It was around this time last year that I really started thinking about my role in infertility awareness. As an acupuncturist who specializes in infertility, (my team and I assisted in 187 IVF embryo transfers at almost every clinic in the Delaware Valley in 2017 alone!) I realized I had a unique opportunity to tell stories and shine a light on the struggles I see my patients endure, and so I started a podcast called Waiting For Babies. Once I put it out in the world, I discovered so many others attempting to lift the stigma around this often-silent struggle.
Over the last year, it appears the world is waking up to the one in eight who try to conceive a child but find they cannot. The media is alive with stories. Gabrielle Union discussed how she’s almost lost count of the eight or nine miscarriages she’s had. Documentaries like One More Shot and Vegas Baby offer unprecedented views into couple’s lives as they struggle with infertility. The show Friends From College had an entire episode showing the ardor of IVF injections and just how crazy they can make a woman feel. Even The Upright Citizens Brigade has tackled the issue with a dose of improv comedy.
The last week in April marks National Infertility Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is #FlipTheScript. It couldn’t come at a better time – never before have women’s voices been so amplified to bring about change in how they’re treated and perceived. It’s not just women either – men’s experience with infertility is coming to the forefront as well. Just recently, my podcast interview with a young man dealing with infertility was covered by Main Line Today, further depleting the stigma that it’s something that just happens to women. The women and men who know the pain of this experience have attempted to flip the script for a long time, and it seems as though the world may finally be ready to really look at, deal with, and support those have to endure the agony of waiting for their babies.
But how DO we #FlipTheScript? There are two things I believe need immediate change: first, both the public and providers need to listen to women more. There’s increasing evidence that women’s complaints of physical and mental symptoms, especially as related to their menstrual cycle, are often ignored. In the fertility world, this can be a huge detriment to their future fertility, leading to missed diagnoses of problems like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fibroids and more. Even Serena Williams had to fight for her providers to listen to her symptoms after she delivered her daughter. If she hadn’t been so insistent, they would have missed possibly deadly blood clots in her lungs because her providers thought she was just “confused” after birth.
Second, we need to empower those who are struggling to understand where they’re able to have control. You can’t control when your body ovulates, when or if you’ll get your period, whether you were born with sperm, whether your ovaries are producing “good” eggs or how many eggs you have left (the list goes on). You can control your team – from your fertility specialist to which friends or family members are this journey with you. Don’t like your doctor? Get a second opinion. Think you’re alone in this? One out of every eight people who’ve tried to conceive have had trouble. One in four who’ve been pregnant have miscarried. You can find a mentor who’s gone through exactly what you have or join a support group. You can find a therapist or an acupuncturist to help your body and mind process all the things you have to decide on your journey. You can control what you put in your body, whether it’s medicine, supplements, food, caffeine or alcohol.
One factor that is certainly out of control is the cost of fertility treatments. My home state of Pennsylvania doesn’t have a mandate that insurers or employers cover fertility treatments, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Many medical decisions are made locally, and it’s a lot easier to enact change at that level. If you don’t have coverage in your state, pick up the phone and call your state representatives or governor. Tweet at them. Fax them. An election is coming this year. If the person you’re talking to isn’t listening, help elect someone who will.
Let this year be the one where we actually #FlipTheScript and change the way we look at and treat those who struggle with infertility.