Infertility is an intensely personal experience but the more I’ve learned about its reach the more surprised I am by how little mainstream visibility the condition actually receives. There are a host of health issues that get significantly more air time relative to the number of people affected.
To underscore this point (and this is not in any way meant to diminish the impact or importance of other disease states or health concerns), consider that in the U.S. it’s reported 700,000 people experience a stroke each year. When it comes to people in the U.S. suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, the latest estimates are 4.5 million. By comparison, let’s see how well you do on this Infertility quiz (answers below):
1) The number of women (of childbearing age 15-44) in the United States who are fighting Infertility is estimated at 7.3 million. That’s the same number as:
a) the population of Israel
b) the population of Virginia
c) the population of the nine-county San Francisco Bay area
d) all of the above
2) How many people around the globe of child-bearing age does the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate are struggling with Infertility?
a) 15-17 million
b) 20-40 million
c) 30-50 million
d) 50-80 million
3) As of 2006, how large was the U.S. ‘fertility’ industry?
a) $500M a year
b) $1B a year
c) $2B a year
d) $3B a year
Now let’s see how you did. The answers are….
1 – d (all of the above) 2 – d (50-80 million); 3 – d ($3B a year).
The mind boggles when you consider that in the U.S. alone infertility touches the equivalent of all the citizens of Virginia or Israel or the residents of the nine county San Francisco Bay area. And the 50-80 million people worldwide? To put that in some perspective, consider that Italy has just over 59 million citizens and Germany has 82 million.
And while collectively these are some very big numbers, we are most familiar and touched by infertility when we experience it firsthand or know someone who receives the daunting diagnosis. That gets me to my last question, how many people in your day-to-day life (not including your blogroll) do you know who have been affected by infertility?
May 20, 2008 4:23 am
If you don’t count the people in my IRL support group or those I met because of that group, I count 4. A coworker, a friend of a friend (we are now friends), a previous employer, my sister (although she never needed medical assistance, it just took awhile).
I selected 4-6 because of a 5th person who I never got to know, but met once. He was also a friend of a friend.
Once you start talking about it, people come out of the wood work.
May 20, 2008 5:53 am
staggering. that’s all I got.
May 20, 2008 6:50 am
I am not surprised by the statistic. I am surprised (or annoyed) by its constant marginalisation.
May 20, 2008 4:44 pm
I agree. Not to bash breast cancer, but in 2007 there were less than 175,000 women diagnosed with the disease. Compare that to 7.3 million and it boggles my mind why it’s not a mainstream topic.
May 20, 2008 10:38 am
I answered more than 8, but there are at least 2 reasons for this: 1) I have been aware of infertility at least since 1990 when I noticed it was taking too long and 2) I’m very open about having gone through infertility treatments (sometimes my husband thinks I run a voluntary infertility hotline with all the phone calls I get)
May 20, 2008 12:35 pm
If you don’t count people I’ve met through my real-life pg loss support group (many of whom have infertility issues) or online, I can think of at least six who have had difficulty conceiving &/or went through treatment &/or adopted. I suspect the number is higher, because it’s something so many people don’t talk openly about. We’re pretty sure (via the family grapevine) at least three of dh’s cousins have had kids via IVF, although nobody is saying anything out loud.
May 20, 2008 3:20 pm
I knew very little about infertility until my husband and I started trying for #2 last year. I know 5 people who have struggled with or are struggling with primary infertility. I know of 5 (myself included) who have struggled or are struggling with secondary infertility. Interestingly, all of my fathers first cousins are only children, and one aunt had no children. . . Considering the aunts/uncles of my father were primarily first generation Irish American Catholics, I can assume that his aunts and uncles struggled with primary/secondary infertility which would add another 4 couples to the list
May 20, 2008 3:27 pm
I echo the comment futurewise left–its amazing how many people are affected, yet we still cram the obvious into a corner. Outside of blogging, I know of 4 people who have dealt with infertility–I have a hunch there are more, that just haven’t shared.
May 20, 2008 3:36 pm
I really, REALLY appreciated this post after just seeing this:
May 20, 2008 3:41 pm
Seeing those numbers really is staggering. And then thinking of my own life, and the handful of people I know who have struggled or who are struggling with IF – it’s easy to see why IF doesn’t get more attention. People are so reluctant to talk about it – I can think of 4 people I know who struggled with IF, but there are many more that I suspect had trouble. Thinking about this makes me want to go out and be loud and proud, but in reality, it’s much harder. I’ve been pretty open with most of my friends so far, but now that we’re starting treatment, I’m feeling the desire to clam up again. For now I’m just respecting my gut feelings, but I really hope that I (and Manny and hopefully future children) will want to talk about it more openly in the future. I really believe the world needs to hear our voices on this, if only to increase compassion and understanding.
May 20, 2008 5:08 pm
I’m really not sure how many.
I have quite a few friends who are childless by choice, as in they never wanted or tried for kids. But who knows if they could have had them. We also know childless couples who we don’t know the back story to and I’ve never asked.
So in actual confirmed knowledge, I can only list three in real life couples who have battled infertility (all three adopted) but there may very well be more than eight.
May 20, 2008 5:52 pm
An eye opening quiz. I struggle with the politics of what gets research funding, what gets media attention and this is definitely in the forefront for me. My mother died of ovarian cancer, and most women who get it, die from it, but who hears about it?
Just a note on your poll, the wording “touched by infertility” interesting. My mother dealt with infertility in the 1960s, and both my sister and I do now. Infertility had touched my father from varied angles; my friends are touched by my infertility as they try to support me, though many of them have not personally struggled with it. Not sure if this makes sense, just thought I’d share my thoughts.
Thanks for a great post.
May 20, 2008 6:32 pm
If you include those who have suffered miscarriage and stillbirth – at least 10 to 15. I keep thinking of new people I know who dealt with this issue. Many of these are people from my childhood that I have lost track of (parents of friends who were adopted, family friends, victims of various cancers and other diseases, etc.)
Of course, I’m beginning to think I may just be weird in that people are open with me about such matters. I dunno. I knew it was a possibility and I think that helped me more than anything else.
May 20, 2008 6:42 pm
If I’m doing my math correctly, that’s only $411 per US person, annually.
May 20, 2008 7:43 pm
I have been in so many situations where I could have/would have/should have done some sort of education on the subject of infertility but haven’t because of my own insecurities. I prefer to keep our fertility struggles private now because in the beginning when I wasn’t as private people always said the wrong thing. I got sick of feeling misunderstood. So I don’t know which problem caused which result … my silence contributing to the lack of public understanding … or the public lack of understanding contributing to my silence. Either way, it’s brave souls like you who are helping to change the way things are. You are awesome. Thank you.
May 21, 2008 12:47 am
I have met ONE person IRL with IF (that I know of). Hmmmmmm…
May 21, 2008 5:34 am
I was going to vote one but then I remembered 2 other women, one who has a child now via IVF/ICSI. One is still trying and the other is still waiting for a miracle.
May 21, 2008 2:46 pm
I voted for more than 8. I have a friend with recurrent m/c, and I have one coworker with IVF twins, three with Clomid babies (excluding myself), two who cannot have children due to Type I Diabetes, and two coworkers who are trying to live child-free after multiple failed IVFs – and this is all within my very school. People (fertile people, to clarify) joke that all of the pregnancies in our halls are due to “something in the water”. Those of us who here who are infertiles only managed to learn about each other’s issues by pure happenstance. I guess we were all drinking from the wrong water fountains.
May 21, 2008 5:51 pm
I definitely know more than 8, but I’m also very out therefore other people come out to me too. Even if I only count people I was friends with long before finding out that we were infertile, it would still number many more than 8 (and I’m counting each couple only as 1 too).
Josh lived in Israel with 5 other guys. So out of the 6 of them, 4 of the couples did fertility treatments. 1 hasn’t started trying yet. The other couple I think got pregnant without assistance.
In a circle of 4 friends here in town, all 4 of us ended up at the same clinic.
Those are just the circles where everyone knows each other. I haven’t even begun counting the scattered friends.
May 22, 2008 12:26 am
In my personal life, I know 5 people for sure. 2 girls I went to high school with, my aunt, my college roommate, and a woman I used to work with. I would not be surprised to find that there are others and I’ve just never been told directly.
May 22, 2008 2:19 am
Maybe I have had one too many pom martinis, but I got stuck on the fact that the stat looked at FIFTEEN YEAR OLDS…what 15 year old is worried that they can’t conceive? But anyway, I just counted at 7 people IRL that I know had trouble conceiving, not including myself.
May 22, 2008 6:17 am
Hey, longtime lurker, 1st time commenter here. PJ, your blog has gotten me through some really rough days.
I’d have to say 0. Yup, that’s right. IRL I’ve NEVER met another couple who had ANY trouble TTC. The longest wait was TWO WEEKS. Yup. Maybe it’s because I’m 23 (DH is 25).
The day I found your blog was the first day I didn’t feel totally alone. Thanks.
May 23, 2008 1:04 am
I’m glad I could help in some way…but I’m sorry you have to face this experience and hope it ends soon for you.
May 22, 2008 5:58 pm
I wanted to expound on the poll a bit. In real life I actually know 5 just in my church that have had IF issues.
In my family, there are 6 with varying issues. My sisters, my grandmother and my mother all have PCOS and my cousin has had several miscarriages and an adoption.
On line, there are 9 of us that are in varying stages of treatment and success. So, I guess that means that I know 18 people touched by IF.
Damn… that sucks.
June 17, 2008 3:33 pm
hello, i read about you in a sunday paper here in my country,( i am from nigeria) and was really touched with what u went through, and i must commend the courage and bold steps you and your husband took to go on about ur normal lives, i know it was difficult but i greatly admire ur courage. i am just 20yrs old, sumtimes i try to figure out why things happen the way they are, why some people are getting what they want and others are not, but this really is much beyond my comprehension. i really want to be a friend of yours if u would permit me, and i’d be grateful, because i feel and know that u are a special person. thanks.. simon. plssssss i’d gladly appreciate it if u write me through my mail address. thanks, and God bless you for the good work u are doing.