When I first read the theme of this year’s NIAW, Listen Up, my first-not-thinking-just-react-reaction was, “Wait. Shouldn’t it be speakup????” I mean haven’t us infertiles been hiding in the shadows quietly listening long enough???
We’re the ones who attend baby showers after our latest IVF failure listening to the “Oooos” and “Ahhhs” while someone else opens up baby gifts. We’re the ones who politely listen and ignore ignorant comments like, “I had a cousin who was trying to get pregnant for years and then she went to a hypnotist and got pregnant the next day! Have you tried that???” We’re the ones who nod and listen when we hear a fertile friend talk about how bummed she is that her third unplanned pregnancy is going to be another girl when she really wanted a boy. Especially now, we’re listening while more people in power talk about what they think should be done with embryos or whether or not children born through assisted reproductive technology should be considered ‘legitimate’.
Frankly, I don’t know about you but I’m a bit tired of listening. In fact, I think I’ve heard enough.
As the days passed however, the more the theme actually got me thinking. Listen Up can be taken so many different ways (leave it to a writer to take it so literally). Some just starting out on their family building journey may want to do just that – listen up on when it’s time to see a doctor and get help. If you have PCOS, endometriosis, a potential sperm issue or any medical issue that directly impacts your fertility, you should see a fertility doctor. If you’re under the age of 35 years old and have been trying to conceive for over a year and/or if you’re OVER the age of 35 years old and have been trying to conceive for over 6 months, make an appointment to see a reproductive endocrinologist. Hell, even if you’re not ready to have kids just yet but want to be proactive and learn more about your fertility health, you can get blood work done or semen analysis. There’s no harm in finding out more about your parenting potential.
Others who have been told they have fertility issues should listen up to their options such as insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF), IVF plus Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGS) or Preimplantation Genetic Screening (PGS), donor eggs, donor sperm, reciprocal IVF, freeze all cycles, domestic adoption, international adoption, embryo donation and surrogacy to name the “big ones”. If you are comfortable with exploring these options, if you can afford them and/or if you have coverage through your employer, the question may not be IF you’ll be a parent. It may just be HOW you’ll be a parent.
Listen Up can also be what those going through infertility are quietly saying to themselves. I know my inner infertile could be the equivalent of a bitchy hormonal high school bully when I was struggling to conceive. With every period, I’d berate myself with words such as ‘embarrassed’, ‘humiliated’ and worst of all, ‘failure’. Since most of the public seems to think infertility isn’t an actual medical diagnosis, it’s easy to forget ourselves that we are not being punished and this isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s like being told you’re diabetic and then calling yourself names because you can’t properly handle your insulin levels… as if you have any control over it. Or asthma. Or arthritis. But I did blame myself and many still do.
On that note, Listen Up can be a reminder to listen facts. The. Actual. Facts. I’m talking about things like:
- Infertility is a DISEASE that affects 1 in 8 couples.
- Even the healthiest of couple between the ages of 29 through 33 only have a 20 – 25% chance of conceiving every month.
- Approximately 44% of women with infertility have sought medical assistance. Of those who seek medical intervention, approximately 65% give birth.
- Approximately 85-90% of infertility cases are treated with drug therapy or surgical procedures. Fewer than 3% need advanced reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF).
And another fact that REALLY hits home is, that while you may feel alone, 7.4 million women have received some kind of infertility service in their lifetime. So really, listening up to these statistics reminds you that this is a disease, that even fertile people are not as fertile as seem to be and with medical assistance, it may very well bring you one step closer to your family building goals. It also reminds you that you are statistically and literally not alone in this.
Which brings me to my next listening up. As an infertility community, we need to listen up to each other. We can listen up on how phrases like, “Don’t give up!” can intentionally hurt or listen up on how to better to support someone who has opted to stop treatment (or not pursue it at all). Infertility is so emotional and personal. Everyone has things that offend them, don’t offend them, inspire them or set them back. We’ve all seen disagreements online, we all have different thresholds of understanding (or not understanding) but sometimes, the best thing to do is to just be quiet and listen to what a person needs or a lesson they may be able to teach you about their journey.
While I reconsidered my initial reaction to listen up and all the ways we should rethink how we judge ourselves, know our options, our facts and hear one another — at the end of the day, we still need to eventually be the ones to speak up, be heard and let others do the listening.
I must stop here though and acknowledge that I know I’m in a position of privilege to say that. I’m no longer in the trenches, my personal family building has come to a conclusion. I know when I was deep in the trenches, I was intensely private about my struggle. I was emotionally a mess, depressed, VERY private and anti-social (which isn’t like the somewhat loud-ish New Yorker many of you have come to know). I wasn’t able to share with even the closest friends and family what was going on with me let alone with my eggs so believe me when I say that I know that speaking up takes courage and bravery. Some people are just not in a place to do that. I know many are where I was most of 2010; in bed with the curtains drawn clutching yet another pack of Always maxi pads wondering what the future holds.
The thing is that if we, the one in eight, stay silent, the other seven will never know or understand what infertility is or the impact it can have. So to those who feel they can, whether they are in the trenches or not, we must speak up for those who can’t.
Again, when NIAW is over, the infertility journey for one in eight is not. It’s a week for the public. A lifetime for others. So again, I say to those of you who are the one in eight — not only are you not alone, but there are others like me who aim to give you a voice if you feel you simply can’t have one.
For the ones who CAN be heard, here’s our ‘Listen Up’ list to speak to:
Friends and family: Listen up to how to support someone going through this difficult diagnosis. You don’t have to have answers. You don’t need to make suggestions. You can just say, “I don’t know what to say.” Or simply ask, “What can I do to support you?”
Large Employers/Human Resources/Benefit Teams: Click here to see extensive data on why offering fertility coverage will not only save your company money but spare your employees the heartbreak of not having options when it comes to treatment. Your company could will also see an increase in attracting top talent, and in absenteeism. Do your homework and know that this is a needed benefit!
Congress: Listen, REALLY LISTEN UP on what it’s like to not be able to have our right to expand our families threatened. Do your research and read the hard cold facts in how infertility is a medical issue, how our military can have their reproductive parts damaged and they need our help (and it’s our way of thanking them) to have the families they deserve, and that offering an adoption credit to those wonderful people opening up their homes and hearts to children who are worthy of parents who desperately want them is a good thing.
Public at Large: Listen up to those same facts about infertility and know that you seriously know more than just one or two people who are having issues conceiving. You don’t need to ask anyone why they haven’t had kids yet. You don’t need to give suggestions on things to try. You don’t need to ask if they’ve considered adoption. Again, you only need to listen up and ask, “How can I support you?”
More than ever, we NEED to make this year’s NIAW count. I have more blog posts to come this week but for now, let’s listen up and speak up not just during April 23rd, 2017 – April 29, 2017 but until we are truly heard.