In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, April 21-27.
Infertility started by stripping me naked except for the requisite draping and gown on an exam table in my OB/GYN’s office. It was a beautiful July day, and I had worn sandals into the office, so I didn’t even have my socks on. As I waited for the doctor, that fact began to inexplicably bother me. At first, I couldn’t figure out why. This wasn’t my first appointment. I’d stripped down for annual appointments since attaining adulthood and it had never bothered me. I knew the doctor, a very good one, and trusted him. Why was I suddenly so acutely conscious of my body, of wearing literally none of my own clothing, of the vulnerability of being physically bare?
Deep down, I knew why. It was the first time I had ever felt truly worried about my body. That something was wrong with it. Over my life, I have enjoyed the incredible gift of decent health. This was the first time I had ever visited a doctor’s office for more than a check up or treatment of a minor ailment. The first time I had ever had an unknown health issue.
The first layer infertility stripped away.
As it became more and more apparent something was wrong, I bared my arms for blood work. I pulled off garments for ultrasounds and examinations. I opened up to doctors about everything I had considered intensely private such as my menstrual cycles, bleeding rates, sex. And I got a diagnosis that changed my life.
Another layer stripped away.
I’m an educated thirty year old woman. I finished college. I have a career. The shame, guilt, and embarrassment I felt at not being able to do something as simple as getting pregnant ate at me. It seemed as though every other person on the planet was able to have babies. How could I be a ‘real’ woman if I probably couldn’t get pregnant without medical help?
An unwelcome call one day let me know that my insurance, which I had naively believed would cover my health expenses if I ever needed anything, did not cover infertility. I began, with the first inklings of panic, to do some research about the cost of treatments.
My self-esteem and sense of normalcy stripped away.
I started looking for information about how to adjust to this new reality. I found RESOLVE. I found blogs. I learned that others had lived through treatments and doctors’ visits and disappointment. I found out that 1 in 8 face infertility. I found out that I wasn’t alone with this. It comforted me in a way I can’t even describe here. I wanted to be a part of the conversation. I wanted to help other people know they are not alone. I wanted to educate people about infertility, and what it does to those who struggle with it. I wanted to ‘join the movement.’
So I started stripping, peeling away layers of myself in an entirely different way.
It started with a facebook post to let my friends and family know that I had a medical condition, and that infertility was a part of my life now. Slowly, I opened up. It wasn’t fast, or to huge groups, other than that first facebook post. Rather, I allowed myself to be honest when people asked if I was ever going to have children or the subject came up in conversation.
I talked with individuals about what went into treatment cycles, the medications, the mood swings, the uncertainty. I asked people to understand if I seemed particularly unhappy or distressed. One person, one conversation at a time.
I talked with people about my ovaries and why they don’t function normally. I talked about how PCOS increases the risk for diabetes and is a condition with lots of potential associated medical issues, including infertility.
I corrected people when they wondered if I’d have octuplets due to infertility medications and educated about how IVF works, what is IUI, how reproductive endocrinologists train, how responsible doctors work hard to ensure healthy pregnancies. I spoke about proper terminology: embryos aren’t implanted, they’re transferred. We only wish medical science had a way to implant embryos; that cycles would never fail.
I opened up that infertility treatments aren’t covered by most insurance plans, including mine. I gave an honest answer when someone asked how much I pay for each treatment cycle and watched the shock flit across the person’s face. Discussing money was almost harder than discussing my ovaries.
As I slowly let these pieces of myself go, one piece at a time over several months, gradually becoming more comfortable openly discussing my ovaries, I found that as hard as it was at times, many are sympathetic and willing to try to understand the reality of infertility. All too often, there isn’t much information given by major media about regular infertile people. Myths and sensational stories about infertility abound, but by doing this, I was able to show a plain, fairly average face for infertility. Nothing sensational here. We’re like you. Just a basic couple who want a child very, very much.
Infertility always involves a certain amount of stripping down for those diagnosed. I hope for a day though where public understanding of infertility is so normal that there is no more shame. No more desperate worry about finances for treatment or adoptions. No more dismissal of infertility treatments as the province of strange people whose desperation has pushed them over the edge. No more misguided beliefs that “just relaxing” will fix these medical problems, or that infertility is some sort of lifestyle choice. No more exclusive focus by the media on the very extreme stories of infertility and treatment, or incorrect terminology in stories centered on infertility.
No more need to feel our lives stripped completely bare by this disease.
That’s why I joined the movement.
Help join the movement and visit either of these sites for more information about infertility and why awareness counts:
- http://www.resolve.org/infertility101 (Basic understanding of the disease of infertility.)
- http://www.resolve.org/national-infertility-awareness-week/about.html (About NIAW)