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Thursday, 28 April 2011

Mythbusting - Just Relax and enjoy being childfree




This is National Infertility Awareness Week, and my good friend over at Sprout alerted me that Resolve.org is doing a blog campaign to heighten awareness for NIAW, and infertility in general.  I took the bait.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I can't stop at just one thing... I have to keep going, so I picked the infertility myths that have most affected me and my family to discuss.  I apologize in advance - this is bound to be a long post!
So, here we go... 

Myth: If you just relax, you will get pregnant.
Busted!:  If only it were that easy! The fact is, the vast majority of individuals who have infertility have a medical reason, not a stress-related one. Upwards of 90% of all infertility cases are caused by physical problems.  In the female partner, the major causes of infertility are absent or irregular ovulation, blocked fallopian tubes, abnormalities in the uterus, and endometriosis (a chronic painful condition where tissue from the lining of the uterus migrates into the pelvis and attaches to the reproductive organs).  The male partner can have issues with sperm production which can lead to too few sperm, sperm which can’t swim correctly, and abnormally shaped sperm.
 More Myths – Busted!
Where the stress/infertility connection may come in tends to be after one has been trying for a while, and the stress of not conceiving easily may then contribute to the problem. But there has never been a study which shows that simply relaxing increases pregnancy rates. Research does show that infertility patients who learn and practice a wide variety of stress reduction techniques can have higher pregnancy rates than patients who don’t learn those techniques.
Funny that this would be the first myth.  I just bought a set of relaxation/meditation mp3s from Circle & Bloom in order to try to calm my mind/relax, and make the mind/body connection between my desire for fertility and my biological ability to conceive.  As my husband and I were driving into the big city today,  I mentioned that I bought these and he thought it was funny that I, of all people, would be able to relax.  I'm, how can I say this nicely, high-strung at the best of times.  Relaxation doesn't come naturally to me.  I know that stress and negativity can put you into a place that your body is hostile to a possible pregnancy.  
Last year I was in an awful job - I mean, imagine the deepest layer of hell, then multiply it by ten and you have just scratched the surface.  This woman (my boss) actually yelled at me for being insensitive and not committed to my job because I chose to take two days off when my husband's grandfather passed away (by my contract I'm allowed five days by the way).  The same boss yelled at me for not coming to work the day that my father underwent massive, multiple heart bypass (again, I'm allowed five days and I took one, gave them lots of notice,  and left more than adequate sub plans for my substitute teacher that day).  My point is that my job was hell and I, well let's just say that the stress pushed me into a deep cavern of despair.  This whole time, my husband and I were trying to conceive - obviously with no luck.  One of my friends said something that has stuck with me ... "Of course you aren't getting pregnant - your body is smarter than your mind - it knows that you are too stressed to properly grow a baby".  As much as it sucked to hear that, I think that she was right.  If I had gotten pregnant, I probably would have miscarried due to the stress.
The funny part of all of this is that my husband said today "the irony of it all is that those people who have realised and are aware that stress and negativity may hinder pregnancy, are the very people who are Type A personalities, and are more prone to encounter it".  *sigh*  Yeah.  He's right.  The fact that I know that relaxing may help, does not mean that I can relax.  The one thing that I want more than anything else in the world right now is a baby, and the one thing that seems to be eluding me is a baby.  How does a person relax and just let it happen?  I am not the type to relax and let anything happen - I need to be in control.  I dream about taking my temperature, to the point that I have been waking up at 6 am on my vacation this week to ensure that it is timed properly... to the point that I was angry with myself for sleeping in until 8 two days ago because that meant a temperature that couldn't be considered accurate.  I don't do well with the unknown.  I don't do well with "Just let it happen", and I don't know anyone who, when they want something badly, does do well with that.

Myth: Living child free is a choice, and they never wanted children.
People who have chosen to live a childfree lifestyle after infertility have thought more about the responsibilities of parenting than most people who become parents without having experienced any fertility issues.  Most people struggling with infertility do so for several years before they reach resolution through either medical treatment, adoption or choosing to be childfree.  During that journey, sufferers want nothing more than to achieve the dream of parenthood. 
Busted!: Living childfree is a choice, as is choosing to be a parent.  Some people who choose to be childfree have done so knowing that they never wanted to be parents, while some people who are childfree have chosen not to parent after suffering from the disease of infertility.  Both paths to the lifestyle are valid, but the end result was achieved through very different journeys.
Societal norms of family are defined by the inclusion of children.  Subconsciously, those norms invade every child’s perception and shape their image of what a family should be.  Having the strength to go against that societal norm can only be achieved after thorough assessment of what one’s life outside of that norm will mean, dealing with its consequences, and then benefiting from its advantages.
I have been guilty of this type of thought in the past.  I remember hearing only three years ago about a woman, a fellow teacher, who had been married and never had children.  The other teachers all said that "her children were the ones that she taught, and she didn't feel the need to have others"  I accepted this and thought that it was strange that she didn't want her own children.  That was before my struggles with fertility.  I often wonder now if she truly made the choice herself, or if the choice was made for her.
My mother often complains about how she is an only child.  She has, on occasion, made rather rude remarks to my grandmother about how she wishes that she had a sibling, or that she thinks it was cruel to make her grow up alone, and how when my grandmother dies my mother will be alone.  Until my own fertility struggles, my grandmother had never said anything about these comments, she just took them and went on with her day.  One day, on the phone, I broke down and told my grandmother what I was going through.  She started crying with me and said she understood.  She told me how she struggled for five years after marriage in the 40s to conceive my mother, and then tried for an additional 15 years after she was born to conceive again - to no avail.  I pains me to hear the comments from my mother.  It pains me to know that my grandmother must have gone through the hell that I'm going through - for basically 20 years, without the reproductive technologies or medical knowledge that we have today.  It pains  me to think of how it must break her heart every time my mother talks like that.
I have a friend who is childless by choice - and is very happy about it.  We've had numerous conversations about it.  She actually divorced her husband because when they married, he said that he was fine with not having children, and then two years into the marriage changed his mind and started pressuring her.  He and his family called her "not a real woman" because she didn't want kids.  She decided that a real woman would take her own life into her hands and do what she wanted - and filed for divorce.  She is happily living with a man who has two children from a previous relationship who live two provinces away.  They see them for about 6 weeks per year and that is more than enough for her.  She is happy.
I get asked a lot, being married for two years, when we are going to have kids, and if we are going to have kids.  I usually just laugh it off and say "we'll see", or if I know the people well enough, I say "we're working on it".  That usually shuts them up.  The kids I teach are always asking me why I don't have kid.  It's like there is something that society has posted out there saying "if you don't have kids by the time you're 30, there better be a good reason, or there's something wrong with you".
Myth: A higher-power is telling you that you should not be a parent.
Busted!: Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system.  It does not discriminate and affects all races, religions, men and women equally and people all over the world.  Whether or not you resolve your infertility journey by choosing to become a parent is a function of your determination and not a higher-power.
Parenthood is attainable, if that is truly your goal.  You may or may not be fortunate enough to have a biological connection to your child, but if you want the experience of being a parent, you can achieve that dream.
People who choose to be childfree after infertility have examined the avenues to parenthood, considered the advantages and disadvantages, and decided that being a family of two is also a blessing.
I'm not saying that I don't believe in a higher power.  I was raised Catholic, and while I don't agree with everything that the church has said (mostly the modern sanctions and laws regarding homosexuality, abortion, women, etc), I still, deep down, believe that there must be a higher power out there somewhere.  It gives me hope that the crap that I"ve dealt with and gone through isn't just so that I can end up as worm food.  Basically I believe in God, although I'm quite content to believe that God could be a Flying Spaghetti Monster as well.  I'm not a deity snob.  
However, the idea that a merciful and loving higher power would sit back and let a woman or a couple go through this crap, and deal with all of the emotional, physical, and financial aspects of infertility makes me angry.  It has been this struggle with fertility that has made me question my belief system all the more.  To say that a higher power has decided that I need to go through countless painful tests, and deal with emotional turmoil over and over again is ridiculous.  Nobody, anywhere, has decided this.  It just happened.  It just happened that my cycle got so out-of-control that my GP couldn't figure out what was happening.  It just happened that the OBGYN that the GP referred me to was shocked at my state and did a biopsy.  I just happened that I ended up having complex hyperplasia with atypia and needed to see an oncologist.  It just happened that at the age of 34 I am faced with the prospect of having to have a hysterectomy and never be able to have a child.  Nobody decided that.  Nobody did anything that caused it.  It just happened.  
I'm sure it is easier for some people to give that power over to another person or being.  Oh, a higher power caused it to happen.  Much easier to accept than believing that bad things can happen to good people.
If it truly was a higher power who was deciding, this is what would happen:  My husband and I, who would make wonderful parents and have the resources and love to give to a child, would be parents.  My friends who are struggling with fertility and conception would have children by now.  Children would not be born to people who abuse them.   But the fact is that reality is cruel sometimes, and because of that, we have to deal with harsh realities from time to time - or in some cases, from day to day.  I don't like dealing with it, but what I dislike even more is being told that the reason I'm dealing with it is because "it's God's plan".


For more information on the truth behind infertility go to http://www.resolve.org/infertility101
For more information on the history/background of NIAW, go to http://www.resolve.org/takecharge.

4 comments:

M

"If it truly was a higher power who was deciding, this is what would happen: My husband and I, who would make wonderful parents and have the resources and love to give to a child, would be parents. My friends who are struggling with fertility and conception would have children by now. Children would not be born to people who abuse them."

Exactly! This infuriates me. I want to say to these people, "Oh, really? The loving, benevolent God you worship doesn't want me to be happy? This kind God of yours doesn't want me to achieve my deepest desires? Instead He wants me to cry myself to sleep every time a friend becomes pregnant and I'm still childless? He wants me to live with this huge, aching void in my heart? If so, then your god sucks."

And I can totally relate to what you're saying about the relaxation thing. Telling me to relax is like telling me to stop breathing. But I do enjoy the meditations and they manage to keep me fairly calm while I'm doing them. :)

How do you like them so far?

peg

So far I've only done one. I was pretty deep into relaxing though - it felt really strange coming out of it - like I wss just about floating. I'm going to do today's in a few minutes. Hopefully stop myself from stressing that I"m not ovulating and that the pills the oncologist gave me are stopping me from ovulating. I took a OPK today (twice actually) and it was negative both times - has me worried that i"m not going to ovulate... I need to relax. :)

Willow

Great post! The story about your grandma made me cry. It's a good reminder that you just never know what someone's situation is from the outside. Since we started trying, and failing, to have a baby, I've started noticing and wondering about things like this. Like, my grandpa was an only child, which was awfully unusual back then. I assume now that his parents had trouble, and I know that he did. Makes me grateful for modern reproductive medicine (& adoption agencies, too!). Thanks for taking the time to bust these myths!

peg

Thanks Willow. I agree. Until my own struggles, I never thought anything other than my grandparents had one child. It never occurred to me that there was more behind it. I have an aunt and uncle who never had children (they always say that they never wanted them) but it makes me wonder if maybe they were unable and that was a cover up.

I just wish that more people could be more open and that it wouldn't be such a hush hush topic in society.

Thanks for your nice comments!

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