There is a little saying we infertiles have to remind ourselves of whenever we see an article about infertility: Don’t read the comments. They will no doubt be filled with the most offensive, cringe-inducing, at best ignorant things a person could say to another, because infertility is still so shrouded in shame, stigma and secrecy. The same arguments are always presented, so before you respond to this article about infertility, check if your misconception (get it?) is addressed below.
1. Just relax and it’ll happen. OK, first of all, you can’t see the future, so don’t tell me you know it will happen. I know you’re trying to help, but that’s just a platitude. Second, no amount of relaxing is going to make a low sperm count increase, or heal endometriosis, or make polycystic ovaries ovulate. Yes, stress can affect a fertile woman’s cycle – but we are not talking about normal fertile women. We are talking about people who have a diagnosed disease.
2. Why don’t you just adopt? There are lots of kids who need good homes. I understand that adoption seems like killing two birds with one stone. A kid without parents, parents without a kid: Match them up and voila! Instant family. Unfortunately, the reality is not quite like this. Before deciding to adopt, many couples go through a mourning period in which they grieve their imaginary biological child (did you see The Odd Life of Timothy Green? Brilliant film about this process). Most women also grieve being pregnant and breastfeeding (although you can induce lactation after adoption, it’s hard). And the adoption process itself is often fraught with emotional landmines.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s hard to find kids to adopt. Newborns are in high demand; adopting kids from other countries is often bogged down in politics and paperwork; and because the goal of foster care is to reunite kids with their biological families, adopting out of the system can be extremely trying. It’s not often something couples are emotionally equipped to deal with after the soul-crushing blow of infertility. And if you believe that there are so many kids out there who need help, here’s a newsflash: You don’t need to be infertile to adopt.
3. If you adopt, you’ll get pregnant. A logical follow-up to Number 2 in the minds of those who espouse it. And yes, many of us know someone who this is happened to – I know a woman who, at the age of 45 after her two adopted children were almost grown, found herself four months along. But do you know why these stories are so memorable? Because there aren’t that many of them. There are way, way more adoptions than there are pregnancies after adoptions. You just hear about the few it happened to.
4. The world is overpopulated, so why should anyone go through infertility treatments to contribute to it? Again, it seems like an easy way to solve a perceived problem: We’ve got too many people, so we shouldn’t go to lengths to help those who can’t procreate. What is so frustrating about this statement is that often those who say it have biological kids. If overpopulation is a problem, why should anyone be “allowed” to have kids? Or, should we reduce our carbon footprint by having only one kid per two parents? Unless you’re advocating measures like these, it’s pointless to attack infertiles, who should be afforded the same right to bear children that anyone else has. Why don’t you help solve the problem of overpopulation in third-world countries and areas of poverty by advocating for better knowledge of, and access to, birth control?
5. Having kids is a choice, so I shouldn’t have to pay for your infertility treatments in my insurance premium. Ah, the good old health insurance debate this country is so fond of. Only a minute amount of your premium would go toward infertility coverage – not nearly worth arguing over as much as, say, how much we pay to cover people who get sick because they don’t eat healthy or exercise. And if having kids is a choice, why should my insurance premium pay for your pregnancy, or your child’s birth, or when your child gets sick? See how that works? We don’t get to choose what we want to cover. Having kids is a biological function. People have a reproductive system to bear children, and when that system does not work right they deserve care to treat it. Plus, it’s mind-baffling how people say that being a parent is the most important thing in their life, and then are so unfeeling when it comes to helping others become one. Oh, and having sex is a choice too, so maybe I shouldn’t have to pay for your Viagra.
6. Maybe infertile people weren’t meant to have children. There are other more religious versions of this one, too, like, “Maybe God has another plan for you.” Um, thanks but that’s really not helpful. Maybe you were meant to die of cancer, so why do chemo treatments? Maybe God had a plan for you to spend your life in a wheelchair, so don’t bother with that prosthetic. Medical advances exist so that people can live better and longer. Why is the disease of infertility one that we shouldn’t treat? And if your argument is based on the scientific version of this: Maybe infertile people can’t have kids because something is wrong with them, well, that’s just not shown to be true. Kids born through infertility treatments are just as “normal” as any other. And it’s not like heart disease, cancer, mental illness and many other diseases don’t run in the family. If we didn’t treat those things medically, you might be chosen for natural selection yourself.
7. Those undergoing fertility treatments are selfish and can’t be happy for others who have kids. Yes, an infertile person may need to distance him or herself from you if you are pregnant or have kids, but this is not a personal attack on you. Yes, they may act jealous, because they probably are. They may not scream with joy when they find out you are expecting – not because they aren’t happy for you, but because they are so sad for themselves. It’s hard to be the friend of an infertile, but you are not the victim. It’s really not about you, so don’t make it that way. Infertiles are trying desperately to live in a fertile world, and it can be hard even to get out of bed each day. Those going through infertility treatments experience similar rates of depression as those being treated for cancer. In most cases infertility is not life-threatening, but it sure as hell affects your quality of life. Imagine for one second your life without your children – not an adults-only vacation in the Caribbean but a permanent, they-never-existed scenario. That’s what infertiles are going through. So cut them some slack. And please share your pregnancy news via email or Facebook message – it may seem impersonal, but it gives them time to cry in private before congratulating you.
8. People who go to extreme lengths to have a kid are crazies who treat babies like commodities. I bet that people who say this have never met anyone who is actually dealing with infertility. Infertile couples spend lots of time wishing and hoping and praying for a child. They take “extreme” measures because their hearts are so bursting with love that it breaks them not to be able to shower it on a precious baby. Yes, sometimes this involves shelling out lots of cash for the privilege – but that is only because when they finally get that wished-for child, the experience is priceless. I promise you, these people have thought more than most about what it means to become a parent. A child conceived through infertility treatments is appreciated and loved just as much as, if not more than, a child conceived any other way.
So there you have it. Have I missed any? If so, I know you’ll bring it to my attention in the comments, and I’ll do my best to refute your argument. Maybe then we’ll have a little more compassion and understanding around the extremely devastating and isolating experience of infertility.
Related post: A Guide to Surviving Infertility Treatment