Trying to fully understand the emotional dimensions of infertility has become something of a hobby of mine. Some people cook, knit or exercise in their spare time. Me? I’m a research hound.
I’ve warned readers in the past that I’m a bit of a study junkie. Consuming reports is my way of trying to make sense of the insensible. This morning I stumbled upon a study on lifestyle habits and what if any affects they have on IVF outcomes in the Human Reproduction Report (February 2005, the Oxford University Journal). The study takes into account data from fertility clinics around the globe. Conclusions are called out on a summary table, but here are a few highlights in particular that caught my eye:
- Infertile women entering IVF treatment do not show signs of psychological maladjustment.
- Half the women and 15% of the men reported that infertility was the most upsetting experience of their lives.
- Loss of control is patients’ most stressful dimension.
This study then led me to another journal article on IVF and stress. You read it here first my friends:
So those of you in treatment can hopefully relax a bit with the knowledge that your stress, while personally vexing and valid in every way, is not likely to affect treatment outcome.
This takes me to a different kind of profound stress that visited me in the aftermath of my IVF treatments: a complete sense of failure and hopelessness. While I’ve moved beyond those darker days, what riles me still is how little society is willing to accept the significant distress that comes with the infertility territory.
Witness this. At the end of the year, New York Times health reporter Tara Parker Pope produced a blog entry asking readers to comment on whether a new book on diet’s influence on infertility was hype or hope. The firestorm of attacks that followed in the comments section led Tara herself to comment that she couldn’t understand where all the hostility toward infertiles was coming from, especially when one reader compared the devastation of infertility as being comparable to a cancer diagnosis. In the end a women who had experienced both set the record straight. Thank you, Rebecca, for writing in. Your words and experience go a long way to inform and elevate this discussion.
And, I’d like to leave you with a thought for the day, a quote by Katharine Hepburn. While folksy it makes an important point: “As one goes through life one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.”
So, what does a set of scholarly reports, a NYT blog discussion and a folksy quote have in common? Sometimes we have to accept that stress and intolerance, much like eddies, riffles and falls on a river, will slow us down and/or challenge us but we have to keep paddling in order to move.