(Note: this is an edited repost from May 2013.)
When a man and a woman love each other very much and want to have a baby, they share a special hug that puts a baby into the woman’s belly.
We tell children variations on this story, adding levels of scientific complexity and biological grossness as they get old enough to want or need the details.
For 1 in 8 couples, though, this story isn’t true.
Sometimes all the love in the world isn’t enough to make a baby, no matter how enthusiastic the special hugging.
Sometimes, a man and a woman love each other very much and want to start a family. They throw away all the protection that they’ve been using since their parents taught them about the mechanics of sex, and they “try”. They make jokes about bad baby names and daydream about the nursery. It’s fun and it’s exciting and they hold their breaths every month as they check pregnancy tests to see if they made it.
And they wait.
Friends and family ask them when they’re going to have kids. Soon, they say, and look at each other with knowing smiles.
They start to wonder why it’s taking so long. They do some research. She buys tests to check her urine every day. The strips can tell her when she’s ovulating so they can have better timing. She buys a thermometer to take her temperature every morning before getting out of bed, to keep track of her cycles. She drinks green tea and eats pineapples; someone on the internet said it helps. He takes vitamins and tries to eat healthier. She cuts out caffeine and pushes through the withdrawal headaches. He avoids hot tubs on vacation. Every month, they wait two long weeks after ovulation to see if they’ll get a pink line on a pregnancy test.
And they wait.
Friends and family ask them when they’re going to have kids. Soon, they say, and squeeze each other’s hand for support under the table.
Someone tells her to just relax. Maybe stick her legs up in the air after sex. Someone asks him if they’ve tried different positions.
They see doctors. They give medical histories. They have blood drawn. How are their hormone levels? Do they have any STDs? They send blood out to see if they’re carriers for genetic diseases. He hands over a sample container in a crinkled paper bag. He holds her hand as she lies back and tries not to faint while a tech squeezes thick gel into her uterus and fallopian tubes to see if the paths are clear.
And they wait: for the phone calls, the follow-up visits, the medical bills. They wait for answers.
Friends and family ask them when they’re going to have kids. The silence is awkward.
Someone says they should try adopting, because their cousin got pregnant right after she got that girl from the Philippines.
Sometimes the problem is obvious, once the test results come back. Bad sperm, blocked tubes, hormone imbalances blocking ovulation. Sometimes it can be fixed with medication or surgery. But sometimes the doctors shrug and say there’s nothing wrong that they can find, but that if pregnancy hasn’t happened yet without intervention, it probably won’t. They give the couple odds. They’re bad. They cry.
There are options, of course, but they’re expensive. Many insurance plans have little to no coverage for fertility drugs or procedures. Intrauterine insemination, usually the first step, can cost over $1000, and you’re only buying a 15-20% chance at a viable pregnancy for your money. In-vitro fertilization has better odds (40-60%) but is much more invasive and expensive – approximately $10,000 per round. It’s a whirlwind of tears and hormones, injections and blood draws, medical bills and invasive ultrasounds, and time taken off work for medical appointments. And it’s waiting. Always, always waiting.
Babies come from love. Sometimes they come from science, too. Sometimes they come from donor eggs or sperm or from adoption. And sometimes, they never come.
This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. Many people are reluctant to talk about infertility. Maybe they’re ashamed of their issues, feeling like there’s something wrong with them. Maybe they’ve heard one too many “helpful” comments and are afraid to tell anyone else about what they’re living. Maybe it’s too hard to talk about without crying.
Please take a moment to read this page from RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association. This is information that everyone needs to know in order to create a better support network for the infertile couples in their lives. Read it. Absorb it. Share it. 1 in 8 couples out there could really use your support.
That’s why I walked in RESOLVE’s 2013 Walk of Hope in Washington DC last June. Funds raised from the Walk support local RESOLVE programming, including support groups and educational events, public awareness initiatives, and advocacy efforts to ensure family building options are available to all. Because they should be. You can learn more about RESOLVE here, and donate to the cause, if you’d like. But just the act of you reading this post has helped the cause, too, so thank you.