We humans like things neat and tidy. We like to think we’ve got it all figured out. Gotta wake up pretty early in the morning to get one by me, right? In reality we usually know a little about a lot. That means there’s plenty of room for wildly misguided assumptions. On subjects that don’t touch us directly we are too easily placated with conventional wisdom. In other words we take a big complex topic, assign a simple explanation and accept it as gospel. Therein lies the root of many misconceptions.
Infertility is one such big complex topic. It suffers from all sorts of myths and misunderstandings because we humans like easy cause and effect. If this, then that. End of story.
We are raised from the time that we get “the talk” to believe that we are biologically equipped to reproduce. The message is drilled into our heads: avoid getting too close to the opposite sex or face instant pregnancy. We are programmed to believe that we are breeding machines. When was the last time a teenager was taught about PCOS? Varicocele? Endometriosis? These are just three biological factors contributing to infertility. They are age-independent.
This post is not meant to inflame arguments about scaring young women and men into having babies before they’re ready. It’s meant to expose some fundamental misunderstandings about infertility. Age gets the bad rap, but sometimes our biology is simply flawed. Some of us in society will take longer to make babies than others and some of us just can’t regardless of how much time and money we’re willing to throw at the problem.
Unfortunately we usually don’t find out where we fit on the continuum until we actually try to make a baby. For some of us the response isn’t two pink lines on an at-home pregnancy test. Instead we get this stunning message: Surprise! You are not the breeding machine you were led to believe.
Convoluting the matter further, baby-making gets wrapped up in a set of political or religious arguments. Somehow in our society we’ve lost sight of the fact that outside of all of the arm waving and pontificating about reproductive rights there is a large slice of the population who face a very personal sadness. At its core, infertility involves two individuals who love each other and yet cannot joyfully, spontaneously conceive a baby.
Now let’s take a look at where other infertility-related conventional wisdom leads society astray:
Infertility is a woman’s problem.
FALSE. It takes two to make a baby and there are many times where male factors play a central role — or more likely it’s a combination of male and female factors.
Infertility can be “fixed” by visiting a fertility clinic.
FALSE. Infertility treatments are a black art at best. The clinics market hope and softly-focused baby images, but many couples walk away from treatments with empty arms and empty bank accounts. Often the private fertility clinics that advertise the highest success rates only treat the easiest cases.
Infertility is self-inflicted. It’s caused by waiting too long to start a family.
FALSE. Many people like to think this is true. It gives them license to ignore the pain and suffering experienced by those who came equipped with less than perfectly functioning equipment. The truth is to successfully make a baby everything has to be working together perfectly. Fertility does diminish with age, (especially for women but also for men). Age aside, many of the biological problems leading to infertility are long-standing conditions.
Infertility is stress-induced.
FALSE. If stress were the cause of infertility there would be no babies born in countries at war, in cases of rape or areas with economic deprivation. In other words “just relaxing” is not a fertility treatment.
Infertility can be “cured” by adoption.
FALSE. Adoption is one way to become a parent. It provides a loving home for a child in need. It does not “cure” the desire to make a new life.
Infertility is a byproduct of the women’s movement.
FALSE. There are couples who can’t conceive in countries where women’s right are nothing more than a pipe dream.
Infertility affects only a handful of people.
FALSE. There are millions of couples around the globe who struggle with this condition, one in eight couples in the U.S. alone.
How is it this flawed conventional wisdom, these infertility misconceptions continue to exist? First it’s convenient to blame the people involved. (Surely infertiles must be doing something wrong — even the lowest life forms mate successfully). Second infertility concerns sex organs (the discussion of which leaves all involved uncomfortable and embarrassed) and, third, and perhaps most importantly, it’s about reproduction, which has the disadvantage of being sidetracked by politically and socially charged bickering.
As a result society without so much as a passing thought overlooks or ignores that loving couple, the one who simply wants to conceive and raise their own child joyfully and spontaneously like they were raised to believe they could and would.