In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week 2012, I wanted to write about about fertility and women’s health. This year’s theme is Don’t Ignore Infertility. As infertile women, I think we can all agree that we aren’t ignoring our infertility, but this theme is largely directed to society, at-large, which seems to ignore all aspects of women’s fertility outside of the hot-button political issues.
Who knew that having a baby would be so difficult? Turns out a vast majority of women and girls are in the dark about the fertility and reproductive health. A recent survey sponsored by RESOLVE found that of those surveyed (1,000 women) most underestimated the actual time it takes to conceive a child. Fun facts covered in the survey include the average number of months for a young 20-something to get pregnant (5 months) and the chance of a 30-year-old conceiving during any given cycle (20%).
The fact of the matter is that our fertility declines dramatically from the late 20’s. This, combined with new cultural norms that include marrying later, establishing a career, and readily available contraception, means that 20% of women are delaying baby-making until they are 35 or older. However, by the time you are 35 your fertile years are largely behind you, and the risk factors for you and baby only increase as you age. One out of four women between the ages of 35-44 are infertile, whereas only 1 out of 10 women between the ages of 15 and 29 are infertile. The survey also revealed that women trusted their OB/GYN as a source of care and knowledge, yet, “… the majority of women reported that they never discussed future pregnancy plans (52%), age as an infertility risk factor (78%), or infertility treatment options (89-96%) with their Ob/Gyn.”
But, as infertile women, we already know all of this stuff.
However, this lack of information extends much further than our fecundity. Most women don’t have basic knowledge of their reproductive cycle. Even worse, medical practitioners don’t have much of a clue, either. Toni Weschler, author of Taking Charge of Your Fertility and leading women’s health educator, was inspired to write a book based on the vast dearth of information regarding women’s bodies and cycles. She writes:
When I first embarked upon writing this book a dozen years ago, I had hoped to spark a grassroots movement among women frustrated with the lack of information they are given about their bodies and cycles. As I had anticipated, the empowering information contained in these pages has struck a huge cored with hundreds of thousands of women – women who were seeking a safe and effective form of natural birth control, women who wanted to get pregnant, or those who just wanted to finally take control of their gynecological and sexual health.
Weschler goes on to note that a basic natural understanding of a women’s cycle is not offered in medical schools. Her response? She included an appendix that one removes from the book and places in the hands of their healthcare practitioner. She also notes that in our market-driven society, keeping women in the dark is profitable. Contraceptives in all their shapes and forms make billions of dollars annually, but also provide a lot of pain and grief for those of us that partake. Elizabeth at Bebe Suisse wrote an eloquent post about the impact of contraceptives on her life.
Really, this is about the lack of information and widespread misinformation about the female mind and body. I was “lucky”. I was diagnosed with PCOS, by chance, when I was 19. As a result, I have had over ten years to learn about PCOS, its long-term impacts on my health, and its affect on my fertility. Having problems starting a family was not a surprise. For this, I am thankful. I have since taken many steps to educate myself about the disease in order to mitigate the effects on not just my fertility, but also on my cardiovascular health. A completely inspiring and thoughtful book that really opened my eyese to the female anatomy was Natalie Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography. Angier, a Pulitzer prize winning author, presents a grand tome of the female anatomy informing and challenging the reader all the way to the end. In short, it is incredible.
So, how does this relate to me, this blog, and to ICLW? Well, I think it’s time for me to start a conversation, outside the comforts of this community, with my friends and my family – Don’t ignore your body, don’t ignore in/fertility, and don’t ignore women’s health. I started this morning with a Facebook post linking to the NIAW page.
How about you? Were you ever encouraged to ignore your in/fertility? Have others in your life taken steps to ignore or address in/fertility?