Time to change perceptions on infertility

Published 1:18 pm Saturday, April 23, 2011

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

It’s Easter. I’d really like to tell you about the time my foil-wrapped chocolate bunny burst into flames when I put it in this new contraption we had called a microwave oven, but I can’t because it’s also National Infertility Awareness Week.

I wish it weren’t. I wish it were National Infertility Information Week because the truth is the culture is aware of infertility. It’s just that a lot of what it knows is garbage.

Alexandra Kloster

I think I speak for most of the infertility community, that rabbit hole I fell down six years ago, when I say, I didn’t put off having children because I am greedy, selfish, flaky or stupid. When I realized I had a problem I didn’t run to a reproductive endocrinologist and demand in-vitro fertilization so that I could have octuplets, land a book deal, a reality show, or my own “Dr. Phil” episode.

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The truth is, what you see on TV bears little similarity to the real deal. After four miscarriages, two IVF cycles and three operations I can tell you there is nothing scandalous, glamorous or tabloid-worthy in any of it. It’s just my life and the lives of roughly 7 million people in this country.

In 2009, the World Health Organization formally recognized infertility as a disease, but it’s taking a while for conventional wisdom to catch up. Instead of garnering support or empathy, we’re accused of genetically designing babies, treating embryos like throwaway paper dolls and contributing to the population explosion. I don’t do these things. I don’t know anyone who does.

The first two accusations are insulting. The third is absurd. Blaming the infertile for the population explosion is like blaming the band for a missed field goal. IVF accounts for less than 5 percent of fertility treatments. In a given IVF cycle, there is about 15 percent chance of twins and a 3 percent chance of multiples greater than twins.

We’ve seen the glaring examples of IVF recklessness. You know whom I mean. Yet those situations are extremely rare and the potential for negligence should not preclude the responsible use of assisted reproductive technology. The majority of couples who seek medical intervention for infertility will not have unusually large families. Sadly, many won’t have families at all. They may be diagnosed as unlucky like I was or the procedures and medications may become prohibitively expensive. Most of us don’t have insurance coverage because infertility treatment is categorized as a lifestyle choice like a facelift or a tummy tuck.

Pop culture’s celebration of extremes is not the only reason people are misinformed about infertility. We, the infertile, do ourselves no favors by hiding and feeling ashamed. How can we expect people to understand us when our condition is mischaracterized over and over in the media and we say nothing?

I’ll start. My husband and I are waiting to be matched with a donor egg because my miscarriages have been linked to chromosomal abnormalities and low ovarian reserve. Our best chance to have a child is to use an egg from an anonymous donor. My husband will have a genetic link to that child, but I won’t, and that’s OK. My face and my name are right in this newspaper, so support me or take shots at me. I don’t care. I just want a family. I want to love a child. How does that make me so different from anyone else?

To other women and men in my position, if you are silent because you value your privacy that’s valid, but if you are silent because you are afraid, don’t be. Find your voice and use it.

The only person who can allow you to be ostracized or stigmatized is you. The only person who can put your life on hold is you. Be strong. I know the loneliness is awful and you feel like your heart has stopped beating, but it hasn’t. Find something that fills you when you feel empty. Pray, laugh, cook, read, work, exercise, volunteer, climb mountains, do anything that makes you feel alive. Some of us spend years trying to bring life into the world. None of us should spend one more minute of that time dying.

For more information and support contact Resolve: The National Infertility Association at resolve.org.

Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.