The Experience of Infertility

By OBOS Infertility Contributors | April 15, 2014

Many of us grow up dreaming about the day when we will have children. The forces that contribute to these desires are complex, powerful, spiritual, and sometimes unexplainable. Our longing for children is a deep primal need, and being unable to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term can be devas­tating.

Infertility can rock our very foundation—our sense of control over our futures, our faith in our bodies, and our feelings about ourselves as women.

I’ve been infertile since I was 22 and had a hysterectomy. . . . It feels like a pretty cruel fate. I’ve always been enthralled with what women’s bodies can do. I know there are other options for having families and that at some point I will choose one of them, but it doesn’t make my situation of being infertile much easier.

It can be a source of frustration, as we find ourselves on the wrong side of the statistics.

I always believed that I would have children without any problems—as many as I wished and when I decided it was the right time. Unfortunately, after four years of trial and error, tests, and operations, my husband and I are realizing that life does not always happen the way we plan it.

Societal pressures intensify the pain of infertility. In many religions and cultures, our worth and power as women are measured by our ability to procreate. Some of us are viewed as irresponsible for having “too many” children, while others are pitied or perceived as not being truly fulfilled if we choose not to or are unable to bear a child.

Infertility treatments have allowed millions of people around the world to build the families they so deeply desire. Yet, as with other medical treatments, they have limitations. Glossy media images of 50-year-old celebrities who just gave birth to twins can lead us to believe that infertility treatments are universally successful and accessible; unfortunately, this isn’t true. The success rates of infertility treatments vary greatly, depending on the health and age of the woman treated, the kind of procedure used and the skill and expertise of the treatment clinic.

The field of infertility diagnosis and treatment is evolving rapidly. As drug companies, hospitals, and physicians introduce new technologies and drugs into medical practice and the marketplace, diagnoses and treatments of infertility continue to change. New causes of infertility will likely be revealed as we learn more about environmental toxins and about how our genes interact with the changing environment.

Unfortunately, new techniques and treatments are rarely studied in controlled, randomized trials that could establish their safety and effectiveness. Some procedures used today are tried and true; many others are still considered experimental. Practitioners will agree about the efficacy of some drugs and procedures and differ about others.

You have a right to know whether your treatment is new or experimental and whether and how it has been studied scientifically. You also have the right to know about the possible risks and side effects of each treatment and about the amount of time and money that will be required. Try to determine the safest and least invasive treatments. Whenever possible, develop with your doctor a written course of treatment, including when to stop, that is tailored to your needs. You should also work to understand all you need to know to give truly informed consent to diagnostic and treatment approaches.