The Infertility Double Standard
I'm participating in Amateur Nester's Infertility Link-Up today, so I have submitted this blog that seemed to be pretty well received in the last week or so.
When folks read my blog, overwhelmingly, the reactions are positive. People are supportive and empathetic, two things I value so much in my friends and family. However, when I begin to look beyond my closest circle of friends and family, to engage with the world at large, too many times I seem to find a lack of understanding, and often, a complete lack of compassion.
In recent days, there was a specific instance that highlighted how misunderstood those of us facing infertility truly are, even in our twenty-first century world.
Yesterday, I opened a link to an article about the inadequacy of fertility options in Washington State, an article that was highlighted on the newsfeed for Resolve. The article wasn't anything spectacular-- it simply stated the truth. For most couples facing infertility, most states in our country provide inadequate avenues for access to fertility treatments, except for the most affluent. The article suggested that legislation, at a national level, dictating a basic level of coverage for infertility could benefit many infertile couples while actually helping to manage the costs associated with risky, high order multiples that sometimes result from lower cost options that have fewer safeguards.
For some reason, I felt the need to scroll to the comments. I was astonished to find so much ignorance and so much hate congregated in one place. Here are a sampling of the REAL comments folks had for women facing infertility.
One dose of sympathy from a commenter named SNOUT:
"Why is it the state's business? Children are a blessing not a right. Adopt and be just as much of a parent to some poor kid who needs a family to set them on the right path in life. Don't expect me to foot the bill if you're shooting blanks or are barren. Life is life."
Rich offered this gem:
"Is there anything these people won't ask or demand from the state? Not everyone gets a trophy."
Bighorn (I'm not making these up people. They came up with them.) added this much needed observation:
"Just recently MYNW ran an article of a councilman proposing residents foot the bill for abortions. Now here is an article saying there is not enough support mechanisms for the infertile.
Howz-about getting these two groups together?? What-d-ya-say??
I see a solution here that costs taxpayers NOTHING!"
When I read these postings from people all over the country, I immediately felt enraged and completely sick. Most people don't understand. I would wager some of you, even those of you reading this, might even agree with some of their points. So, just in case, let me explain some things on behalf of the barren, blank-shooting, trophy-hunting infertiles who are, apparently, looking for a handout.
I am an employee of the state of North Carolina. I have subsidized insurance through my JOB, but it covers little to no infertility treatment. I pay a monthly rate to offset the cost of my insurance and the rest of it is covered by my employer... like ANYONE ELSE THAT HAS EMPLOYER BASED HEALTHCARE. However, I have better coverage for infertility than many of my teacher friends who live in other states. That's right, folks. My bad infertility coverage is better than the downright terrible coverage many of my friends face in other states.
The article in question, and Resolve specifically, have never asked the GOVERNMENT to pay for my fertility treatments. I'm not asking for a handout. What Resolve, and infertiles like me advocate, is LEGISLATIVE MANDATES that tell insurance companies they can't put infertility in the same category as, say, liposuction. Resolve wants people to acknowledge that infertility is a real, medical condition with all of the trappings that come with complex medical issues. It isn't a choice to be infertile. It's a consequence of genetics, environment, or a host of other things, just like any other medical condition. Infertile women like me, who, on the whole, use their insurance coverage less than most Americans, want what they pay for. They want to know that the diagnosis of infertility won't come at the cost of a second mortgage or have a sticker price so high they simply can't afford to enter the market.
The average American, instead, stands on a soapbox to tell me I don't need a trophy and "life is life." They shout that I'm not guaranteed a child, because it is a blessing, and apparently a medical diagnosis makes me unfit to be a mother. My infertility costs them too much money and it's not their job to take care of me.
So, if the person faces cancer, heart disease, or a myriad of other conditions, are we supposed to say, life is life? No medical treatment for you. Sorry. You're looking for a handout and I don't want to help you. Your expensive chemotherapy or surgical procedures are likely to be expensive and drive up the cost of my premiums. You must have brought this on yourself, so you can figure out how to handle this all out of pocket.
Of course, I would never advocate this callous response to anyone fighting any condition. As I have said before, I know my infertility will not kill me. But, it breaks my heart every single day and, statistically, puts my marriage and mental health in jeopardy because of the extraordinary stress of pursuing difficult fertility treatments. That's before we even begin to think of the additional financial strain the treatments cause as well. I know they say what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger, but swimming in the ocean can lead to drowning if we don't take the proper precautions. There are no life jackets in the infertility game. Apparently, the are too expensive for the general public.
The hard truth that I have faced for years is that there are zero guarantees that I will ever be a mother. Fertility treatments fail. Adoptions fall through. There are no promises until that baby is safely in your arms. Even then, we're still not guaranteed tomorrow.
If parents think they can make infertiles feel worse by telling us we are not "blessed" because we can't have a child, they don't know anything. Every infertile person I know is acutely aware of how much of a blessing a child really is. I honestly believe people who struggle to have children understand just how miraculous and wonderful children are.
Of course, there is the line about adopting to "set children on the right path." This supposes that there is some excess number of children, just waiting in the proverbial cabbage patch for eager parents to adopt them. That's not the case. Adoption is expensive, difficult, and sometimes heartbreaking. It's a beautiful way to complete a family, if that is what is on your heart. But, shockingly, we don't tell people with genetic conditions they are unfit to be parents because of a medical condition. We don't tell them they should adopt to rescue children from terrible lives. We don't sterilize folks who are incarcerated. We don't ban addicts from becoming parents. Likewise, why should we tell people struggling with the medical condition of infertility that is it THEIR fault they can't get pregnant and as such, the insurance they have faithfully paid for will offer no help?
I know some of you will never see my point. It is easier to believe that you are superior to me because of your fertility. You might call me narcissistic because I want to try to have my own, genetic children before I pursue other family building options. My question for anyone who judges my choices is simply, do you live by your own advice? Did you shrug off the "narcissism" of wanting to carry your child to term so you could save children who needed it?
I've come to terms with the fact that Jeremy and I will spend... well... way too much money trying to start our family. Goodness knows I could have already outfitted one heck of a nursery with all of the things we've paid for related to infertility. I'm staring down the age of 34 like it's the barrel of a loaded gun. Thirty five is "advanced maternal age" when all the sources say egg quality diminishes tremendously, so I am looking to resolve my infertility before I face my thirty fifth birthday. So, mandates for infertility will likely never help me. But, I'm still going to keep fighting for them, because no one's daughter, sister or friend should have to face financial hardship or ruin just to have a family.
Children aren't trophies. They are more than blessings. They are not pawns in a game. Children are the glue that cements a family together. They are our bond to the future, to days we will never see. They are hope incarnate. Children are goodness and fairness and innocence and truth. Maybe, someday, people who have conceived their children easily can stop screaming at infertiles and realize we see what you see... except the absence of what we desire most allows us to see it, and ache for it, even more acutely.