10/15/2018 14:26 EDT | Updated 10/15/2018 15:22 EDT

Setting The Record Straight On 4 Misconceptions About Infertility

If you haven't experienced infertility, or aren't close to someone who has, chances are you have no idea what it's like.

Athena Reich and Geraldine Gracia
Athena Reich raises awareness in front of Lincoln Center, in New York City.

We approached strangers in New York's Times Square and asked if they would be willing to pose for an article about infertility with a sign that reads "One in Six", representing the number of Canadian couples affected by infertility.

When I mentioned the word "infertility," most looked at me like I had the plague and turned away. One woman got into an argument, saying she doesn't care about infertility because she doesn't want children, and those suffering should "just adopt." Others just nodded their heads and stared at the ground.

Their reactions were revealing and suggest that misconceptions around infertility might come from a fear that it could happen to them, and a need to distance themselves from even entertaining the topic. We had the most success with young people and working-class New Yorkers who were manning their meat trucks or drivers minding their horse-drawn carriages, who seemed amused and unthreatened.

Athena Reich and Geraldine Gracia.
Millennials were the most open minded to the project. Credit: Athena Reich and Geraldine Gracia.

If you haven't experienced infertility, or aren't close to someone who has, chances are you have no idea what it's like. This may sound like a bold statement, but after having gone through it myself, I know how dramatically it changed my own perceptions.

So let's set the record straight on some common misconceptions about infertility.

1. People going through IVF waited too long so they got "what they deserve."

While it's true that age is a factor in infertility, it is only one of many causes. Other causes include STDs, cancer treatments, hormonal imbalances, early menopause and poor sperm quality. And, even when age is a determining factor, should we harbour judgement towards sufferers? In our day and age, many women choose to focus on their careers in early adulthood, and choose to postpone having children until they are well settled professionally and romantically. Is this necessarily a bad thing?

2. People having a miscarriage are being too dramatic.

Research illustrates that PTSD, depression and anxiety are just some of the very real symptoms experienced in pregnancy loss. This Monday Oct. 15, 2018 is Pregnancy Loss and Prevention Day and would be a good day to check out articles and social media posts on the subject. One of my personal favourite sites is The 16 Percent, a website featuring many women's stories about miscarriage and infertility.

Athena Reich and Geraldine Gracia.
A New Yorker holds a sign in support of infertility awareness.

3. Many babies need to be adopted. You are selfish for undergoing infertility treatments.

Most Canadian children waiting to be adopted are six years of age or older. And international adoptions have been drastically shut down since 2005. While it's true that there used to be many babies and children waiting for loving homes, the reality is that there are more barriers to adoption now than there were decades ago.

Programs now place more emphasis on helping mothers cope with the babies they already have, rather than removing them from their homes. Babies and children are now more likely to be placed with relatives. Also, increasing numbers of those suffering from infertility only makes adoption more competitive, and most people don't know adoption can be just as costly.

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And, while it's true there are many older children looking for homes, or children with significant disabilities, these children deserve parents who want them as they are, and are well equipped to handle the challenges. Not everyone has the passion or resources to properly care for older adopted children. I don't believe anyone benefits from being shamed into taking on more responsibilities than they want, especially when it comes to caring for another person. If someone longs to care for and raise a newborn, I think they have every right to seek that out.

4. I am healthy and appear young for my age. Infertility will not affect me.

How many wrinkles you have, and even how healthy you are don't have much bearing on your egg quality, sperm motility, or genetic disposition for chromosomal abnormalities. While it's true that smoking, or consuming more than five cups of coffee a day can negatively affect your fertility, most causes seem to be genetic or related to aging, such as hormonal imbalances (which can alter ovulation), varicocele (can lower sperm count), low ovarian reserve (can either be genetic or age related), and prostatitis (caused by an infection and easily treated).

Geraldine Gracia & Athena Reich
Raising awareness in New York City about infertility at the Lincoln Center.

We took to the streets

Do I think we changed anyone's views in Times Square? In my conversation with the woman who proclaimed she had no sympathy for those suffering from infertility, I did manage to get some facts across about how difficult adoption is nowadays. By the end of the conversation she was nodding her head and repeating, "I didn't know that... I didn't know that." "That's why we are here", I replied. Maybe we opened her mind to how things really are nowadays, and maybe this article will help shift perceptions, even just a little bit.

My family is featured in Vegas Baby, an Emmy-nominated documentary that follows three families undergoing IVF. We were inspired to do some guerrilla activism in Times Square after attending the Emmy Awards.

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