By Kelsey Duncan
Everyone knows that old nursery rhyme: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage. But what if that final step eludes you not by choice, but by biology?
It’s important to understand what infertility actually is. Infertility is a biological disease, one we don’t know a great deal about, even in 2016. For women under the age of 35, infertility is generally defined as an inability to conceive a child naturally after 12 months; over the age of 35, doctors recommend couples seek treatment after only 6 months of trying. The umbrella term of infertility is a broad category, though, and encompasses everything from the inability to conceive to recurrent pregnancy loss and inability to carry to term. Regardless of the cause or presentation, infertility is a devastating, life-changing medical condition.
Unlike a great deal of other medical conditions, a diagnosis of infertility does not guarantee treatment or a cure. For roughly one-third of couples, a clear cause may never be found; they fall into the nebulous category of unexplained infertility. Even for those couples who are able to identify the cause, lack of insurance coverage and significant out-of-pocket costs still prevent many from pursuing treatment. Only fifteen states in the U.S. mandate coverage for fertility treatments, and considering that a single round of IVF can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, it’s easy to see how many couples come to feel hopeless when confronted with the reality of their conditions.
Because the field of infertility research is still so new, having only begun to be explored in earnest in the 1970’s, misconceptions and old wives tales abound. These myths perpetuate the social stigma infertile couples face and exacerbate their feelings of shame, embarrassment, and grief. It’s those myths we need to dispel.
One of the most common myths, which may seem innocuous on its face, is that the couple needs to “just relax” or go on vacation. Not so innocuous is the idea that a couple must not be meant to be parents or, worse, that they would probably be bad parents and their infertility is a blessing in disguise. And of course, everyone has a third- or fourth-party anecdote about that couple who tried for years to conceive naturally before adopting a child and BAM! immediately after placement, find themselves miraculously pregnant. Of course, situations like these do happen, but they’re the exceptions that prove the rule.
My husband and I have heard it all:
You must not be doing it right.
It’s not the right time yet, you just have to be patient.
There are much worse things that can happen to you, you know.
Oh, I had that problem, too, and you know what helped me? Whiskey.
You’ll get pregnant when you buy a house. That’s what happened to me.
Why don’t you just adopt! Or get a baby through foster care!
Comments like these are, at best, annoying and steeped in ignorance. At worst, this advice is deeply hurtful. What most people dealing with infertility want you to know is this: leave the advice to the medical professionals. When someone opens up about infertility, you can rest assured he or she has researched, obsessed, and then researched some more about the medical aspects of their condition. They are not coming to you for advice; that’s what the gynecologists and reproductive endocrinologists are for! They’re coming to you because they’re grieving, lost and confused. They need compassion, empathy, and more often than not emotional support. You can’t fix someone else’s cancer for them; likewise, you can’t fix someone else’s infertility, either.