Today is the last day of National Infertility Awareness Week. Infertility awareness is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, and I've mentioned it in this blog before. I was trying to figure out a way this week to increase awareness and I did something kind of bold, even for me. A section of my work's online newsletter is called Healthy Living and I thought it would be a great area to write about infertility awareness. I spoke to the editor and she thought it was a good idea as well, so I started writing. The whole concept was a lot more difficult than I initially thought. I needed to find the right balance of sharing personal information along with education for people who don't know much about infertility. The article finally was distributed to 2,000 people this week, and I got a great response! I've had about 20 people (mostly strangers) email, call, or stop by my cubicle to thank me for sharing my story or offer support. Most of the people contacting me have had experiences with infertility and were happy to see the silence broken on the subject. And I've had a few people who haven't experienced infertility just thank me for sharing information with them. One woman in my office is just starting the process of getting diagnosed and dealing with infertility and we're scheduled to go out to lunch soon to discuss our shared experience. I was very nervous about the article coming out and sharing such personal information with my co-workers and boss, but after the feedback I've received, I'm positive I did the right thing. The article is below for your information!
Starting the Conversation: National Infertility Awareness Week
My husband and I are among the 7.3 million people in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with infertility. It has been more than two years since we made the decision to have children, and we’re still childless. After a variety of intrusive tests and exams, we’ve been told that it is highly unlikely we will ever be able to conceive without expensive medical intervention.
So, why am I making this big announcement for strangers, co-workers and friends to read? Because National Infertility Awareness Week is April 24-30, and I think it’s a great time for people to learn more about infertility and how to support those who are experiencing it.
Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system. Reproductive endocrinologists (doctors specializing in infertility) usually diagnosis infertility if a person has not achieved a viable pregnancy after 12 months of trying, or 6 months if the couple is older than 35.
Doctors estimate that one in eight couples experience difficulty in conceiving a child and, contrary to popular belief, infertility is not just a woman’s problem. According to Resolve, The National Infertility Association, 30 percent of infertility cases can be attributed to male factors, and 30 percent can be attributed to female factors. In about 20 percent of cases, infertility is unexplained, and the remaining 10 percent is caused by a combination of problems in both partners.
There are dozens of reasons that a couple may experience infertility. A woman may have diminished ovarian reserves, ovarian cysts, clotting disorders or endometriosis, a disorder that causes tissue normally inside the uterus to grow outside the uterus. A man may have poor sperm quality because of genetic factors, cancer treatments, hormone levels, etc.
Even though infertility is a problem with the body functioning improperly, most insurance plans do not cover the costs associated with diagnosis or treatment. The out-of-pocket expenses can quickly become overwhelming. In fact, that’s the reason my husband and I still don’t have children: we have to save thousands of dollars (I’m talking more than $10,000) before we can pursue the treatments we need.
Many people who suffer from infertility do so silently; they don’t share their struggles with co-workers, friends or even family. The reasons for secrecy are personal, multiple and varied. In the past, I haven’t shared our diagnosis widely because sometimes I don’t want to deal with intrusive questions or opinions about my treatment choices. Also, if I gain a couple of pounds or complain about feeling sick, I don’t want people to look at me suspiciously, trying to figure out if I’m pregnant yet. (Trust me – I won’t be pregnant for a long time, if ever.)
Infertility is so emotionally devastating some days, it’s difficult enough to keep it together on my own without having well-intentioned people give me “support” that really doesn’t help. For example, telling me to “relax” doesn’t change the medical condition that’s preventing us from conceiving.
Another phrase that makes many infertile couples cringe is, “Why don’t you just adopt?” My husband and I are very open to the adoption route and would love to grow our family in any way we can. But the same thing that’s preventing us from infertility treatments is preventing us from adopting; adoption can cost more than infertility treatments. In addition, not every person is qualified to adopt, the process is not quick or easy, and it is unbelievably emotional.
Starting a family is an intimate and personal decision, even more so once infertility becomes a factor, so I understand why some people are not comfortable talking about their experiences with the disease. However, with one in eight couples suffering from infertility, awareness of the disease should be higher than it currently is.
I encourage people who have dealt with infertility to share their stories, dispel some of the myths and gently correct people when they make inappropriate comments. I also think that having honest discussions about infertility and treatments might eventually lead to better insurance coverage and more funding for research. This week – National Infertility Awareness Week – is a great time and reason to break the ice and ease into the conversation!
To learn more about infertility, you can visit Resolve, The National Infertility Association and the infertility page on PubMed Health.
Also, I especially like this article about infertility etiquette.