Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Family planning

While waiting to see the midwife a couple of weeks ago, I read a magazine article which suggested that having four or more children is, in certain circles at least, regarded as a symbol of both wealth and status. The author of the article interviewed several women who were married to high-earning bankers or lawyers, and who commented on how lucky they were to have been able to afford to have a large family without having to continue to work themselves. The article went on to contrast their situation with that of 'most women', who choose only to have two or, at the most, three children, for primarily financial reasons.

Reading this article, I realised how alien the whole concept of 'family planning' now feels to me. When you are dealing with infertility, you hold tight to any possibility of having a child, no matter when or how that possibility comes along.

I was reminded of this article over the weekend. My old friend from university and her fiance came up to visit (let's call them Jane and Patrick). The four of us went out to dinner to celebrate Jane's 37th birthday, which was on Saturday. Over the meal, our conversation turned to the topic of children. Jane and Patrick are 'definitely' going to start trying for a baby in around eighteen months or so. First, however, they want to get married and then move to a bigger house. Jane has a very successful career as a lawyer, and also wants to try and make partner before she has to go off on maternity leave.

I have another friend, Victoria, who is around the same age as Jane and myself. Victoria is an academic, and about to publish her first book. She then wants to secure a promotion at work and apply for a period of research leave. She thinks that she'll probably start a family after that, once her second book is well underway.

It strikes me that both Victoria and Jane have fallen for one of the great urban infertility myths: that it's OK to wait, because even if things don't happen naturally, there's always IVF. Over dinner, Jane made a comment about wanting to 'get it all over in one go', by having twins or possibly even triplets.

But it seems to me that my friends are taking one hell of a risk with their fertility. I want to grab them by the shoulders and tell them that, at the age of thirty-seven, their fertility is already in decline. I want to tell them that IVF is by no means a guaranteed treatment, and that success levels fall rapidly once you are in your late 30s. I want to tell them about my own diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve, and about how, after two poor responses to stimulation, I was forced to think long and hard about whether it was worth continuing with assisted conception.

But is that perhaps the equivalent of someone with no apparent fertility problems suggesting to me that I should simply relax?


loribeth said...

People who think "there's always IVF" have NO! friggin'!! clue!!! about what infertility treatment actually involves. I practically fell apart after three IUIs with injectables, & one of the reasons why I decided not to continue beyond that was simple fear about what the even greater stresses of IVF would do to me.

I hear of teachers who plan to get pregnant so that they can give birth during the summer -- and they do it!! The whole concept is so totally foreign tome. Do they have any inkling how lucky they are??

Two moms at our pregnancy loss support group recently said they are now ttc for a subsequent baby & were complaining that it was taking SO LONG and it's SO DEPRESSING!! They had been trying all of four months, I think!! They got pregnant right away with their previous pregnancies. I'm the group facilitator, so I REALLY had to bite my tongue on that one!!

Lisa said...

Intriguing. I read this twice, nodding in agreement vehemently. Having gone through as many cycles as we have, it's amazing to me that someone would think "there's always IVF", but, honestly, it is presented almost like an absolute. Some doctors even tell patients that it "will" work, it's just a matter of finding the right protocol. Well, I'm proof that it may not work for everyone.

I guess it's no different than the people who come up to me now and say "have you thought about adoption?" Society thinks that's an absolute, too, but, again, we in the trenches know differently.

Gaby said...
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Malloryn said...

I have a friend of mine in a similar situation... though seeing what I have gone through has opened her eyes to a few things. I'm not sure she subscribes to the belief that "there's always IVF" but I hope not.

I think it's criminal for doctors to promote a procedure like IVF by virtually guaranteeing success. Yet judging by what I've read on some infertility message boards, that seems to happen in some cases.

It must be so hard to stand by when you want to reach out to your friends. I'm not sure how to cross that line.

(apologies for the double post!)

womb for improvement said...

I read the same article about the status symbol babies. At the moment the only status I want is mother regardless of how many offspring that involves.

As for the confident timing of your pregnancies I remember being clear that I wanted one when I was 30 and I tried - I really tried. I presume your friends don't know about the difficulties you've had?

Lisa said...
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Coming2Terms said...

All I can say is good luck Jane and Victoria. Reality can feel like a cold shower so make sure you have the heat cranked up. You'll need it.

Shinejil said...

Yikes, that's a tough bind, in many ways. You want to do right by your friends and tell them things might be really tough, even if eventually IVF works out for them. I think people just have no clue what emotional and physical pain is involved in IF treatments.

But I think you're right not to start spitting out warnings like some gynecological Cassandra: Let them come to you. I hope they do; I'd welcome your support as a friend IRL any ol' day.

luna said...

I have found myself saying things like 'don't wait too long' to certain colleagues who are more like friends. for them, I was willing to risk their ire while doing my part to raise awareness about declining fertility.

I also wrote about a study recently that showed how women are misguided to place so much faith in IVF. they have no freaking clue.

Mo and Will said...

Hmmm...I don't know if it's the same thing at all as someone who is fertile telling you to relax. They have lots of media and other info telling them in fact that it is ok to wait. you could just tell them of your own agony over this and wish them the best of luck with it (and many in that age category do fine - my sil had first at 38, second at 39 and then third via ivf (took two tries) at 42...meanwhile I couldn't get out of the starting gate at 35 and am still trying at 37 - IVF for two years now). i think tho that you won't share this insensitively or in a controlling or self-righteous manner. and that makes all the difference. at least in my book.

p.s. thanks for stopping by and commenting earlier : )