5 Surprisingly Outdated Problems Infertile Couples Face
If you're part of the 10 percent of couples who have taken a ride on the infertility bus, you know that it's not easy having a reproductive system that doesn't do so good at the "reproductive" part. Hell, there are spiders out there that can make hundreds of babies while one of them is eating the other, and here's your evolutionarily advanced self struggling to produce a single human child. Unfortunately, being unable to name your firstborn "Norsehammer Thunderslap" is just the first of the problems you'll have. There's also stuff like ...
It's Surrounded by Weird, Outdated Beliefs
In some parts of the world, infertility is still considered a literal curse. Then again, in some parts of the world they arrest goats for witchcraft, so I don't think we should put much stock in their medical theories (modern science has proved that 98 percent of ungulate witchcraft cases are caused by donkeys). But even in a supposedly modern country like America, the existence of babies still comes with a whole biblical theme park worth of religious issues. Maybe it's because of the pro-life movement always sticking pictures of babies everywhere. Maybe it's those reality shows about fundamentalists with 125 kids. Maybe it's just a holdover from a time when nobody understood reproductive science very well and all children were considered literal blessings because you could use them as labor on your subsistence farm and then maybe do a bit less starving to death.
Babies: can also be taped together and used to store grain.
Whatever the reason, there's still this weird idea, even among secular people, that the inability to conceive children is not simply a medical problem. Rather, it's a clear sign that you're being judged by an angry deity. Articles and books on the subject assure readers that infertility is "not a curse," whereas it's difficult to imagine similar articles having to tell people not to worry because their restless leg syndrome is not caused by nightmare demons. And then there's those stickers people put on their cars telling everyone that "Children Are a Gift from God."
You don't see many bumper stickers saying "A Healthy Spine Is a Gift from God" or "Not Having Crohn's Disease Is a Gift from God," and that's because they're dickish things to say. People with terrible illnesses are having a hard enough time already. They don't need to know that the guy who just cut them off in traffic thinks they're sick because God is picking them last for his Health Dodgeball team. But when it comes to babies, the attitude is somehow still acceptable. I don't want to pick on American Christianity here, because pretty much every belief system is equally bad about this. Practitioners of Eastern religions will tell you you're barren because you haven't been meditating enough, Satanists will tell you it's because you're doing your black mass all wrong, and so on.
"Dammit, Phyllis, did you even BRING a goat?"
And even non-religious people give bad advice, because ...
Everyone's Medical Knowledge on the Subject Is Completely Terrible
Infertility is one of those things that medicine just doesn't understand well. Even after couples go through all the expensive tests that science has to offer, about 20 percent of them will still be told that their infertility is officially "unexplained." Doctors are often completely baffled as to why babies sometimes happen and sometimes don't.
But while reproductive endocrinologists will at least usually admit that they don't know why your or your partner's womb resembles the dry barren plains of Mars, some non-doctors lack such humility. These laypeople once read something about infertility in an email forward they received 15 years ago, and by God, they are going to repeat it to you. "It'll happen if you just relax!" is one of the most common advice-prizes these people hand out, because of course if you look back in history, you'll find that all those women ravished by Genghis Khan conceived children after he gave them a soothing battlefield bubble bath and a nice back massage.
And his "Free Mustache Rides" T-shirt.
An even better one is: "You should adopt a child, it's easier to conceive naturally after that!" This cure-by-adoption happened in a Sex and the City movie recently and was presented as an established medical fact, even though it's about as effective as trying to impregnate yourself by shooting a Civil War-era cannon into the nearest guy's junk and hoping the ricocheting shrapnel will pierce your uterus. And even if it were true, I'm not really sure about the ethics of adopting a human being for the sole purpose of one day scoring another baby.
"And if you have another baby after that, the others will have a donor if they ever need a face transplant."
You're Held to a Higher Moral Standard
Over the years, a few people have asked me: "If you want kids, why don't you just take in some foster children?" I'd usually say that I didn't think I was a good enough person to be doing that, because children with difficult or traumatic backgrounds would do better with a foster parent who doesn't get mad when the fizz takes too long to go down on a soda fountain drink. Inevitably I'd get disapproving looks, and sometimes even the implication that I clearly wasn't worthy to be any kind of parent at all.
"Destroy the heretic! Her choices shame us all!"
Now, I should point out that every one of the people who made this suggestion had biological children of their own that they'd conceived easily, and that none of them had ever considered taking in a foster child themselves. This didn't stop these people from judging me (and all infertile people) for not doing it, though. And hey, it's understandable: There are plenty of people out there who are happy to exhort others to do things that they know they'll never be obliged to do themselves.
This kind of thing happens a lot, especially online. If you choose to use infertility treatments to help you conceive a child, you'll soon come across plenty of people whose typing fingers are itching to call you selfish for not adopting, because there are "so many needy children in the world who need parents."
Now, don't get me wrong, I think adoption and fostering are great things. But as I've said before, the adoption process is far more difficult and expensive than most people realize. There simply aren't as many international orphans in need of American rescue as people think there are, and adoption is an extremely limited option for a lot of people (you'll have more trouble adopting if you are single or gay, have medical issues, or have any kind of criminal record). But much more importantly, fostering and adopting are things that potential parents should want to do, not something that they feel obligated to perform just because some people on the Internet think that it's their duty.
This attitude might have something to do with why ...
The Medical System Hates You
When it comes to helping out infertile couples with medical costs, America's usual method is to tell you that there's an angry bald eagle right behind you, wait until you look, and then run away. In most states in the U.S., insurance companies are not required to cover any kind of fertility treatment. To put this in perspective, Medicare offers coverage of vacuum-powered dick pumps and inflatable dick implants for seniors with erectile dysfunction. The government thinks it's important to subsidize Gerry and Myrtle's geriatric crotch-rubbing, but not to ensure any coverage for Joe Middle America, who wants somebody to throw a baseball back and forth with.
Even the states that do require insurance to cover treatments often specifically exclude in vitro fertilization (IVF), a procedure that helps women with blocked Fallopian tubes to conceive and which, without coverage, usually costs infertile couples around $12,000 per cycle. Because of this, in most of America, fertility treatments (and especially IVF) are procedures that are done mostly by people who are able to throw the equivalent of a new car at a doctor every time they want a chance at a kid.
"Welcome to the club! Enjoy your sweet, sweet fucking. See you next month!"
The worst part of this insurance brushoff is that it has created a vicious public-image cycle. Treatments like IVF are often perceived as something that only obnoxiously rich people do, like owning a butler, or riding snowmobiles around on their mountains of cocaine. And of course these treatments are mostly for the rich, because the lack of insurance coverage means that average people can't afford them. But the IVF/money connection has been around for a long time, and people have this idea in their heads now, and why should taxpayers or insurance companies pay for a vanity-based luxury like that?
Part of this misconception is there because ...
It's Still a Crazily Taboo Subject
In our society, being unable to reproduce your genetic material is a subject that's kept tighter to most people's chests than their sexual attraction to Olympic mascots. Over 60 percent of infertile couples hide their condition from people close to them, and that number seems to include a lot of celebrities and public figures. Natural pregnancy in a woman older than 40 is rare without copious amounts of modern medicine, and natural pregnancy after 45 is approaching "albino unicorn" territory. Yet there's a whole slew of middle-aged celebrities popping out babies like it ain't no thang. As pointed out in that last link, a lot of them are clearly undergoing extensive medical treatments, using donor eggs and even surrogates to conceive children, and a lot more are adopting because of infertility. But the standard thing to do is to keep quiet about one's baby-manufacturing problems, which means that the general public ends up believing that these famous 40-something women are either adopting children for reasons completely unrelated to infertility or miraculously conceiving babies the old-fashioned way.
"Nope. No help conceiving at all."
I'm not saying that celebrities are obliged to talk publicly about their medical issues; if an actor comes down with Lyme disease or kuru or whatever, then it's up to him whether he decides to share it with the world. But it would be nice if more celebrities did make the decision to talk about it. Up until now, it's been rare for any public figure to publicly admit that their uterus doesn't work right or that their sperm motility is low. Maybe it's because so many celebrities make money off their sex appeal, and they think the information will make them lose popularity because all their fans have some sort of deep evolutionary desire to mate with them.
But the thing is, a lot of other medical issues used to be as misunderstood and taboo as infertility is today. Decades ago, just telling people that you had cancer was about as socially acceptable as carrying around your excised tumor in a jar and showing it to them, especially if the cancer involved embarrassing body parts like the breast or prostate. Then public figures started coming out of the cancer-closet and talking about their own malign crotch growths, and gradually the stigma almost disappeared. Maybe if more famous people started talking about their problems with baby-forming, the same thing could happen here. Only one way to find out, right? Yep, I'm talking about proof of conception through celebrity sex videos.
C. Coville is not famous, but does have a Twitter here.