A few days ago, the National Survey of Family Growth released the latest statistics on infertility. I'm sure most of you have seen it by now, that the percentage of married women who are infertile dropped from 7.4% in 2002 to 6.0% in 2006-2010. I'm sure you've also seen discussions across blogs and social media about the validity of these statistics - their inability to take into consideration a variety of circumstances, such as unmarried individuals/couples, the economy, the decrease in the number of individuals/couples trying, those living child free, etc.
Like most members of this community, I worry that this kind of surface-level research and subsequent reporting may lead people to be less concerned about the disease of infertility and the ways in which it effects the population. Will people believe that infertility is no longer an issue? Will this prove to be a setback in the strides we've made to fight the stigmas associated with this disease?
These fears and concerns became tangible as I read article after article about the statistics, and then - finally - they came to a frustrating halt at this opinion piece posted on Time magazine's website yesterday.
Problem #1: "We live in a world in which infertility storylines unfold in reality shows and IVF ads greet commuters in train stations. And while it's encouraging to hear celebrities share their baby-making woes, the openness can make it seem as if everyone from Hollywood stars to your sister's former college roommate is having problems."
The Real Story: It may seem like society is inundated with stories of celebrities using ART or adopting, but the truth of the matter is that for every Jimmy Fallon or Giuliani Rancic, there are dozens of others who are getting pregnant with medical assistance don't speak about how they got there. There are others living child free in Hollywood or who've adopted, who don't share why they made those decisions.
Hollywood aside, what about the ordinary, every day people who still don't feel comfortable speaking out about this disease? There is nothing open about infertility. Not 100%. Not yet. Until we are at the level where we can walk around with colored ribbons on our chests and have people recognize what that means, what it stands for, and what we stand for, we don't have an openness to our story in the way others do with different diseases. Essentially, we are still branded with a scarlet letter - outcasts for not being able to do what our bodies were designed to do.
Problem #2: "A 42-year-old body is going to have the same challenges getting pregnant in 2010 as 1982."
The Real Story: Maybe. Maybe not. But does this mean that it invalidates the plight of that 42-year-old woman in her quest to get pregnant? Does it make her experience with infertility any less important?
And what about the not-so 42 year olds? What about the people like me? The 23-year-old who didn't fear the inability to get knocked up. Who thought that she would get pregnant at the drop of a hat and was devastated to find out that not only was this untrue, but that she would never get to experience what it was like to carry a child.
Infertility can affect everyone: any age, any race, any socioeconomic background. This isn't just a struggle that is isolated among women who "waited too long to get pregnant." Let's not downplay the fact that many women who struggle with infertility are still much younger than 40. Not buying it? Check out this post on RESOLVE's Facebook page and get first-hand accounts from those who live with this disease every single day. See how many "older" women are on that list. Not many.
Problem #3: "We live in a different world of reproductive science now and can take advantage of treatment advances that our mothers and big sisters didn't have."
The Real Story: Science is great! Science is fantastic! Science is curing infertility!
Science is still science. It's not 100% accurate. Medical intervention doesn't cure infertility. Sometimes, it doesn't even make people pregnant. (Tell that to the journalists who keep writing "implant" instead of "transfer" when it comes to embryos.) Perhaps the processes involved with IVF have improved over the years, but if you look at the live birth statistics, they are hardly dramatic advances. See for yourself, in this figure taken from the Center for Human Reproduction (New York):
More importantly, not everyone can take advantage of this wonderful thing called science? Why? Because it's expensive - and, in most cases, insurance doesn't cover it.
Which is why we need to keep being open about it. It's why we need to keep talking and fighting. If we don't, we will never be combat these issues. If we don't, we will never make strides toward better treatment or more insurance coverage.
If we don't, we will never get the respect that we deserve.