I didn’t know anything about infertility until soon after I was married, when my husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer and we were thrust into a world we knew nothing about. Thankfully, his cancer is in remission, but we still struggle with our infertility on a daily basis. In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, and the many couples who shared their stories in my new documentary film HAVEABABY, I wanted to share some of the things I have learned in my journey both as a filmmaker and a woman faced with this diagnosis.
Whether you are one of the “1 in 8” that has the misfortune of experiencing infertility yourself (my condolences!) or find yourself in the unenviable position of trying to console a friend or family member who is faced with it, these 5 things might help you avoid some heartache on either side.
1. I truly thought as long as I started “trying” before I was 40, I could get in under the wire. Many women DO have success trying to conceive even beyond 40 – and in San Francisco, I was surrounded by them! – but medically speaking, that's the exception, not the rule. It’s not like a 4-star restaurant that stops serving at 10pm, where you can order at 9:59pm and still expect stellar cuisine; the later it gets in your kitchen, the fewer ingredients your body has to make the dish. If you are 39 and single or still struggling in your career and want to punch me in the face, I feel you – but I just want us all to make informed choices rather than making a choice without realizing it.
2. Male-factor infertility is equally as likely as female-factor infertility. I can’t tell you how much time and money I wasted testing myself before we turned our focus on my husband. Some couples find a sperm analysis embarrassing or a “big step,” but it’s actually far easier and less invasive than all the tests I went through, and one painless ejaculation later, we knew we had a male problem.
3. If you or someone you know has a medical diagnosis that lends itself to IVF, it’s very important to understand that IVF is really a course of treatment and not a one-stop procedure. On average, a single cycle of IVF has a 30% success rate, so it’s no surprise than many patients have to try three times before having a live birth. It’s also important to understand that even if you have genetically tested embryos, that is no guarantee of a successful pregnancy. For all of these reasons, freezing your eggs may be a worthwhile option to consider, but it is not a foolproof way to retain your fertility, especially if you wait until under the wire to start road-testing them. (See item #1.)
4. You never really know how you or your partner are going to feel until the shit gets real. Before we had a diagnosis, I thought “We wouldn’t go as far as IVF, whatever happens, happens…” and I have friends who said to me, “if I hadn’t gotten pregnant on my first IVF, I wouldn’t have put myself through that again.” But one thing I’ve learned is, I just had to take it one step at a time, and balance an open mind with a critical eye for my wallet, my relationship and my physical and mental health. It’s hard to know what the “right” choice is at any crossroads, but one thing’s for sure, yourself 6 months ago (or even one month ago) may have no idea what your today self needs to pursue or needs to let go.
5. As I navigated the world of infertility, I found it best to find someone other than my doctor or my friends to advise me. Honestly, this is partially a mental health issue, so if you buy into therapy, this is a great time to partake. (I also found meditation very helpful, but that’s a whole other article). Friends often have well-meaning advice that can be unintentionally dismissive or misinformed. The internet is full of support groups, but also full of judgmental trolls that can say terrible things. I am a BIG fan of speaking out when you are ready, but you have to have a thick skin and I’d suggest you tell your friends in advance: “you don’t need to try to fix this, all I want is someone to listen.” If you’re that friend, thwart your instincts to offer solutions and advice. Lend an open ear and pass along these 5 things, or even better, share the website for Resolve: The National Infertility Association, which has great resources for people in this pickle, whether they opt for medical treatment, adoption, or decide to be childless. No matter what we choose, it’s a tough road, and the more informed and aware we all are about this issue, the less painful that road will be.
Written by Amanda Micheli. Amanda is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker dedicated to raising awareness about infertility. HAVEABABY just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and has screenings this week in Boston and San Francisco. You can see the trailer and buy tickets to screenings here.