Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Join the Movement: Second Class Infertile

It's National Infertility Awareness Week. As usual, I'm overwhelmed with work, back issues, and a volatile three year old. For NIAW, I want to talk about age related infertility. It been on my mind a lot lately as I've been practically tearing my hair out reading messages on a listserve I belong to for women in their 40s who are single moms by choice, or attempting to become moms. The denial is through the roof! Another blogger and I have been emailing off list, and occasionally responding as voices of reason. So many women are convinced (or want to be convinced) that the odds don't apply to them. That the EXTREMELY rapid decline in fertility once a woman passes 40 can't really be true, because their grandmother, aunt, and Halle Berry, are proof that it's possible. Possible, yes. Likely, no. But we are blessed to live in a time that offers older women options. But with those options comes the need to really examine and choose where to use your resources.

Advanced maternal age. AMA. That’s what it says on my chart.
That’s my infertility diagnosis - the same diagnosis that blames the patient. I must have been too busy with my high-powered career while my fertility declined month after month. I must have crazy, unrealistic standards for a husband/father of my child, and that’s why I was pursuing fertility treatments as a single woman in my 40's.
Every time the New York Times runs an article on infertility, the comment section is filled with comments about picky career women who wait too long to start their families. We are not worthy of insurance coverage, they say. We are not worthy of treatments, they say. We should accept that time has passed us by.
Honestly, those comments don’t bother me much. The ones that get to me; the ones that sting, are the comments from other infertiles. They proclaim proudly that they are not like me - they are young and infertile, not like those women.
I could explain my long history of bad luck with relationships, but there’s really no point. Suffice to say, I’m very grateful that none of those men is the father of my child.
When I was younger, I assumed I would marry and have a child by the time I was 30. In addition to the pain of failed relationships, there has been the sometimes agonizing longing for a child. Trying to have a child on my own in my 40's was hard - really hard. I went to all my doctor appointments alone. After each failed (or cancelled) cycle, I cried alone. I did every single injection myself. I researched treatments and options myself.
I did finally succeed - I became pregnant at the age of 45 with donor embryos, and gave birth to my daughter when I was 46 years old.
When I read the defensive comments on NYT articles and elsewhere from younger women dealing with infertility, I want to say, “We’re not really so different.”
Infertility hurts. Let’s not allow the media and ignorant commenters divide us.
I have been so lucky to have received so much support from women in the ALI community, yet I have never seen a young woman defend an older infertile woman when the barbs fly in the media. I may not know how it feels to be told in your 20's or 30's that you’re infertile, and you may not know how it feels to long for a child as long as I did, but we all know infertility sucks balls.
Can't we support each other, regardless of our stories?
For more info about infertility and National Infertility Awareness Week, check out these links from RESOLVE:


AnotherDreamer said...

Great post and point of view- thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

As a woman of AMA, I think it's important to acknowledge the differences in women who share the umbrella diagnosis of infertility. Each and every woman's story is different and grief is a subjective experience. The woman who is 26 and infertile has a very different experience than the woman who is in her 40s and infertile. Grief is defined by and manifests itself as a consequence of individual circumstances. Many women in their 20s and 30s have PCOS or POA (for example) and these are diseases. Many women in their 40s do not have a disease. They have aging ovaries. Aging ovaries aren't a disease any more than the wrinkles on my face. That's the cold, hard truth and I live with that every day. I am a big believer in personal responsibility. We are the sum of all the decisions we have made in our lives, whatever those decisions may have been. Personally, I am tired of the entitlement that many women in their 40s seem to have, like they have no idea how they got to where they are.

Mrs. Gamgee said...

Well said!

The same thing can be said for women of size dealing with infertility. I can't even begin to count how many times I was told that if I would just lose weight, my problem would be solved. If I would have just dropped a few pounds my m/c's wouldn't have happened. Obese patients have a lot of issues with getting/staying pregnant but that doesn't change the fact that they are people with feelings who deserve to be treated (medically and personally) with just as much respect as everyone else.

(stepping off my soapbox now)

gwinne said...

I've been 29 and infertile and 39 and infertile. Sucked all around. I do think age-related infertility is a different beast...not a lesser beast by any means, but a different one. But I do appreciate this post.

Shannon said...

I have to comment on what "anonymous" posted: No, age related infertility is NOT a disease. But does that make it hurt any less? I don't think so. Like gwinne said, it's different. But it still hurts.

I know that if I had decided to marry the guy I dated when I was 30, I'd have my imagined family of 4 children right now. And I'd probably be divorced, which is why I didn't marry him. I didn't deliberately set out to be 41, trying to conceive my second child with old eggs as a single woman. I did choose to not marry men that weren't right for me. I did choose to do online dating and to go out on every blind date I was ever offered, and I did choose to keep holding out hope - for too long it turns out - that I would meet someone and not have to do this by myself.

I don't think I'm entitled to anything. I think it sucks that I have to go to donor egg to complete my family, but I'm thankful I have the chance to do so. I think it sucks that by the time I'm done, I'm going to have spent tens of thousands of dollars to have my children. I think it sucks that ANYONE has to go through this, no matter what the age. And I really think it sucks that some people can't afford to keep trying, because their insurance doesn't cover anything IF related.

Your response does a great job of illustrating Dora's point. No matter how we got here, no matter why we're infertile, it SUCKS. Judging each other because... she waited too long ... she weighs "too much"... she slept around when she was a teenager and got pelvic inflammatory diseases... is counter productive. No one is more deserving or more entitled to be treated for their infertility because "it's not their fault" that they are infertile.

We are all in this together. Or at least we should be.

Kristin said...

Brilliant post!

I so wish people would get past my situation id\s worse than theirs comparisons and just offer support to everyone going through this craptastic experience called infertility.

Em said...

Thank you for opening my eyes to this harsh reality. I never knew that "younger" infertiles were so judgmental of "older" infertiles. No idea. I guess I don't really understand why. Like you said (and like the commenters said as well), it's crazy painful either way. And who can possibly know what your story has been? I'm so sorry for the judgment you've been victim to. I will definitely be more aware of my own personal biases and prejudices (I don't think I have them, but I'm sure they're lurking somewhere) so that I can do my best to support all infertiles, regardless of age or circumstance.

Sam said...

I'm 39 and my youngest is almost 2yo. When people push me for another baby (why do people do this!?!!) I say I'm too old and the statistics are not in my favor. I don't want to even take the chance. Then I hear a the things you hear: my second cousin's grandfather's moose had a baby...blah blah. People always think they're special snowflakes, young or old.

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kateanon said...

I think that IF is one world where everyone is so quick to jump into a group - accusing the others of not knowing their pain. Secondary versus primary. Going through IF in your 20's versus your 40's. IVFers versus those who choose to avoid ART. Adopters versus those using surrogates. It's crazy to me that an experience that should bond us often separates us into groups so quick to judge the other. (I came over via Creme list - great post)

Katherine A said...

Here from the Creme. I appreciate this post very much. I think that you are so right that we all have to stand together, and I never considered how much division there was over this topic.

I'm on the younger(ish) side of infertility, and I've tended to note my age when talking about my issues/infertility because at some level, it was such a total shock to me...there is a lot of mythology out there that if you're in your 20s or 30s, infertility is not going to be a problem at all. It's not been something I meant to use to exclude others older than me - it's more because even a year+ later, I'm still struggling to understand/come out of denial - but reading this I can completely see where it could be seen as exclusive. I'll work to be more cautious in the future of how I word things so that they are inclusive of ALL people who struggle with infertility. Because really, it doesn't matter the age or why we're infertile, it's wicked, terrible painful. We're all in the boat. And it sucks to be there.

Thank you for this post and your excellent point.