I have been speaking to women who are struggling with infertility for what feels like a life time. From my time as the President and then the first Executive Director of RESOLVE NYC to my time as the founder and first Executive Director of The American Fertility Association.
Now, I am hearing again from woman through this blog. The stories are all different and they are all the same. It is the regret that always gets me – that rips my heart. The level of self punishment that many of the women are putting themselves through because they blame themselves, even while they tell me that nobody ever offered them education about their fertility. And the pain that vibrates through the phone or an email is palpable. Often the woman makes apologies for the life that she had lived. There might have been an abortion. There was waiting too long to start trying once she was married….If only she had been better…if only she had been “a good girl”.
What I want to say here – is that the system has failed so many women. They have not failed themselves. Where were they supposed to get this information? From the air? When I was in school – I was taught about sex, STDs’ and birth control. That was it. Sex Education was about pregnancy prevention. That was it. Woman need to be given all the facts about reproduction starting from a young age. We need the complete story and that does include safer safe, information about STD’s, birth control and information about our reproductive potential as women. Yesterday I was in a ob/gyn office in NYC, with Dr. Drew Tortoriello the Medical Director of SIRM’s NYC Office. We have been outreaching to area GYN practices to introduce our concept of The Fertility Evaluation. And as always, in the beginning the gynecologists agreed with us that the woman that they see have no idea of their biological clock – and they understood why giving them this information is important. And then, as it sometimes happens – this lovely female gynecologist got nervous about getting her patients nervous about their biological clocks. I told her that I really get nervous going for my mammograms and my pap smears – but that I go – because the information obtained from those tests can change my life. Dr. Tortoriello suggested that she would be able to pick up patient with Premature Ovarian Failure – perhaps in time for them to bank their eggs – and still be able to have children later on. We talked to her about the importance of women getting this information so that they could plan their own reproductive lives and perhaps stay out of reproductive endocrinologist’s offices. We talked to her about the possibilities that women now have – that if they learn that they are in a borderline place when it comes to their fertility – and they are not ready to start their families that they can freeze their eggs.
Dr. Tortoriello explained how egg freezing has changed with newer freezing techniques and CGH. By the time that we left that office – I knew that we had created change. We had brought this office more than bagels and coffee – we had brought them information and a point of view that this office had not heard before – and it was a big office. We had perhaps changed the course of the reproductive lives of some women. I know that this sounds dramatic – but it is dramatic. This one practice with several gynecologists literally sees hundreds of women. We enrolled these doctors into our quest for better education for women around their fertility. I feel like we are building an army of educators one office at a time. We even talked about ways to introduce this information. And before the coffee and bagels were finished – they got it.
When I got home there was a letter from a woman waiting for me. She was full of regret. She was sure that how she had lived her life was the reason for her struggles to conceive. I wrote to her and I told her about all of the possibilities that still awaited her…for there were still many possibilities…the world still had much to offer up. That this was not about some notion that she had not lived a good life. That the infertility that she was now struggling with was not some kind of punishment. Why do we always go there? Why do we as women always blame ourselves? I wish that she had gotten information earlier – but that was my only regret for her – but that was it. And then I sent her this poem by Mary Oliver – perhaps this poem will touch you too…perhaps it is for all of us…no matter where you are in your life….
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things