Our friends in the US are marking National Infertility Awareness Week (April 22-28), and a number of women in an IVF support group to which I belong have been posting about being the “1 in 8” and the need to ‘flip the script’ on infertility.
I admire them – going public about your infertility is a massive step (one that I haven’t yet had the courage to take). It is made often worse by reactions you get when you come out about your issues to family and friends. Some are funny, some truly wtf?!, but many others are insensitive and unhelpful, fuelled by ignorance, wild theorising, and no science. And this, despite the gazillion “7/9/10/12/15 things not to say to your friend going through IVF” lists out there.
Inspired by a pretty animated discussion that got me thinking (thank you, ladies), here is my personal contribution to fertility awareness, based on actual questions I have been asked/things I have been told about getting pregnant/not getting pregnant/IVF (except one, which I HAD to include for obvious reasons). Many other women I have spoken to have experienced the same. It feels a little like we all lead parallel lives, encountering doppelgangers of the same stupid people.
- “Just try and relax” (same category as “Why don’t you try a vacation/getting really drunk/not trying”)
YOU may have gotten pregnant easily, but here’s a little biology lesson. All kinds of magic needs to happen before the sperm meets the egg, and then during the encounter, and then after. And you become acutely aware of even the substeps of the substeps doing IVF. Imagine it to be like this epic saga involving star-crossed lovers separated by oceans, feuding families, impassable terrain, and hostile ninjas. And then, when (if) they finally meet, there’s a massive earthquake before earth gets hit by a meteor and no one survives [if anyone turns this into a film, please let me know, I’d like to watch it]. Many, many different things can get in the way for men and women dealing with fertility issues and, sadly, most of them cannot be cured by sipping mojitos in Aruba while getting a tan in between bouts of the best sex known to mankind. Much as I’d enjoy the latter, it’s unlikely to lead to a happy ending before the credits roll around. So forgive me if don’t feel so relaxed.
- “Is the problem you, or him?”
Does it matter? And is it your business to ask? Don’t you think we’ve probably been through enough rounds of both self-doubt and the blame game? If you really need a hero/villain scenario to be there for a friend without judging the situation, then the problem is you.
- IVF? Isn’t that so expensive? You could do so much with that money.
Here’s news. We’re not quite weighing up holidays against IVF, and then choosing the latter. Heck, we’ve probably already done the dozens (or more) dirty weekends, and had a lot of sex, in every position, and concluded it with everything from ‘legs in the air’ and pillow under the hips to standing on our heads. We didn’t wake up one day and say: SEX IS SO OVERRATED! Let’s toss all our savings into injections, pills, scans, acupuncture, hormonal hot flushes, procedures, and wild hope JUST FOR FUN!! Yes, it is expensive. No, we don’t need a reminder of the long list of things we are sacrificing to do IVF. Thanks.
- “God… (anything)”
I’ve heard a lot of God theories about infertility. He wills it, he’ll find a way, he has a plan, intervening with God’s plan is a sin… Here’s my God theory – he made some people so very smart so they could form an army of fertility superheroes who would help him out in fulfilling the dreams of women and men all over the world. I’ve run this by him. He concurs.
- “Take one of mine. You’ll change your mind about children. You have a charmed life.”
Think back to the day you found out you were pregnant, and the milestones of your pregnancy. Doing up the nursery, and the first baby onesie you bought. The feeling when you held your child for the first time, knowing that he/she was the ultimate representation of all the good in you and your husband. Fast forward to first words and first steps. The time she wore your heels and pranced around the living room, and when he took to the fridge with crayons. Remember all that? Now imagine never having it. Did your heart just sink a little? That’s how I feel, all day, every day.
- Why don’t you adopt instead? There are so many children in the world who need good homes? And it’s good for the planet.
One, adoption is neither easy nor cheap, and it involves a lot more than walking into Target and taking a child off the shelf. Between home assessments and legals fees, it can cost as much – if not more – than IVF. Two, you assume that not being able to conceive naturally is the same as not being able to conceive at all and that we should give up on the idea that our bodies can do as nature intended. Perhaps we just need a little help. Even if it doesn’t work out, it is every human being’s right to be able to try. And if it doesn’t work out then yes, perhaps we will consider adoption. And as far as the planet goes, as soon as you stop eating meat, living on the grid and travelling by bus, train, plane, and automobile, we’ll revisit that. Send up a smoke signal. Wait (emissions). Just whistle real loud and I’ll find you.
- “Aren’t you worried about the risks, being so old?”
Yes. I am. And PGD and PGS testing is still denied to women in some countries – even when there is a clear benefit to it. We realise there are risks. Moving on.
- “Are you having sex often enough and doing it at the right time?”
Would you like to come over and supervise our sex? I assure you that I passed biology, and know how to use both a calendar and an ovulation test kit.
- “I know someone who had XX failed IVF cycles and then stopped and got pregnant naturally!”
Hurrah for her! If I had a dollar for every story of a friend of a friend this happened to, I would be able to fund several cycles. And put down a down payment for a boat. Most couples try naturally between cycles, fuelled by that same hope. It sounds like a nice story to tell, but it doesn’t help someone who’s bloated and hormonal and desperate for some sense that everything is going to be ok with THIS cycle. Infertility is a medical condition that often requires medical help. We’re not doing this because we have a choice.
- “Doesn’t it worry you that your baby will have no soul?” (my #1 pick for the WTF category)
This didn’t happen to me, but I heard about it from someone and I’m flabbergasted enough to include it here. I’m not sure how anyone even thought this, let alone said it. Clearly, the only person without a soul is her.
So that’s it. My list of 10 things you should not ask/say. If you have a friend who is going through IVF, I would venture that she might agree with most of these. Just be a listening ear when we need to vent or think out loud. And we’re not asking you to validate our decisions, just not to invalidate them.
And if you’re one of the warriors who has chosen to be a face of infertility this week, I salute you. Thank you for being strong – for us all.