“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
You must read this. Do not look away. Do not read this first paragraph and then close your browser. This issue is too important and too pervasive for you to look away. Keep reading. I beg you, do not ignore this post. I guarantee that no matter who you are, you are affected by this issue.
Even if you haven’t personally struggled with infertility, you likely know someone close to you who has struggled with or is currently struggling with infertility. In fact, infertility affects 7.3 million people in the United States, or 1 in 8 couples. Whether it is you, your best friend, your sister, your brother, your neighbor, your cousin, your co-worker, your daughter, or your nephew, I am sure that you know someone who has been affected by infertility.
Infertility is a health problem that can no longer be pushed under the carpet because we are uncomfortable talking about sex and our reproductive systems. We cannot afford to be emotionally, medically, and politically ignorant to the pervasiveness of infertility. Infertility can no longer be ignored because we are uncomfortable using words like uterus, sperm, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It is a medical problem that we can no longer ignore.
Whether you are struggling with infertility or you know someone who is struggling with infertility, don’t ignore it.
Five Things We Must Not Ignore About Infertility
1. Don’t ignore the pain. If you are struggling with infertility, don’t ignore the hurt that you are feeling. Acknowledge it. Seek help. Mourn and grieve.
If you know someone who is struggling with infertility, don’t ignore his or her pain. Don’t avoid conversations about infertility just because the topic makes you uncomfortable.
Don’t avoid talking about it just because you assume that the couple wants keep their infertility struggles to themselves. Quite frankly, that is not your assumption to make.
Reach out. Ask if she is doing ok. Men, perhaps you know a woman who is struggling with infertility – a sister, sister-in-law, cousin, or friend – ask her how she is doing, not her husband or partner. A personal inquiry means more than you could ever know. If you feel uncomfortable with a face-to-face conversation, send an email. If an email seems too impersonal, send a card. But don’t ignore the hurt.
I have talked with countless women who have struggled with infertility and recurrent miscarriages, and the vast majority of them want to talk about it. They want to talk about it with others who are going through the same problems. They want to talk about it and cry about it and scream about it. They want to be asked, “How are you doing? Are you ok? Is there anything I can do?” Don’t ignore their pain. Share it.
2. Don’t ignore the inadequacy that a woman might feel when you say that you got pregnant the first month you stopped using contraceptives. We are genuinely pleased that you did not have to go through what we have gone through or are going through to get pregnant, but we do not want or need to hear that you got pregnant “without even trying” or that you got pregnant the first month you stopped using birth control. Believe me, I wouldn’t wish infertility on my worst enemy, but it is tough to hear about another woman’s ease of conception without feeling inadequate and inferior.
Moreover, don’t suggest that a couple resolve their infertility problems by “relaxing” or “not trying.” Comments such as “relax and it will happen” are not only medically irrelevant, they are hurtful, regardless of however well-intentioned the comment may be. A simple “I’m so sorry; is there anything I can do to help?” will suffice.
3. Don’t ignore the frustration and helplessness felt by a woman’s partner. He may not be the one going through the hormonal highs and lows, but he is just as invested in the struggle to conceive as the woman.
4. Don’t ignore the children already in your life. Secondary infertility affects more than 1 million couples, according to the National Survey of Family Growth, and it causes just as much stress, sadness, grief and anger. Couples struggling with secondary infertility need empathy, compassion, and support.
The stress and struggles that I faced as a result of secondary infertility – the bi-weekly visits to the fertility clinic, recovering from surgeries, and struggling to manage a two-year-old while getting blood taken and undergoing physical exams – was utterly exhausting and left me with little emotional reserves. It saddens me to the core to know that my oldest son did not get the happy, carefree mom that he deserved during that time. But it also saddens me that I did not enjoy his precocious little two-year-old spirit as much as I could have, as much as I should have, because I was consumed with stress and heartache.
If you are struggling with secondary infertility, mourn and grieve your loss. Then grab your child(ren), hug them tight, hold them close, and appreciate every last ounce of them.
5. Don’t ignore the importance of infertility health insurance benefits. Approximately 65% of women who seek medical intervention, such as fertility drugs (e.g. Clomid), intra-uterine insemination, or in vitro fertilization (IVF), become pregnant and give birth. Unfortunately, despite data showing that comprehensive infertility treatment benefits may actually reduce costs and improve outcomes by eliminating the inappropriate use of more costly procedures, only fifteen states have passed laws requiring that insurance policies cover some level of infertility treatment.
The lack of infertility health benefits can also lead to other health complications. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2002 found that those states that did not require IVF to be covered by insurance experienced a higher percentage of risky, high-order pregnancies (those with three or more fetuses). Other data suggests that, although stress does not cause infertility, infertility can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
We are putting the lives of women and children at risk for further health complications if we continue to classify infertility treatment as an “elective” health benefit and fail to acknowledge infertility as the important health and political issue that it is. Infertility is a medical condition – one that no one wants or expects to experience. Yet millions of couples find themselves not only in the unfortunate position of struggling to conceive, but without medical coverage to remedy the medical condition.
Infertility treatments are inappropriately characterized as “elective” merely because we are not demanding more. The pervasiveness and impact of infertility is hidden, undiscussed, and ignored. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t ignore infertility.
National Infertility Awareness Week runs from April 22 through April 29 with a theme of “Don’t Ignore Infertility.” The goal of National Infertility Awareness Week is to “raise awareness about the disease of infertility and encourage the public to understand their reproductive health.”