I went to get a massage the other day. I was looking forward to relaxing and easing some of the strain of carrying around two newborns that had settled in my shoulders. I explained to the therapist that I had been on extended bedrest, then birthed twins, then went through a NICU journey. I told her this to explain some of the reasons I had tension in specific areas and, I’ll admit it, I’m so happy about my twin blessings that I like to tell people. As she began to work the knots out of my neck the following exchange took place,
Therapist: “Twins run in your family[1. This is a common veil for “did you do that test tube thing?”]?”
Me: “No, our babies are IVF babies.”
Therapist: “Well good thing you only got two[2. Myth: You will have multiple babies (high order multiples)].”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Therapist: “You could have gotten a bunch like that lady on TV”
Me: stunned silence. Then, “oh, no that was never a possibility.”
Me: “No, that is extremely rare.”
At this point I stayed silent to transmit my desire to get on with the massage without the chit chat. I can’t say I relaxed much since my mind was whirling with the lecture I wanted to give her.
This isn’t the first or last time a conversation like this will happen to me. People are curious and woefully ignorant of the truth about infertility and infertility treatments. The media bombards us with stories that paint a picture of infertility treatments as irresponsible or freakish. The fact is that 58,000 babies are born each year in the U.S. thanks to IVF. That means someone you know – someone normal and not making news headlines – has been touched by infertility.
I speak out about infertility treatments to normalize them.
I will turn 36 this summer. I have an advanced education and a good career. Ergo – my fertility must be my own fault because I tried to “have it all”. Infertility is seen as the price I pay for having a career and reproductive freedom[3. Lisa C. Ikemoto, The In/fertile, the Too Fertile, and the Dysfertile, 47 HASTINGS L. J. 1007, 1042-44 (1996)]. Never mind that our infertility diagnosis is male factor, as 30% of cases are [4. Myth: It’s the woman’s fault.], the Merck Manual still lists it under Women’s Health Issues. Perhaps this is why women are much more likely to suffer adverse emotional distress due to infertility than men[5. SUSAN LEWIS COOPER & ELLEN SARASOHN GLAZER, CHOOSING ASSISTED REPRODUCTION: SOCIAL, EMOTIONAL AND ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS 18 (1998)].
I speak out about infertility because it is a women’s rights issue.
My insurance company would not cover a penny of our 4 failed IUIs or our IVF or FET because infertility is viewed as cosmetic surgery – optional. Despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that infertility is a disability under the American’s with Disabilities Act[6. Bragdon v. Abbott] and thus that reproduction is a “major life activity” like walking, self care, etc, many people still view it as a “life-style choice.” This is evident in comments like “just adopt there are tons of kids that need homes [7. Myth: If you can’t get pregnant, you can “just adopt.” It’s easy, quick, and inexpensive.]” and “the Earth is overpopulated anyways (which was recently implied by the PETA contest offering a vasectomy).” So long as these erroneous views are allowed to prevail insurance companies can continue to ignore us [8. Myth: It’s covered by insurance.] and research dollars go elsewhere.
I speak out about infertility because it is a pertinent health care issue.
If studies are right 61% of couples experiencing infertility don’t even tell their family and friends. They suffer the physical, emotional, and financial toll in silence. The silence is filled with media reports about octuplets and “designer babies.” The silence is filled with research dollars going to other diseases. The silence is filled with insurance companies refusing to recognize a 30 year old procedure as not “experimental.” Your silence is bumping up against your coworker, family member, or neighbor’s silence since infertility touches 1 in 8 then you know someone else struggling. When we keep it private then no one sees the truth.
I speak out about infertility because I can.
I know that talking about sex and sexuality is difficult and many people prefer privacy for that part of their lives. I would never judge the choice of another infertile to not talk openly about their journey – it is a difficult choice each person has to make. Me? I can talk about it. I have an open book policy that most would call TMI (you’re welcome Facebook friends). I talk about it because it hurt. Because I’m one of the “lucky ones” on the other side of resolution (but not cure). Because I had the privilage of a financial option for treatment that many do not[9. http://www.jstor.org/pss/190223 – “class differences in access to reproductive services lead to an equally dualistic, albeit unstated, fertility policy in the United States: encouraging births among working- and middle-class families and discouraging births among the poor, particularly those on Medicaid.”]. Because my childrens’ origins are not to be hidden or silenced but embraced and rejoiced.
I speak out for those who can not.
Those too busy with needles and procedures. Those in mourning for an adoption loss or failed cycle. For all the mothers and fathers with empty arms.
And I speak out for my children – that when they are of age they won’t need to.
For more information on National Infertility Awareness Week, please visit http://www.resolve.org/takecharge. Also, take a few moments to learn about infertility at http://www.resolve.org/infertility101.