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Michaella Bates in Light of Her Sister’s Pregnancy

June 13, 2018
Katie Visco

Tori and Michaella Bates at Tori’s wedding. (Photo: courtesy of batesfamilyblog.com)

“We’re having a baby!” Tori Bates, seventh of the nineteen children in the Bates mega family, told Us Weekly. The announcement aired on UPtv, May 10. The novelty of the Bates family, stars of UPtv’s American reality show Bringing Up Bates, is partly attributable to their sheer size. Another pregnancy is big news, and Tori’s has followed soon after her December 2017 wedding.

No pregnancy is also big news, especially in a reality show that capitalizes on the idea of family.  

  • Michaella Bates Keilen and her husband continue to struggle with infertility amidst family members’ pregnancies and births.
  • Infertility is emotionally challenging, especially considering social factors involved.
  • Putting life into perspective and focusing on emotional wellbeing while receiving infertility treatment is key in preparing for variable future outcomes.

The Keilens’ ongoing efforts to achieve a pregnancy while family members announce their own

Michaella Bates Keilen, Tori’s older sister, has been married three years this coming August and has openly spoken about her struggles with infertility. She and her husband Brandon Keilen revealed in the Jan. 11 episode of Bringing Up Bates that they had been seeing a fertility specialist for a year, and in August 2017, Michaella underwent a Hysterosalpingogram test to check for blockage in the uterus and fallopian tubes that might prevent a pregnancy.

In her blog, The Keilens, Michaella speaks about her struggles and journey through this unexpected challenge: “The past few weeks and months have taken me down a path that I never expected to walk,” she wrote in a June 2017 post. “Growing up I always dreamed of being a mother someday.”

bride and groom
Michaella Bates and Brandon Keilen at their wedding. (Photo: courtesy of batesfamilyblog.com)

As time passed after her marriage, she said she started to wonder when she would get pregnant. “Wonder turned to concern, and concern grew to worry and fear. It seemed like suddenly everyone I knew was expecting a baby.”

And it is true that several members of the Bates family have recently announced pregnancies and given birth. Two of her sisters, Alyssa and Erin Bates, consecutively gave birth to their daughters on March 29 and 30, 2018. Now, Tori Bates is expecting her baby this fall.  

How social factors contribute to the emotional roller coaster

How does Michaella Bates rectify her own place within a mega family who is famous, in essence, for their fertility? Michaela’s situation points to the larger question of social isolation and the social factors and pressures related to infertility.

Infertility is already linked with emotional struggles. Harvard Health Publishing notes a study in which half of the female and 15% of the male participants called infertility the most upsetting experience of their lives. Another study cited by Harvard Health compared the emotional and mental health of women with infertility to that of people diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or those recovering from a heart attack by evaluating their answers on a standard psychological questionnaire.

As reality shows featuring mega families suggest, family, childhood, and motherhood are all important concepts and values for Americans. Maybe these shows would not be as popular in Switzerland or Bulgaria, for example, where birth rates are some of the lowest in the world. What can make infertility treatments so challenging, then, are the social expectations and pressures surrounding concepts of happiness and pregnancy.

A 2007 study published in Human Reproduction interviewed 14 Swedish women 20 years after they received unsuccessful infertility treatment. It noted that all but one of the women reported that they had felt inferior to other women, had lacked self-esteem, and had felt socially isolated during the years they had actively been trying to conceive. The study also analyzed how participants dealt with grandchild-lessness when “suddenly, their social life was indirectly organized around children again.” The authors noted how this could create a sense of isolation and distress in participants’ lives.

girl looking outside window
‍“The authors noted how this could create a sense of isolation and distress in participants’ lives.”

Michaella’s environment, then, no doubt exacerbates her struggle. Couples certainly desire children even without social influences, but when people around them highly value and prioritize family—and when creating a family comes easily to them—infertility and treatment can be even more challenging.

“I had become so focused on the one thing I didn’t have,” Michaella Bates wrote in her blog post, expressing the pains of social comparison well. If having children is the evasive reality that everyone else has already achieved, then those who have not yet are outside of that social sphere and without that prized experience.

Creating perspective in the present despite uncertainty

Michaella’s honest expression of her isolation and self-doubt not only supports women who also struggle with infertility, but breaches the subject of how to cope with infertility while seeking out and undergoing treatment. Fertility treatments are a huge advance in technology—with a preventative measure opening up in which young women freeze their eggs for future use—and certainly a brave effort to work towards pregnancy. And as science has expanded tremendously in recent years, it will hopefully make even greater strides in assisting couples who struggle with infertility.

However, most fertility treatments still have success rates of 50% or less. Infertility is emotionally challenging on its own. If couples place all their hope in a treatment that might not produce anticipated results, the process of re-envisioning their lives will be even more challenging.

There is still a life to be lived as couples strive to create new life. Here are a few words of advice from participants in the study published by Human Reproduction, "Life 20 years after unsuccessful infertility treatment," when asked, “‘What advice would you give couples that are undergoing infertility investigations and treatment today?’”

  • “‘Sit down and talk about what is important in life.’”
  • “‘What is my life meant for?’”
  • “‘Don’t forget to live.’”
  • “‘Don’t turn other children away, they could give so much pleasure.’”
  • “‘Try to let go when it proves impossible, don’t hang in there too long.’”
  • “‘Make sure you talk everything through with your partner.’”

The Keilens set a strong example by valuing their time together as a couple in this season of their lives, despite its difficulty. In the Jan. 25 episode of Bringing Up Bates, Michaella said, “A lot of times perspective is everything and when I'm having a really hard time and a lot of tears, just focusing on all of the positives to try and think of all of the benefits from it. At the top of the list, I think would be how much closer we've gotten to each other. It has a beautiful side too.”

sky-gazing
‍“‘It has a beautiful side too.’”

Rather than making fertility the puzzle piece that achieves the type of life and lifestyle that other families already have, those seeking fertility treatment should keep their own emotional wellness and satisfaction in mind throughout the stressful process.

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