Infertility is a devastating challenge for people that causes significant emotional distress, marital strain, financial burden and disruptions to work and social life.
What makes infertility especially tough, is the lack of awareness about just what it is, what causes it, what the treatments are, and how those going through it should be supported. Many people struggling with infertility keep it secret due to shame and stigma, and because when they do tell others, the reactions they get are often thoughtless and hurtful.
(Photo: Kupicoo via Getty Images)
Given that one in six couples in Canada faces infertility, it is time that we start talking about it and increase not only awareness, but understanding. For that reason, I thought I would try and tackle some of the biggest myths around infertility.
MYTH #1: Couples struggling to conceive just need to relax
If I had a dime for every client who'd gotten this line from someone, I'd be a billionaire! Infertility can be caused by many identifiable medical issues (such as PCOS, endometriosis, low ovarian reserve, low sperm count or poor sperm quality, blocked fallopian tubes, fibroids/cysts, uterine scarring, and so on).
It is true that about one-third of infertility patients have unexplained infertility, but going on a Caribbean cruise will not necessarily get them pregnant. Everyday activities and typical life stress is not going to prevent most people from conceiving. Anyone struggling with infertility is anxious about it, and it simply isn't realistic to expect them to just stop worrying or thinking about it.
MYTH #2: You can prevent miscarriage
Though it's hard to know the exact percentage (since very early losses may go undetected), it is estimated that between 20 to 30 per cent of human pregnancies miscarry. This is mostly due to random chromosomal abnormalities. Sometimes it can be due to a structural abnormality in the uterus or cervix. It usually does not happen because of anything a woman has done (or not done).
Unfortunately, just because you conceived once without difficulty it does not mean you will again.
Miscarriage is not caused by staying late at work to finish a project, getting in a fight with your spouse, negative thinking, or forgetting to take your prenatal vitamin one day. They do not occur as punishment for a past abortion, or from doing a yoga class, or going on an airplane in the first trimester. Sure, there are things any woman can do to lower their risk (don't smoke or drink alcohol, limit caffeine). But the majority of the time they are unpreventable.
MYTH #3: If you have infertility, you can JUST do IVF
IVF is gruelling. It also doesn't solve all fertility issues nor work for everyone. It is also very expensive. IVF, if not covered by the government (in Canada only select provinces cover the cost), is at minimum, $15,000 a cycle. It is a process that can take months or years, and involves women having to inject themselves on a daily basis with high levels of hormones that can have unpleasant side effects. It is time consuming and often interferes with people's work and social lives.
MYTH #4: If you have infertility, you can JUST adopt
Adopting is not like ordering a pizza. You don't just pick up the phone and have a child delivered to your door. It is often more expensive, and much longer a process than fertility treatments. Many infertility patients do not qualify as adoptive parents. To adopt a healthy infant in Canada these days is almost impossible, regardless of whether you try domestically, or internationally. So it's like someone telling you, "Why don't you just build a rocket ship?" Oh, and just because your mother's sister's neighbour got pregnant as soon as they started the adoption process, does not mean this will happen for everyone!
(Photo: Vadim Guzhva via Getty Images)
MYTH #5: If you conceive easily once, you will again
Unfortunately, just because you conceived once without difficulty it does not mean you will again. Fertility changes over time. Many of my clients are shocked that they are dealing with infertility after already having a child, or children.
MYTH #6: People dealing with infertility are selfish if they are unable to be happy for others when they conceive or give birth
Sure, in an ideal world, people struggling with infertility could jump up and down gleefully each time someone they know announces a pregnancy, but for most, it isn't possible. It is excruciatingly painful to be unable to conceive while those around you do so easily. It highlights many of the things that make infertility so difficult (lack of control, unfairness, etc.), and dredge up unpleasant feelings of anger, resentment and bitterness, which leads to feelings of guilt and shame. Sorry, but asking someone with infertility to put it aside and run out and buy you onesies is not fair.
If you encounter someone struggling with infertility the best way to support them is to listen.
MYTH #7: Living a healthy lifestyle will enhance and prolong your fertility
There are certainly lifestyle factors that can compromise your fertility, namely smoking, but just because you eat all organic food and meditate daily, this is no guarantee you will have an easy time conceiving, especially as you get older. Many fertility issues arise for reasons that have nothing to do with lifestyle, that may be genetic, and have been there all along.
MYTH #8: Infertility is not a big deal
Make no mistake, infertility is a severe life challenge that absolutely flattens people. Look at it this way: procreating is an innate primal instinct, just like breathing air, drinking water and eating food. Imagine how frantic you get if you are denied access to oxygen, water or food? Infertility, for those wanting children, causes the same panic, fear and desperation. You can't evaluate people's reactions to it based on rationality. We don't procreate for rational reasons, we do so because we are mammals.
If you encounter someone struggling with infertility the best way to support them is to listen. If you don't understand what they are going through, just tell them, "I am so sorry you are dealing with this." Let them know you are available to offer support when needed, but please don't give them unsolicited suggestions, advice or judgement.
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Jimmy Fallon is one of the few celebrity dads to open up about his struggles with infertility. The “Tonight Show” host and his wife Nancy struggled to have a baby for five years before deciding on surrogacy. “We tried before, we told people and then it didn't happen. And it's just really depressing. It's really hard on everybody,” Fallon explained on the “Today Show.” The couple then welcomed their first daughter, Winnie, in 2013 and their second, Frances, in 2014. The couple had both girls via gestational carrier.
Brooke Shields and husband Chris Henchy underwent IVF to get pregnant. Unfortunately, Shields suffered a miscarriage before conceiving her first child, Rowan, who was born in 2003. The couple then conceived their second child naturally. Grier was born in 2006. That same year, Shields released her memoir “Down Came the Rain” about her struggles with infertility and postpartum depression. “After a while, when you’re not successful, you start to associate the word ‘failure’ every time you pee on a stick and it doesn’t come out the right colour,” she wrote.
Chrissy Teigen and John Legend struggled to conceive their daughter, who was born on April 14. Just one month before the couple announced their pregnancy news, Teigen revealed that the couple was having fertility struggles. On talk show “FABLife,” the co-host and model said, “Honestly, John and I are having trouble. We would have kids five, six years ago if it’d happened. But my gosh, it’s been a process!”
Following the birth of her first child James in 2013, Jaime King opened up about her struggles to get pregnant. “This is the truth about conceiving my son and struggles after 8 yrs of pain and undiagnosed PCOS [Polycystic ovary syndrome] & Endometriosis,” she wrote. “9 doctors until Dr. Randy Harris diagnosed me & saved my life from a severe ectopic, 5 miscarriages, 5 rounds of IVF, 26 IUI's, most with no outcome, 4½ years of trying to conceive.” Besides James, King and her husband Kyle Newman are also parents to a son named Leo, who was born in 2015.
Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness have two adopted kids: Oscar, 15 and Ava, 10. While adoption was always part of their parenting plan, they had hoped to have some biological kids first. “Trying to have children is wonderful and when you feel as though that’s not going to happen, there’s a certain anxiety that goes with it,” Jackman said to Australia’s Herald Sun in 2011. The couple tried a few round of IVF before going ahead with their adoption plans. “From the moment we started the adoption process, all the anxiety went away,” the dad-of-two said. “I don't think of them as adopted – they're our children.”
Mark Zuckerberg is now a proud father to a baby girl named Max, who was born in November 2015. However, before the Facebook CEO and his wife Priscilla Chan welcomed their daughter, Zuckerberg revealed the struggles they faced when trying to conceive. “We've been trying to have a child for a couple of years and have had three miscarriages along the way,” the 31-year-old wrote on Facebook. “Most people don't discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you -- as if you're defective or did something to cause this. We hope that sharing our experience will give more people the same hope we felt and will help more people feel comfortable sharing their stories as well.”
Sarah Jessica Parker welcomed her first child, James, with husband Matthew Broderick in 2002. When the couple tried to conceive a second child, they experienced a number of difficulties, which is why they decided to go the surrogate route. “It would be odd to have made this choice if I was able to, you know, have successful pregnancies since my son’s birth,” the actress said on “Access Hollywood” in 2009. Later that year, Parker and Broderick welcomed twin girls Marion and Tabitha.
Mariah Carey experienced a miscarriage before she became pregnant with her twins. Following the loss of her first baby, Carey underwent acupuncture and fertility treatments. In an interview with Barbara Walters, the singer said: “The main thing I did that was tough was to go on progesterone like every month… and then when I was pregnant, I had to stay with the progesterone for 10 weeks. It minimizes the chance of miscarriage by 50 per cent.” Carey and ex-Nick Cannon then became proud parents to twins Moroccan and Monroe in 2011.
After Emma Thompson and husband Greg Wise welcomed their daughter Gaia in 1999, the couple struggled to have a second child. After several failed attempts at IVF, Thompson became clinically depressed. “For years I counted people's children in the street and thought I'd never recover,” she said in an interview. “But you do, of course.” Thompson’s husband also opened up about the couple’s struggle to conceive. “IVF is very upsetting,” he said in 2014. “It’s a brutal process and it’s very emotional. It’s really hard. But then you pick yourself up, look around and see this unbelievably beautiful little baby you’ve got anyway.” Thompson and Wise eventually went on to adopt a boy named Tindyebwa, who was a Rwanda orphan and former child soldier. He was 16 years old when they adopted him in 2003.
In 2006, Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance welcomed their twin boys, Bronwyn and Slater, via surrogate. The couple underwent fertility treatments for seven years before considering surrogacy. In 2013, Bassett reflected on her experience. “After trying and trying, I unfortunately couldn’t have my babies,” the actress told JET Magazine. “It was my reality. I heard about the surrogate option and it worked out beautifully.
Gordon Ramsay and his wife struggled to conceive due to his low sperm count. The 49-year-old chef revealed this on his TV series “The ‘F’ Word” and later spoke about it on “Larry King Live” in 2007. “You plan a family, and it doesn't happen naturally. You depend on the IVF,” Ramsay explained. “We had a miscarriage, which was quite a severe blow for our confidence. I had a very low sperm count on the back of standing in the kitchen for that length of time close to the stove. So we went through the motions. It was something we didn't want to hide. I'm far from being embarrassed about it.” Ramsay and his wife Tana now have four kids: Megan, twins Jack and Holly, and Mathilda.
Before Courteney Cox had her daughter Coco with ex-husband David Arquette, she had multiple miscarriages. The “Friends” star previously told People, “I get pregnant pretty easily, but I have a hard time keeping them.”
Tyra Banks became a first-time mom earlier this year when she welcomed baby boy York with boyfriend Erik Asla via gestational surrogate. The former “America’s Next Top Model” host previously revealed that she had undergone IVF treatments, which were unsuccessful. Last September, Banks told People: “I've had some not happy moments with that, very traumatic moments. It's difficult as you get older. It's not something that can just happen.”
Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban welcomed their first child, Sunday Rose, in 2008. Two years later, the couple welcomed their second daughter, Faith, via gestational carrier. After Faith’s birth, Kidman opened about her infertility struggles on Australia’s “60 Minutes.” “Anyone who's been in the place of wanting another child or wanting a child knows the disappointment, the pain and the loss that you go through trying,” the actress said. “We were in a place of desperately wanting another child. I couldn't get pregnant.” Kidman also has two other kids, Isabella and Connor, whom she adopted with Tom Cruise.
Tom Arnold welcomed a son with wife Ashley Groussman in 2013 after years of trying to have kids. Previously, the actor revealed that he has a low sperm count, which affected many of his past relationships (Arnold has been married three times prior to Groussman). “It is hard on the women,” the actor told People in 2013. “I’ve tried with other people, but since there is a God we were unable to conceive. Now God said, ‘This is it!'” Three-year-old Jax is Arnold and Groussman’s only child.
After years of unsuccessful attempts at getting pregnant, Elizabeth Banks and husband Max Handelman turned to surrogacy to have kids. “It was frankly the only way for my husband and I, who have been together for nearly 20 years, could have a child that was half him and half me. So, for us, it was absolutely the way to go,” the actress said in 2012. Banks and her husband now have two sons – Felix, 5 and Magnus, 3 – thanks to a gestational carrier.
After Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath and his wife Carin welcomed twins Hartley and Lydon in 2010, he blogged about his struggles and experience on People. “My fiancée Carin and I tried for about a year and half to have a baby and when the old conventional way didn’t work out (not without Herculean efforts!) we tried IVF and got pregnant on the first try — hence the twins,” he explained. “I find it strange that many high-profile couples are reluctant to say they used IVF, but to each their own I guess. For us, it was a blessing and nothing short of a miracle!”
The Canadian singer has been very open about the couple's failed attempts at IVF. When their twins Eddy and Nelson were finally born in 2010, the couple’s first son, René-Charles, was already nine years old. During her second pregnancy with her twins, the songstress described her fertility struggles to People saying, “You know what? We had a miscarriage. We tried three more times. It did not work… We are trying again for the fifth try. It’s aboard right now. All aboard.”
Helena Bonham Carter and former partner Tim Burton experienced fertility struggles after welcoming their first child, Billy, in 2003. The actress then tried fertility drugs and acupuncture before considering IVF. However, Carter then became pregnant unexpectedly and gave birth to her second child, Nell, in 2007. “I think we might have gone for a round of IVF, but that would have been that,” the actress admitted. “There was an argument for just having one child, because we thought if that’s the way it’s meant to be, so be it.”
Rod Stewart and wife Penny Lancaster struggled for two years to give their son, Alastair, a sibling. The couple saw fertility experts in the U.S. and U.K. and finally conceived after their third round of IVF. The couple’s second son, Aiden, was then born in 2011. Stewart also has six other kids from various relationships.
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