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.
June 29, 2007 11:58 pm
I found you recently via a search, I think, looking for blogs about child free living after infertility. Tho it could have been via links … I’ve been bouncing around lately. Doing some searching in my world these days. Literally and figuratively.
Just wanted to let you know I’m here and reading. I think you rock the house. Thanks for speaking up for us! Keep on keeping on!
June 30, 2007 12:10 am
Wow…great post. It made me think and in some weird sense, made me feel better to hear that somehow it is ok that I was not able to conceive in someone elses time frame. I always had a hunch that I would have a difficult time as my mom did (she was IF for 14 years between my brother and me) but the reality never really hit me till things weren’t happening. Great post…I think it should be sent to a widely read publication (Good Housekeeping, Women’s Day, Family Circle etc) to reach a wider audience.
June 30, 2007 7:04 am
I agree with Chrissy and Irish Girl: #1 you rock the house! #2 this post of yours must be published in a magazine somewhere. So many people need to be educated, and they way you’re doing it should not be restricted to blogs only.
You know I love your blog, and you’re going to get tired of me saying it – but thanks for writing! 😀
June 30, 2007 8:13 pm
Thanks for this. Yes, these are I think the most important myths. Some of which, I have to say, I believed prior to finding out I was among the infertile.
June 30, 2007 10:49 pm
Thank you SO much for posting this–a nice reminder, and a good resource for those just getting into the land of IF!
July 1, 2007 12:19 am
THank you for sharing this.. I want to send it out in an email to the last trillion friends that told me to “just relax or adopt”
July 1, 2007 3:37 am
This is an awesome entry. I cannot adequately express how angry I am that our educational system allows religious and political beliefs to cloud the science that should be taught to young men and women about their reproductive health.
Your post really resonates with me. These are the things that people actually believe that somehow needs to be corrected. RESOLVE is an excellent organization, but I really think they should be concentrating on not only physician education but educating high school and college students – both male and female.
As someone who suffers from another misunderstood disease I know the lack of education is the biggest issue. People don’t take the things they don’t deal with themselves seriously. At least not until they are confronted with them. And it is very hard to educate people who, often, do not want to be educated.
Thank-you so much for taking on this battle.
July 1, 2007 6:29 am
I hope I can say this without offending anyone. People who you tell that you are infertile, they generally are people that love and care about you. In their mind, you’re saying “I can’t have kids but I want to have them”. In their mind, the logical thought is “If you can’t have kids but you want them, the option is to adopt” so that is why they ask that. You’re right when you say – if this, then that. If you can’t get pregnant, you can adopt. That’s what a lot of people believe.
I think a choice to look at them asking “Will you adopt” as a sign that they care about you and want you to be happy, rather than making a choice to let the question be something that irritates and annoys might be useful.
I think a choice to take the opportunity to educate them instead of feeling frustrated and exasperated about what they are saying would be more empowering than getting all bent out of shape over what their mind *sees* as logical.
Myths are out there on every topic in existence. You have the chance to educate people in these situations. You’ve educated me, and I thank you for that. It hasn’t been an easy thing for me but nothing good comes easily, I find.
I am hopeful that your book gets published, and when it does I will add it to my bookshelf. 🙂
July 1, 2007 8:18 pm
Right on! I think that this should be widely published. If more people were aware of IF then maybe some more understanding would take place, laws would change re: insurance coverage, etc.
Thank you for sharing this.
July 2, 2007 10:30 am
And clearly, infertility does need to be taught at school. I don’t know where my references are when I need them, but a recent study showed that about 1/3 of all teen pregnancies were deliberate. These teens were “testing their fertility” having seen others around them struggle, or after being diagnosed with PCOS/endometriosis or similar.
There seems to be a need for proper information so people can make educated choices in their lives – and hopefully also stop being so irritating to others.
July 2, 2007 8:59 pm
Needed information. Thank you for putting it out there, albeit you have left a bruise on my heart.
July 3, 2007 9:11 pm
Thank you for such a great post. I know people aren’t being mean when they ask me when I am going to start a family, or why don’t I just adopt, that’s why I’ve just started being direct with them. Sometimes I start to believe that we waited too long, I go back over and over again, trying to figure out what I could have done to change things. But that was a long time ago. You can’t undo the past. I can’t get a new uterus, I can’t get back the years we lost in pursuit of our dream. I just have to find a new dream.
July 4, 2007 10:10 pm
So many myths out there…It would be so helpful if true fertility/infertility could be taught to students in middle and high schools. Fertility is something that most people take for granted until it’s proved otherwise ;-(