Revealing the Elephant in the Room


elephant-room11Infertility is like the elephant in the room. We all know it’s there but few are willing to acknowledge it. It strikes our sisters and brothers, our sons and daughters, our cousins, our friends, our colleagues and people all around us in the grocery store, the mall, the park. It can affect, in so many ways, the lives of persons sitting next to us in a coffee shop, on a plane, the bus, the sports stadium, the classroom, the workplace or in churches, synagogues, mosques or temples.

We’re everywhere and yet nowhere. I’ve been imagining since I got my pomegranate bracelet what the reaction might be if I were brave enough to wear a shirt carrying the words “Infertile but not Invisible” on it.  Our condition is well disguised. I certainly don’t look infertile. Therein lays a challenge.

I recently received the following advice: “It seems crass, but publishers like to see a tie-in to how a topic is relevant right NOW for marketing purposes. Unfortunately many of the folks in publishing in NYC are young, fertile women who don’t know much about infertility.”

That said, I’m in the midst of research. I’m combing the Internet for data to get my hands on both statistics and relevance to reveal the elephant in the room. The numbers don’t lie:

  • RESOLVE reports that there is a 1 in 8 chance you either know someone with infertility or you are experiencing the challenges of infertility yourself.
  • The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics indicates 12 percent of women 15-44 (or 7.3 million women) had physical difficulty with getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term. [2002 data]
  • One-half of 1% of men were functionally sterile in 1938. Today it has reached between 8-12% (an over 15-fold increase). “Functionally sterile” is defined as sperm counts below 20 million per milliliter of semen. [Note to MLO: this supports your latest post]
  • An estimated 10 percent of American couples have trouble conceiving – infertility is estimated to be $2 billion industry annually in the US
See also  Going Up!

And there are real life stories slowly surfacing, too. Since publishers want to know how this topic relates to “popular culture,” here are a few examples of celebrities and dramas offering a peak at infertility struggles:

  • Celebrities on the record as pursuing infertility treatment: Brooke Shields; Courtney Cox; two of the three Dixie Chicks; Desperate Housewife’s Brenda Strong; Celine Dion; Jane Seymour; Alexis Stewart and, most recently, Helena Bonham Carter. (Of course there are many more suspected).
  • TV shows or film where infertility made its way it into story lines: Sex in the City; Tell Me You Love Me; Children of Men; ugh, now I’m drawing a blank…I know there are more examples.

Would like your help making the case. As you can see, the vast majority of my research is U.S.-centric, but clearly infertility knows no borders.  Are there additional data points or links you can point me to in your country? Some supporting examples that will help make the case? I know there’s plenty of material and I welcome your help.



19 Responses

  1. Tigger

    October 16, 2007 3:35 pm

    I did an entire paper on IF for my English research class. If I can find a copy and you send me your Email addy, I will send it to you. It’s complete with a works cited page so you can see where I got my info.

    Also, Judging Amy had a story line involving infertility and adoption. Amy’s brother Peter and his wife couldn’t have children, so they adopted a child (Ned). There’s whole story arcs involving that, and also the things that happen with Ned and the birth mother.

  2. MLO

    October 16, 2007 3:36 pm

    The person who gave you that advice may be unaware of the fact that in both NY and the beltway, a lot of OB/Gyn practices no longer consider IVF pregnancy unusual due to how many professional women of ALL ages are using fertility clinics.

    Endometriosis is one of the most common diseases associated with infertility – depending on its presentation, it can even lead to tubal disease (controversial but not completely unsupported). I think it is also the number one complaint by women to their gynecologists – anyone have an epidemiological report? So, saying infertility is unknown to these young women, is, frankly, absurd. Even in my 20s when I didn’t yet have a partner I knew SEVERAL people doing IVF – not even IUI.

    Here is a wild idea, you might look into the various Harlequin houses – seriously. They know the women’s reader’s market better than anyone else – and when TOR Books wouldn’t publish “relationship centric” books by such luminaries as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Bujold, etc., they got Harlequin to create a new publishing branch to bring science fiction/fantasy to life for women readers. Some of the books have won awards (Poison Study) at several genre competitions.

    The key is to find the right editor. Someone in this community might know who? Mel?

    Or, if you like romances, sign up to have your book critiqued by one of their editors. They are always looking for new talent.



  3. Lori

    October 16, 2007 3:38 pm

    This doesn’t answer your primary question, but there’s an interesting chart at that may answer some secondary questions.

    I googled “infertility statistics” and then clicked on “images” because I’m looking for a graph. It seems like the line for people seeking fertility treatments has GOT to be shooting up at quite a steep rate. I’ll let you know if I find it, but for now I gotta work. 🙁

  4. DD

    October 16, 2007 4:43 pm

    I’m having a hard time with the quote, “…many of the folks in publishing in NYC are young, fertile women who don’t know much about infertility.”

    How does this person know that they are indeed fertile? Do they all have a boat-load of children? Has this person asked? Or have they assumed that because they are young, they must be fertile? I can’t imagine that this particular market of young persons, publishing in NYC, are going fast and furious creating offspring.

    Why not find out how many of those publishers who want to know if it’s relevant are going to end up, or already are, 1 of 8.

  5. motherofnone

    October 16, 2007 11:56 pm

    Wow… It would seem that all those ambitious career women in publishing in NYC would be even MORE concerned about possible infertility because they are precisely the type of women who postpone pregnancy to allow their careers to take off. So, this comment makes no sense to me either. I think this topic is extremely timely. And, what’s more, your angle is new. The memoirs I’ve read about infertility all have happy endings: IF is overcome, and everyone’s happy. But what if interventions aren’t successful? Where’s our champion? Personally, that’s the book I want to read.

    Also, you may want to prepare data on the “hits” to your website, the number of infertility blogs and bulletin boards out there, etc. Some of the bulletin boards allow you to post a survey.

  6. Bea

    October 17, 2007 2:01 am

    I don’t think that resolve stat is phrased very well. If 1 in 8 couples are infertile, that means if you get seven other random couples together in a room, you have probably got one infertile set there. Since most people know a lot more than eight couples, there’s not a 1 in 8 chance of *knowing* someone, it’s almost *certain* you know someone.

    What they’re trying to say is, “1 in 8 couples experience infertility. This means even if you’re not experiencing it yourself, someone you know almost certainly is.”


  7. Bea

    October 17, 2007 2:02 am

    … or that last bit should be, “you almost certainly know someone who is.” (Not someone you know etc..)

  8. Deathstar

    October 17, 2007 4:47 am

    You could also mention the rise of people using alternative medicine, for example, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, naturopathy, yoga Lots of women go this route when trying to ocnceive. A lot of money is to be made by catering to infertile women of all ages.

  9. Geohde

    October 17, 2007 10:00 am

    I don’t have a sophisticated knowledge of these things but surely the data from fertility treatment authorities showing just how astoundingly many cycles are happening each year in every town supports your argument?


  10. Juliet

    October 17, 2007 11:30 am

    I agree with a couple of the commentors above – that potential IF is a very big issue to these high-flying NYC twentysomething ladies. In the UK we’ve had several programmes (I think one was the news programme hosted by Trevor MacDonald) where they’ve looked at the egg quality of young career women and been able to show that some should be thinking of having families asap, whereas others have time to wait. Also we have a big pharmacy, Boots (see which now offers an over-the-counter ‘egg quality’ fertility test deliberately marketed at young women who don’t know whether to get going on a family or not. I mention these to try and show that I think your ‘relevant RIGHT NOW’ marketing angle is that career women want to wait, but don’t know if they dare.

  11. Deathstar

    October 17, 2007 10:50 pm

    By the way, I tried to keep my Infertility thread bracelet on for my role on Smallville, but wardrobe made me take it off. (He didn’t know what it was) Oh, well, I tried.

  12. Kareno

    October 21, 2007 11:14 am

    1. James Patterson’s novel “Quickie” revolves around Infertility and what it does to a marriage. (Way out but not too farfetched!)
    2. The first series of Brothers & Sisters (part of the storyline) also deals with male factor infertility.
    Will let you know if I find some more 😉

  13. BethH6703

    October 22, 2007 6:31 pm

    Seems to me that Mel’s blog roll (is it 800 or 900 blogs that it just topped?), speaks to the relevancy of the issue. Also, I know that WebMD has pages & pages of info devoted to IF, including several different message boards for people in various stages of the process.

    As far as entertainment goes: There was that show “Inconceivable” (about a fertility clinic) on NBC that piloted last year, but I don’t think it made it through a full season. The movie the “The Good Girl” with Jennifer Aniston touched briefly on it.

    Here’s an keyword search on “infertility”: I’m not familiar with many of those results, but apparently it’s included in the plot line in some way.

    Also, haven’t I read in the blogosphere that Oprah has done a couple of shows re: IF recently? Here is a link to the most recent show, with its own set of links to other resources.

    Good luck!

  14. beagle

    October 24, 2007 3:23 pm

    TV shows that come to mind: Recently the Grey’s and spinoff Private Practice have touched on it.

    Then there are the negative depictions in Lifetime movies and various crime shows (infertile woman steals baby type story). Those just make me mad.

    And I would think, to some degree, that adoption numbers would be an indicator (not everyone adopts due to infertility but a dignificant number of them do). There are published stats on the number of adoptions each year.

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