Recently, we had National Infertility Awareness Week.
Maybe you are wondering why we need an awareness week for infertility? After all, don’t most people understand that infertility exists?
Yes, of course. And yet infertility is much more prevalent and insipid than most of us are taught.
Did you know that 1 in every 8 couples struggles to have biological children?
Notice I didn’t say “struggles to conceive.”
Because infertility is so much more than the inability to conceive naturally.
Most people’s definition of infertility is what is considered primary infertility: the inability to have one biological child. These are often the couples you see who are are childless (but not always.) Maybe you wonder if they are having “issues”, or maybe you wonder if they just aren’t kid-people.
In order to be diagnosed with primary infertility, you have to try to conceive on your own for a year without conceiving. (Having one or two losses in a year does not count as infertility according to doctors.) If you are over 35, you only have to try for 6 months before you are considered infertile and eligible for treatment.
But there are other types of infertility.
Recurrent pregnancy loss is a kind of infertility. It means you can conceive (sometimes even that requires help), but you cannot carry the babies to viability. You need to lose at least 3 babies to be considered having recurrent pregnancy loss. This is neither harder nor easier than primary infertility. It’s just a completely different beast.
Secondary infertility is when someone has successfully carried one child to viability… And afterwards can’t carry another child to viability. (As in our case, this often combines with recurrent pregnancy loss). As with all other aspects of infertility, this is a lonely road. Not only because you want to add a sibling to your family … But because you also see your child with a desire for a sibling that you can not fulfill.
In our culture, infertility is often overlooked. After all, you could always “just adopt.”
There are lots of treatment options for infertility. Adoption is not one of them.
Infertility is a beast. It brings you to your knees over and over and over. It can infiltrate every aspect of your life. It can be consuming. The physical, emotional and spiritual scars do not automatically heal after adoption.
(Also, once a couple has spent money on treatments and tests, which quickly multiply and escalate, they are rarely in the financial position to begin the adoption process. Some families will need a lot of healing before they want or even can pursue adding to their family through alternate means. This is healthy, and no one should be encouraged to rush into a decision to adopt.)
Infertility takes a toll in every way. On relationships. On your marriage. On your self-esteem. On your dreams. On your finances. Especially in your finances.
Insurance doesn’t cover infertility treatment. Your ovaries could be malfunctioning, your tubes could be blocked, your husband could have poor motility … But when it comes to creating a child … Insurance doesn’t care. They see having children as optional. They will, however, cover an abortion. Because apparently the right to end a life is inherent … But the right to start a life is not.
You quickly learn to ask insurance codes, and come up with medical diagnoses with your doctor so you can cover as much of your testing as “medical procedures” and not “infertility procedures.” If you are ready to pursue treatment, prepare to pay everything out of pocket.
Infertility is hard. I mean, really, really hard.
But when we are aware, we can make changes to make life slightly easier on the infertile couples.
We can stop suggesting adoption as an easy alternative.
We can stop inquiring about their family planning.
We don’t make light of our own ease of fertility. (“All my husband has to do is look at me and I get pregnant.”)
We can stop complaining about our own pregnancies to our infertile friends.
We can let our friends know that we care. That we’re here for them. And if they ever want to talk, we’re here.
We can stop asking them if they have tried putting their legs up after sex, or have taken this screening test, or had this clotting factor run. Trust me … If they are infertile and are in the care of an RE, they have it covered. The only people who should make these comments are either other infertile couples or medical professionals.
I don’t believe we all have to tiptoe around infertile couples. But making a small effort educate ourselves on what they are going through, and keeping our words and tone kind and sensitive, goes a long way.
If you are infertile … What do you wish a fertile person would understand about your world? If you are a fertile person, what do you want to understand more about your friends who are struggling?