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.
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!
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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