I am a Survivor of Infertility.
It sounds rather silly, given that I have nothing visible to show for the years I’ve been diagnosed with this disease. (Well, except for the added weight gain from all the medications … but that’s beside the point.) But it’s the truth.
It may sound strange to the average person that Infertility is considered a disease. After all, most people are rather inclined to think that it’s a “condition” rather than a disease. There’s even been debate that Infertility is considered a “lifestyle choice.” But we’ll get back to that one later.
Much like Cancer is a disease (an abnormal growth of cells which proliferate in an uncontrolled manner), so is Infertility. And I can even have the World Health Organization definition to back me up.
And much like a Cancer patient who has successfully completed treatment for their disease, I can also say that I am a survivor.
I know, I know … I’ve made multiple comparisons of Infertility to Cancer in previous posts. And just so you know, it’s not as if this comparison hasn’t been made by other Infertility bloggers and/or other health care providers in Reproductive Health in the past.
Believe me, as an RN who has taken care of her fair share of Cancer patients, it’s not one that I do lightly. I do so, only to showcase the lack of support and education that Infertility receives when compared to Cancer.
If you’re like most people, the news of a family or friend recently diagnosed with Cancer will trigger a sense of empathy for that individual and their family. For me, it’s always been an immediate “That’s horrible!” or “How sad” statement when receiving the news. Then, the next time I see the individual or one of their family members, I might briefly ask them how they’re doing and how their treatment is coming along. And I’d make it a point to ask how they’re coping with everything. I do so knowing that I’m offering them an opportunity to let out some of those difficult emotions that come along whenever someone is going through a stressful situation.
For me, that’ how *I* like to offer my support. But others could likely offer to send a card, call the person, and/or offer to run some errands for them. And yet others will offer their unsolicited advice about how their “third cousin” beat by “sniffing glue” (or something just as odd). Either way, Cancer elicits that feeling of wanting to help a person out because … “G*d forbid, if something like that happened to me, I’d hope someone would do the same.”
Now, take this same situation, but substitute Cancer with Infertility. What immediate emotion would that disease trigger? Would you feel empathy for the woman? Would you feel more empathy for the woman, than the man (if that’s the case), perhaps thinking that Infertility is strictly her diagonsis? Would you send them a card?**
And the next time you see that person or couple, would you ask how they were doing? And how they’re coping with the disease? Would you ask them what kind of treatment they’re receiving? Would you offer to run errands for them, knowing that their lives have been tied to a specific minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour time schedule? Would you offer them unsolicited advice on how they should “just adopt” or “just relax”?
Okay, so I’m guessing that most people would answer “No” to those questions. Except maybe for that last one; because — believe me — I still get lots of incredibly insensitive “a$$vice” thrown at us on a daily basis. (Of which my response to those Infertiles who also deal with this situation … this is the perfect opportunity to educate others out there about how Infertility is a complicated disease with multiple layers of emotional struggles that can’t simply be “fixed” by just relaxing or adopting.)
As I said, I’m guessing that most people would answer “No.” And the reason is because Infertility is something that no one really wants to openly talk about. It’s the pink elephant in the middle of the room that people speak through it (rather than directly at it or about it). Even those individuals or couples who are diagnosed with it find it incredibly difficult to share. As stated in the recent SELF Magazine article, “Infertility is where breast cancer was in the 1970’s — completely in the closet.”
So this is where I, once again, emphasize that talking directly about Infertility is important. Giving Infertility a voice is essential. Educating others about Infertility is critical.
Why is this necessary? Because one brave and educated voice can spur a thousand other brave souls to tell their Infertility stories. And those courageous voices can turn around and educate their family and friends about the disease. And those family and friends can then tell their friends, and so on and so on … therefore creating a network of support.
And from there, maybe … just maybe, Infertility can receive the recognition as a disease that it needs. Maybe then, Infertility will elicit an empathy similar to that of Cancer.
One last thing, and then I’ll wrap this up.
Yes, I do understand that Cancer is a “life or death” situation; and that receiving treatment determines whether or not a person survives. But let me ask you this? Isn’t Infertility a “life or death” situation when it comes to a child’s life? Isn’t receiving treatment for Infertility also determine whether or not a child survives?
For those affected by Cancer (whether as an individual, or a family member of the individual), the life of a loved one is on the line. For those affected by Infertility, the life of their child … not to mention their individual livelihood to sustain life through their own genes … is on the line.
And finally … for my “Living Child-free after Infertility” self, let me throw one more thing your way. What kind of sadness do you feel for a person with Cancer who has decided to stop treatments? A person who knows that his/her options are severely limited?
Would you respect the choice that he or she made; knowing that they gave considerable thought about their decision? Would you still respect their decision even though it might not be one that’s necessarily “conventional”?
Now … once again, substitute Cancer with Infertility.
Can you see now why Infertility is not a “lifestyle choice”? (Told you I’d get back to it … )
I don’t mean to come off as sounding like I can’t get “past” my own infertility (like Andie would think of me; as evidenced by her response to Pam‘s February article in FertilityAuthority.com). I don’t mean to sound as if any non-Infertile who reads this is an “ignorant fool” who doesn’t know me or my problems.
I simply write these feelings — these thoughts of mine — so that maybe … just maybe, a person (or two) can learn from them.
My name is Emily … and I’m an Infertility Survivor.
Emily outs her secret
Emily asks people to pledge
A follow-up to this post
** Seriously, though … Have you ever seen a greeting card for Infertility? I think Hallmark needs to get right on this. Pronto.
6 Replies to “I’m A Survivor”
I find myself wondering if one of your parents was infertile as by your own reasoning the “life or death” situation is for the childs existence not for the person who is suffering from infertility. If that is so then I assume by your own logic that you are a survivor of infertility if not then I’m sure that you can see that using your own definition that you are indeed not a survivour after all.
As to your complaints of infertility being like cancer I strongly disagree as cancer causes a threat to a person who actually exists not to one who may have possibly existed if the circumstances were different. Although I do see how infertiliity may have a detrimental effect on your life and how you percive yourself I must protest against your melodramatic portrayal of it as despite the effect on your daily life it is a condition that is rarely if ever fatal. Diabetes is a much more serious condition which demands greater daily care and a risk against a persons life should they make a simple mistake such as eating too much or too little of certain foods, yet ou seem to expect your infertility to elicit the same degree of sympathy as those who have to monitor their lives in such a way, and even those who have a risk of death.
I find your complaints to be on par as that of a spoilt child crying because another got more attention than they, as by publishing this post you have shown a sumpreme lack of empathy to those whose lives may end.
Curious I think your response is exactly what Emily is talking about. I can’t think of anything else that seems to bring out the worst in people then when someone tries to explain the pain of infertility. Emily is trying to work through something and I consider that “work” on par with “working” through the pain of cancer. No it’s not exactly the same, no one’s prognosis is death when you are infertile, but can you not see how your life if forever changed, what you thought was your life, is not your life, everything is changed, everything has to be re-examined, I think in the same way a person with cancer’s life is forever changed. One could argue that a lot of people get through cancer knowing they have their family, their children make them strong, give them something to live for. With infertility, that is gone, every challenge ahead of you will never been helped by a cherub face looking up at you or grown children to take care of you (bring you groceries, take you to the hospital). We don’t have that. Our lives are redefined by something besides the milestones of our children. It’s a brick wall that I’m standing before and I don’t know where to start. I start climbing it, start realizing I can handle this and then find someone else is pregnant, someone else gets to have their lives fulfilled where I cannot. When comparing to cancer, I think it’s the pain, the unfamiliarity of what lies ahead, it’s knowing nothing will ever be the same again. That is what links cancer to infertility. We just have no one to lean on, and I think that’s what Emily is trying to get at and you drove the nail right into the coffin. You’re a spoiled brat if you can’t have children, that’s all you are, if you choose to talk about it. Stay in the closet and be invisible. I don’t know why this is? Why is empathy so difficult for people when it comes to infertility? That is the point of this post and something I still wish I could understand.
There is research that shows that infertility patients suffer stress on the same level or even greater than that of cancer patients. I think Alice Domar talked about this in one of her books.
I’m proud of you for writing this post. Thank you, Emily.