Plus or minus

Jared Talavera

Photo Credit: ninat78 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: ninat78 via Compfight cc

As children we are taught that fairy tales end with happily ever after. Most couples who try to conceive for the first time get the fairy tale ending – the addition of a new baby boy or girl into their lives. I understand when expectant parents say that ‘they’ are pregnant. The uterus is so called because it is uter-‘us’ not uter-‘u’. The truth is that in real life the Princess and Prince Charming are not guaranteed a fairy tale. For some, infertility is the adversary that permeates through their lives. Yet, couples experiencing infertility still desire what comes naturally for most future parents.

Those experiencing infertility get an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ story. Alice was in another world where each step she made became more difficult to make. Decisions became more confusing than the last. She felt like there was no one to help her along the way to reach her destination or grant her wishes.

Dr. Emma Hostetter is a physician, public health specialist and mother. She blogs at The Mom in Me, MD. She says that there is so much stigma in our society about infertility. Those struggling are at a disadvantage. She states that couples should educate family and friends about their expectations from the beginning. It is uncomfortable to share that news with family and friends, but there is nothing to be ashamed about. It is a medical condition that many couples struggle with. “They should feel they don’t need to solve things or provide advice. Sometimes when people say something insensitive it is mostly because they don’t know what to say or do.” There are people that offer well-meaning advice whether infertile couples ask for it or not. Misguided and unhelpful advice such as “just relax and it will happen” should be ignored.

Infertility is more common than most people would think.

A 20 year long global study conducted by the World Health Organization used 277 national surveys in 190 countries to determine the infertility rates between 1990 and 2010. The study found that 48.5 million couples were unable to have a baby after trying for five years. In 2010, 1.9% of women aged between 20 and 44 were unable to have a first child (primary infertility) whilst 10.5% of women were unable to have a second (secondary infertility).

Sharing stories and struggles may not be a remedy to infertility, but doing so can be emotionally therapeutic. The person you are opening up to may be struggling with something similar.

Matt and his wife Cheri were a humble American couple who had been married for less than a year when they decided to not start a family immediately. He had just started his Masters degree and his wife had started her new career as a veterinarian. They became less particular about contraception and said to each other that “if it happens, it happens.” The first minus sign made them relieved. Five years later the minus sign appeared again, again and again. Matt would chant “first comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes…” Matt nor Cheri could not finish the last part of that song.

There is something about the importance of sharing stories. Matt and his wife Cheri Appling wrote the book Plus or Minus: keeping your life, faith and love together through infertility. The book tells the stories of three couples, including Matt and his wife, and their experiences with infertility. These are stories that most couples want to keep secret. Their faith in God, marriage, relationships with friends and family had been challenged. For the three couples, “every decision, every dollar, every prayer” made them feel like they were being pulled further away from having a child. However, sharing their story allowed them to make sense of their circumstances in the hope of inspiring other couples. Matt and Cheri have said that “assembling the most disparate, confusing times of our lives into stories turned out to be just as therapeutic as any counseling session could be.”

Each couple was going through infertility, but the experience was unique for each of them. Their experiences were given one of three themes – perseverance, loss or patience. The unifying theme between all three journeys is how much control they perceived they had over their lives. They put their best effort in and left the rest up to fate, the universe, divine intervention or Providence.

Infertility is referred to in the book as a ‘secret club’. It is a club with a long history. People who are in it did not sign up for the membership. In fact, no ones signs up for it. Everyone wants to leave. Some couples such as Matt and Cheri were unaware of its existence. They both felt alone. They felt like they were the first couple in history who could not bear a child.

Doctors say it can take up to a year to be inducted into the infertility club. A couple who are aged in their twenties who are trying to conceive for a year are officially infertile (or six months for couples aged in their thirties).

Matt and Cheri tried natural family planning at first. John and Karol were another couple who made the trip across their city to visit a fertility specialist. They had to sign a waiver that asked patients to not bring children to the clinic. Doing so could be too upsetting for other patients. Karol signed I don’t have any children. That was exactly the reason why her and John were at the fertility clinic in the first place.

Louisiana couple Nina and James decided a year after their wedding that they wanted to try to have a baby. They were both thirty and worried about time affecting their chances of conceiving. They remembered being told as teenagers that if they only had sex once they would definitely be pregnant. Six months passed and there was no sign of any baby appearing. Nina’s doctor dismissed concerns for any serious underlying problems affecting her ability to fall pregnant. They were told by doctors to keep trying and hopefully next month it would happen.

Infertility has been traditionally associated with women however, the cause could be due to issues with the man’s reproductive health. Factors that affect male infertility are varied. Artificial estrogen exposure has increased dramatically in plastics found in everyday items, toothpaste, household products and soy ingredients in food. Such items have the potential to decrease sperm count.

There have been couples since the beginning of humanity that have experienced infertility.

In the Biblical chapter of Genesis, God created Adam and Eve and said to them “be fruitful and multiply.” The available treatment thousands of years ago was surrogacy for those that could not conceive. This is the oldest accepted form of infertility treatment that is still used today.

After thousands of years, the world is still learning how to improve treatment outcomes and have better conversations regarding infertility.

The desire to have children is a natural biological drive. Matt and Cheri Appling have written honestly about their own and other people’s experiences with infertility. Their latest book Plus or Minus will make you laugh, cry and be inspired about the journey towards having children. If you are experiencing infertility or considering having children, I want to wish you all the best and that you have a happily ever after fairy tale ending.

Plus or Minus: keeping your life, faith and love together through infertility is published by Moody Publishers in Chicago. You can purchase a copy of the book at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

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