Updated: Jul 20, 2018
According to evolutionary psychologists, humans have 2 main behavioral drives: to stay alive and to procreate. I am not here to liken infertility to the threat of dying. They are not the same and I respect that. I am here to point out the fact that infertility is a threat to our very nature as humans.
For some, the biological urge is stronger than others. Not everyone experiences this evolutionary pull in the same way. Some genuinely don’t feel called to be parents. Some rationalize that they can be happy without childbearing. Some get pregnant easily, even by accident. Others suffer the incredible grief of infertility.
None of these ways of being are wrong. It’s OK to not want kids, it’s OK to find happiness elsewhere, it’s OK if you get pregnant easily, and it’s OK to grieve. What is not OK is for someone to tell me how I should be. My reality is that I am the 1 in 8 who will struggle with infertility. With varying degrees of success, I have tried to rationalize that I can be happy even without kids. Sometimes it works, other times I can only be sad.
In a previous post, I discussed my calling to be a mom. A calling which I felt from an early age. It’s no secret that I haven’t yet realized this dream. It’s a work in progress…I’m a work in progress. I have deep faith that we’ll reach this dream someday and all of this heartache will be worth it. I can appreciate the important lessons I’m learning during this season of my life. I’m positive that I’m going through this struggle for a reason. As a therapist, I’ve been feeling a totally different type of calling: a fire deep within me to connect and offer support to others struggling with fertility. I am in the process of opening a fertility support center to address the intense emotional, relational, spiritual, and existential trauma that infertility causes.
I use the term “trauma” very purposefully here. Here is one of my favorite definitions of trauma - “when we have encountered an out of control, frightening experience that has disconnected us from all sense of resourcefulness or safety or coping or love”. (Tara Brach, 2011).
When a person faces a life threatening situation, abuse, or neglect, they are “allowed” to say trauma. But women traumatized by infertility are often encouraged to soften their emotions, as if we haven’t earned our feelings. “At least you’re still young”, “Think of all the free time you’ll have”, “Kids are expensive anyway”, “It just wasn’t meant to be” are just some examples of the advice we’re likely to hear. I’ve even heard a politician call infertility insurance coverage a “luxury”. Would that politician dare tell an amputee that having their other arm is a luxury? Would that politician tell his own daughter that she should just move on, having a kid is a luxury?
My assumption is no, that politician would not consider those things a luxury. Part of the culture we live in paints infertile women as high maintenance, needy, high strung, and overly reactive. I am here to tell you: infertility is not our fault, we are not defective, our emotions are valid, and having children is not a luxury. It is a basic human need many of us feel. It is biological. It is social. It is relational. It is existential.
Infertility awareness is about understanding this. Shifting the cultural perspective. It happens when women tell their stories. When we connect with each other and offer support. It happens when we no longer suffer in silence and when we no longer feel ashamed. Each person’s story is unique and important. If you’ve struggled with fertility, understand that you have experienced a direct threat to what it means to be a human on this earth. It doesn’t make you crazy or broken. It just makes you human.
Infertility awareness is also about flipping the script on our legislative barriers that allow insurance providers to consider infertility coverage as an elective procedure. If infertility alone doesn’t piss you off, statistics on who does – and does not – have access to infertility health care might. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, women who have access to IVF coverage have a 70% success rate after 2 treatment cycles. Women without coverage average a 52% success rate. So not only do women with coverage enjoy an almost 20% higher success rate, they are also not out $40,000 (at minimum).
Other research shows that lack of coverage leads women to transfer more embryos per treatment cycle. Many don’t have the financial resources for more than 1 procedure (and so many more don’t have the resources for even 1) and they opt to get the most bang for their buck. Transferring more than 1 embryo increases the risk of complication for both mom and baby, but many feel they don’t have a choice. Their backs are against a wall. This is their only shot at fulfilling the lifelong dream to be a parent.
If you have children, take a look at them. Really look at them and allow yourself to feel the depth of your love for them. What would you do for them? What would you do to keep them in your life? What would you do to make sure they are safe and comfortable? I think it might be better to ask what WOULDN’T you do. Now, imagine going to a doctor’s office knowing that you have a one-time shot - with only a 30-45% chance of success - to keep them in your life, safe and comfortable. If that one shot doesn’t work, would you give up? Would you think being a parent is a luxury? Would you just move on and be grateful for the good things in your life?
Now, you understand why insurance coverage is important. Currently, only 26% of companies (with more than 500 employees) offer infertility coverage. Most of these companies are located in the 15 states with mandatory infertility coverage. Click here to find a list of those states. If you happen to live in one, I am beyond thrilled for you! If you happen to live in one of the other 35 states (or just care and want more for infertility patients), here are some action steps you can take to push for change:
1.) Contact your legislators. The squeaky wheel gets the oil…let’s get squeaky! Research proposed changes to legislature and let your elected official know where you stand. Make them hear you.
2.) Get involved with advocacy groups. Resolve.org has great resources on ways to get involved and impact change.
3.) Talk about infertility. This may not have a direct relation to insurance coverage, but it absolutely changes the dynamic. Talking normalizes and reduces stigma and eventually will change the idea that having kids is a luxury.
Making changes and reducing stigma takes time and patience. In my mid-thirties, time is not a luxury, but I’m working on the patience. No matter how my story ends, I cannot deny the fire I feel to help this community – our community. A community I never thought I’d be a part of but I’m so lucky to have found. If you feel a similar fire, please reach out. I love to hear from you, to connect with you, to offer support to you. It is truly one of my greatest pleasures.
I am 1 in 8 and I am ready to #flipthescript.