“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” — Aldous Huxley
When I started blogging from my kitchen several years ago about coming to terms with infertility, I never fathomed my experience would end up in a major national daily like Canada’s The Globe and Mail: When Couples Come To Terms with Infertility.
It was in finding the courage to openly discuss such a private and painful experience that I’ve discovered new connections, and an understanding that was once elusive.
Let’s be clear … those of us who admit to stepping away from the infertility clinic or looking ahead to a life without the experience of parenting don’t have an easy time of it. The pressure to continue treatment — we’re bombarded with messages to pursue parenthood at all costs — frequently leads to misunderstanding and/or a lack of support for our often disenfranchised grief.
That’s why I’d like to offer kudos to journalist Adriana Barton for writing about what couples face in The Globe and Mail. With more education about where the odds lie in fertility treatments and what’s involved with coming to terms with nature and science’s limits, we may be at a turning point — a new day when couples can expect more in the way of understanding. In researching her story, Adriana interviewed Judith Daniluk, a professor in counselling psychology at the University of British Columbia who acknowledges what few do: that despite medical advances, some individuals are unable to have biological children.
“People don’t understand that,” says Dr. Daniluk, who has worked with infertile couples for nearly 20 years.
One in six couples experiences infertility, according to the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society. Many end up at fertility clinics, but the chances of success plummet with age. For women aged 35 to 39 who undergo one cycle of IVF, the live birth rate is 26 per cent. For women 40 and over, the rate drops to 11 per cent.
In the age of fertility gone amok –from Octomom to Holly Hunter giving birth to twins at age 47, likely using donor eggs – there are no role models for couples who can’t have kids, Dr. Daniluk says.
Instead of hearing about infertile couples who create fulfilling lives, she adds, we hear ‘keep going’ and ‘50 isn’t too late.
And it’s just that kind of thinking (and societal pressure) that creates a unique set of challenges, as Christina, Stephanie, Kate and I discussed at length over dinner last Monday evening. To be in the company of women who could truly comprehend each others lives? It was, well, bliss — and novel in every way. Equally satisfying was seeing how much we each had grown and found new outlets for our experiences — the makings of role models you might say.
19 thoughts on “Failed Fertility Treatments, Disenfranchised Grief”
another great article from my amazing friend. Love to you and Alex, susan
Great job, Pam …
Kudos, Pam, for another great media hit!
Yes, I’m that Christina who met with Pam in New York.
Re — your NY Times guest blog post in the Motherlode column a few weeks back — I was telling my sister today (who read the piece and was shocked at some of the nasty comments) — It isn’t that I mind Mother’s Day so much. If it was just Mother’s Day when Moms were heralded, and all of us non-Moms were asked to step aside, that would be fine. But I feel like EVERY day is Mother’s Day — when I have to explain my childless/free state. If we can just get these simple facts out — that fertility treatments actually fail more than they succeed — then maybe we wouldn’t be hearing “50 isn’t too late!” We may be able to expand our definition of “normal” to include people who aren’t parents — for whatever reason.
Well said Christina. I know I am getting stronger and no longer shrinking from well and not so well meaning advice. There comes a time when you know you are done. A form of peace and comfort come with that decision. I found an older article by Shelagh Little when I was reading Pam’s guest post over at NYT and I intend to use her answer when the dreaded question of “do you have kids?” comes from a new acquaintance–“I can’t.” If they want to know more they can ask, if not I will leave it at that. No other explanation, apology or anguish is necessary. Yes, there definitely needs to be more information given about the success and failure rates of fertility treatments. It could save many childless couples from going through so much emotional and physical pain.
Oh God — please go to the Globe and Mail web site and post a correction to the guy who said he’s “sick of hearing about infertility” and dismisses Pam’s assertion that adoption isn’t the answer for everyone.
This was a great article — kudos to the writer, to the other women interviewed & to you, of course, Pamela, for being such a wonderful advocate for us. : )
Christina, so true — if it were JUST Mother’s Day, fine, but it’s the relentless drumbeat of messages we get that being a mother is the be all & end all, & that without children, we are nothing & just don’t count, or at least, not as much — that’s what’s the hardest to take.
I’ve started doing the same thing when someone asks if we have kids, or when my students ask if we are going to have kids. I just say, “we tried, and we can’t.” The best response so far has been from one of my students; he said, “aw, sad day.” I said, “exactly.”
Exactly. I’m glad I had a bit of time to come to terms with our childfree life because on the last day of the school year is all the goodbye speeches to the teachers leaving. The ones that were retiring had speeches like “she is retiring to spend more time with her children and grandchildren.” I wonder what my speech will include.
I answer “no.” If its people I care about, they know my history, if its not, I don’t need to share my history and I really don’t care what they think. Believe it or not, it does the trick. I almost never get asked why not, or any other follow-up.
I can see where this would be the best answer. Saying “we can’t” opens up all the “just adopt” and other such advice responses. I think with my students there will still be follow-up questions though.
I was so fortunate to read about your story and blog in the Globe and Mail (my main newspaper here in Canada). I have felt so alone in this new phase of my infertile life (not quite a year of not ttc after 10 years of it) and it’s so great to find you online. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
The article in the ‘Globe and Mail’ was wonderful- maybe one day people will come to an understanding of what we have all been through and that adoption isn’t always the cure to our problems. I got so frustrated with former co-workers that would always say you just need to go to the fertility doctor or there are so many children out there that need a home- just adopt. They didn’t realize that their words were more hurtful than they were helpful. Thank you for advocating for us all.
Looking at some of the comments in the Globe and Mail section sent me over the edge. I had to jump in. The thought that adoption is the fix it is really bothersome, and I think it cheapens the decision made by so many who do adopt, like it’s no big deal. Or, the not meant to be parents by design or the damaged DNA survival of the fittest theories….in other words you are unworthy….pulease!!!!
So glad you found the piece and the blog. I hope you find great comfort in knowing that you are among those who understand…
I love the Huxley quote you use here, Pamela. It’s the sane antidote to that trite “everything happens for a reason” thing that people throw around so heedlessly. Having come through the crucible of infertility (compounded by other unfortunate life events) it has occurred to me that this is closer to the truth: “Everything happens. You can choose to find a reason in it. Or not.” As my point of reference shifts further and further away from becoming a mother, I’m slowly starting to find some purpose to make of what I’ve been through. I don’t think there’s a specific “reason” behind it, or that the person I’m becoming was “fated” or “meant to be” (any more than the pregnancies I lost “weren’t meant to be.”) But I know that, being who I am, in order to move ahead I have to take some meaning out of all that has happened during these past few years and figure out what to do with it.
One thing I know is that being “without” has made me stronger and more grateful for the things I do have, and more empathetic toward people who lack things that I take for granted. It has also made me less concerned about people’s assumptions and judgments, especially those of people (like the rude and spiteful commenters who crop up on any public discussion of infertility) who know nothing about me and my life. Beyond that, I don’t know yet. But the point is, there’s no standard “lesson” to be found in infertility, any more than there’s a “correct” way to deal with it. Like everyone else on the planet, we’re all just people playing the hand we’re dealt and doing the best we can.
So very nice to hear from you, Zee, and with the wisdom and insight I so appreciate about you…
Pamela, I say we really need to start that magazine for women who are not mothers, or some organizations that provide support in one way or another for people who will live life without children.