Listening in on IVF

Lightning Rod Special presents We Are Trying to Reach You

3 minute read
An illustration of a fried egg on a plate, next to a fork & a cell phone on the table. The show title is written on the plate
(Image courtesy of Lightning Rod Special.)

In the latest installment of its Sound Break audio series, We Are Trying to Reach You, Lightning Rod Special delves into one of the most personal journeys a person can take: becoming pregnant. For Katie Gould, that act becomes very public when she begins in vitro fertilization.

Created by Gould, Madeleine Oldham, and Alice Yorke, with direction by Yorke and sound design by Oldham, Gould’s story becomes a series of actual voicemails from doctors and nurses to schedule appointments and detail medical instructions, and friends and family checking in and offering comfort. Through these messages, we track Gould’s progress from egg retrieval, to embryo transfer, and after. In between the calls, Carly (Lori Felipe-Barkin), a relentlessly positive and chipper YouTuber who is also undergoing in vitro fertilization, offers helpful advice. A series of precocious sounding children making egg jokes punctuate the proceedings as well.

View from the inside

Who we don’t hear throughout most of the piece is Gould. Rather, she gifts us with her experience, placing us as listeners into her ears as the receivers and processors of the information from her providers, and the well wishes and sympathy from her friends and family. She generously invites us into this community and the result is a listener experience that feels both immersive and intimate.

How we sit with the emotional impact and weight of Gould’s journey feels very much up to us—is the information provided by Carly and the medical professionals helpful or overwhelming? Are Gould’s well-meaning friends and family comforting or intrusive? Yes. However, Yorke’s direction and Oldham’s sound design deftly offer subtle indicators of Gould’s own emotional and physical state by mixing and repeating lines for emphasis. After the embryo transfer, Gould feels “pain, fever, bleeding, cramping, pain, fever, bleeding, cramping…” and a series of progressively anxious “Hi Katies!” seems to imply mental and emotional exhaustion.

The soundscape also contrasts the complicated and awkward reality of infertility with the performative and capitalized aspects of it. The efficient but kind voicemails of the doctors and nurses leaving complicated instructions for medication and procedures, as well as the family and friends searching for words, sound fuzzy and grainy compared with the bright clarity of Carly’s audio, in which she recommends rest, wine, and special “Good luck!” socks available by clicking the merch link on her website.

A sense of the struggle

At just under 30 minutes, We Are Trying to Reach You is tight and compact; every moment feels necessary to the telling and the feeling of the story. Even the seemingly silly egg jokes gradually reveal themselves to be sly allusions to Gould's state of mind. Ultimately, their presence becomes a balm that leads to “They Say Wait,” a ballad of aching and longing written and performed by Gould with accompaniment by Alex Bechtel.

The swift pace may let some steps of the in vitro fertilization process fly over the heads of those who are unfamiliar with it—I had to play a few messages back once or twice to fully understand what was happening and I googled a procedure or two. However, the purpose of the piece is not to offer a primer or documentary on infertility, but rather to give us an immediate and visceral sense of what it is like to struggle with it. We Are Trying to Reach You absolutely achieves that.

As it has with its live shows, Lightning Rod Special via audio continues to explore complex and sensitive subject matter with wit, humor, and irreverence, while never losing the humanity that provides the emotional punch.

What, When, Where

We Are Trying to Reach You. Created by Katie Gould, Madeleine Oldham, and Alice Yorke; directed by Yorke. Stream the open-ended run for free:

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