obviously have worked to balance its writers and illustrators between generalists and those who have professional experience with reproductive issues. Illustrator Gwyn Stramler’s bio stresses her artistic interests more than any qualifications for depicting endometriosis, while Tamar Goulet, a writer, is a biology professor at the University of Mississippi.
Shorter pieces explore such topics as the use of celebrity spokespeople by fertility organizations and the growing trend of couples throwing showers or purchasing extravagant gifts for the surrogates who will bear their children. Some tidbits the magazine found are just plain cool. Did you know that acupuncture could improve a low sperm count? Or that scientists in England have figured out a way to make hamster sperm glow green?
Because of the subject matter, the articles must tread a fine line between informative and too technical, and they sometimes veer too far toward the latter. A feature on endometriosis includes too few anecdotes from sufferers describing what it feels like to actually have it (it’s the sometimes painful condition that results when the tissue that lines the uterus ends up outside of the uterus, in case you’re wondering).
Some stories, like one on everyday chemicals that can be dangerous to couples trying to conceive, are useful, but there are too many others that readers likely will find ho-hum. In one issue, in a letter to readers, Editor-in-Chief Beth Winehouse said she’d chosen to add some sex and romance tips for couples finding that the pressures of procreation take the fun out of their sex lives. Although this subject matter is ripe for exploration, the suggestions in the article she referenced are no more creative than the sex column in an average issue of Cosmo: couples should laugh together, try to remember what their partners were like when they first met and wear sexy lingerie. Not exactly earth-shattering suggestions for couples so beaten down by the process of trying to conceive that even the word “sex” elicits sighs of frustration and exhaustion.
In contrast to the longer articles, which frequently fail to give women truly useful information, the advice columns are the magazine’s most useful element. Conceive has assembled an impressive selection of experts on medical, legal and financial (assisted reproductive technology can cost thousands of dollars) issues. The experts provide women with answers to some of their most personal, painful questions—both in the magazine and on its website, conceivemagazine.com.
Although the magazine’s articles may be short on new information, Conceive’s value lies in the fact that it exists and treats infertility as something couples don’t have to be discomfited about or fear. The issue ends with a feature called “Misconceptions,” which sums up what the magazine does best: it dispels myths about how easy it is for women to get pregnant.