National Infertility Awareness Week may have finished but the need to understand and support (in)fertility is a year-round topic. It prompted me to reflect on my own expectations going into my journey and what we can do to support individuals or couples undergoing (in)fertility treatments. Here are some common misconceptions:
Misconception #1: Getting pregnant by IVF is a sure thing
I wish it was, but sadly it is not. I went into two rounds with high hopes because everything “looked more than fine.” I came out on the other side with multiple fails and a non-diagnosis of “unexplained”. Doctors can have great success rates, high hopes, and by doing so, may raise your expectations. Know that they have the best intentions but they are only human after all, and science has only hit the low hanging fruit at this point. This (in)fertility process can reveal many things but not always a baby. After a glowing prophecy of a beautiful embryo that doesn’t take or worse miscarries, it can feel like someone just punched you in the face (multiple times).
Please be sensitive if someone tells you that they are undergoing IVF. To give some perspective, imagine sticking yourself with medicine/hormone filled syringes that make your emotions a roller coaster, your bloat world-class, and the bottom half of your body weighed down by giant egg follicles growing in your ovaries.
Be supportive, even if that just means listening, and/or sending good thoughts and positive vibes. Please do not heighten the expectation and pressure by talking about the future. The patient and doctor don’t know the outcome yet, please don’t pretend to either.
Misconception #2: The patient is just along for the ride
IVF is a team sport. It always takes two, right? Biologically, you need an egg and a sperm but in the IVF case, the outcome is also assisted by a doctor. While it is on the doctor to choose the right protocol based on a patient’s medical history and needs, the patients still need to take care of themselves. Think about planting anything. The foundation and the conditions need to be right for anything to grow and healthfully. Same applies here. And the partner isn’t off of the hook, the patient’s well-being and the long term success of the relationship depends on it.
Misconception #3: There is only one path to a child.
How an individual or couple gets there may not be the way that they envisioned but the end result can still be the same. Options exist and ultimately one day this will be readily available to everyone who wants and has the capacity to be a parent.
After my second IVF failed, my doctor shared that she thought it was a good idea to try again. In the same breath, she shared that if I failed a third time, she wasn’t sure that she could help me. Initially I was stunned, and that feeling turned to despair. I thought that I was a failure, blamed myself for not doing enough (acupuncture, eating enough greens), and that I might never be a mother. Yes, there were a lot of waterworks. So ugly. And yes, I found a new doctor.
What I wish that I would have known then was the comfort of knowing that there are options including egg donors, surrogates and adoption. Although it’s a lot to think about when you are determined to go about one path, it can be a relief to at the very least be aware that there are possibilities to achieve the end goal of having a baby if the general IVF route doesn’t work.
Misconception #4: If I share my (in)fertility story, people will think that there is something wrong with me.
There are 7.3 million (documented) cases of (in)fertility* and this is will continue to grow and impact future generations as we continue to live in a polluted, endocrine disrupting world. (Sorry for the Debbie Downer moment.) The (in)fertility topic is about to become so much greater than just our personal egos.
(In)fertility isn’t punishment for something, it just is the reality for many individuals and couples. In fact, (in)fertility affects 1 in 8 couples*. Many people that you know are grappling with (in)fertility, they may just be in the closet because of the many emotions borne out of the shame created by the silence around it.
The sooner that we stop hiding behind a perfection that doesn’t exist, accept that (in)fertility is a topic that we need to embrace, the sooner that we will be able to rally support from our workplaces to make the conversation safe and resources available for (in)fertility. After all, happy, healthy employees and families make happy companies, which in turn creates a happy economy.
*Source: 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth, CDC