"Hey, Moxie – 'splain something to me. You have four kids, so you're not infertile anymore, right? Why is it still such a big deal to you if you have FOUR kids? You can't really be that concerned with infertility anymore if you're not really infertile. You have four kids so like, problem solved, right?"
Now, if assholishness were a contagion and hearing those words infected me, I would have said, "So, 'splain something to me – you're a teacher, right? Does that mean that you're smart or something? Because you went to college, so like, problem solved, right? Methinks not. Because you are stupid. Still."
As much as I would have liked to unleash that little nugget of snark, I remembered that to most fertiles, the basics of infertility are little understood, so the further implications of it are likely hardly considered. It was the perfect opportunity for me to Bust a Myth – contrary to popular belief, infertility often isn't the main diagnosis; it's usually just one symptom of some other bigger, overarching health issue. Finally having children may solve the childlessness that infertility brings, but it does nothing to cure the other health concerns that infertiles often have to deal with for years after having children is no longer the focus.
Take myself, for example. I have PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, for those of you reading who aren't in the know). 2.5 years of let's just see what happens, then let's focus and make it happen, then WHATTHEHELLIT'SNOTHAPPENING! did not lead to a baby. It wasn't until a doctor told me that I had lazy ovaries and prescribed Clomid that I was finally able to conceive, and it was about a year after the twins were born before I received the official diagnosis of PCOS.
PCOS? Hmm. Not only did it explain why I couldn't get pregnant, but it also explained why those pesky chin hairs kept coming back and why I inexplicably started a slow, but steady weight gain at the age of 15 (which also un-coincidentally coincided with when my cycles started going all wonky). Learning about the further health risks quickly showed me that not getting pregnant might be my most immediate concern, but it wasn't the greatest of them; I learned that I am also at greater risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, ovarian and/or uterine cancer, and heart disease, all of which are conditions that clearly run matrilineally through my family. Did finally having children cure me of my infertility? No. As I said before – the state of childnessness was alleviated, but now I have the rest of my life to contend with the parts of PCOS that have nothing to do with infertility.
And though I'm not personally in the babymaking phase of my life, I can't help but worry about how my fertility issues might affect my girls when they are ready to conceive, if they so choose. PCOS is genetic, and though my mother was never officially diagnosed, she has various issues which practically spell out PCOS. My mom had several early miscarriages before she got pregnant with me, she always dealt with hormonal imbalances, and she eventually needed a hysterectomy after one too many abnormal PAP smears. I hope that my girls inherit more than just my penchant for sarcasm and ability to remember a plethora of useless trivia, but in the case of fertility, I pray that they've taken on more of the gentics that run on Frank's side of the family. His grandmother had 8 kids and his mom got pregnant with him when she was just 14 (I know). Frank's sister got pregnant at ages 16 and 19, and then had her own set of twins at 29. Now, I surely don't want Kyra or Kaelyn to run out and get pregnant in their teens just to prove that they can do it (Look, Ma! No Clomid!), but I don't want for them to experience any form of infertility for themselves, either. The thought that they might have to – and because I passed it on to them – is one that fills me with a guilt that I can't even describe.
So, no – in many cases, finally having children does not suddenly solve all of an infertile's problems. While we all have the condition of being infertile in common, it would be wrong to paint us all with the same wide brush of conditions and treatments, and to assume that having children "cures" us minimizes the specifics our varied diagnoses and overlooks the fact that for many of us, the problems associated with our infertilty reach far beyond our concerns with building our families.
When faced with stupid assumptions about infertility, my initial gut reaction is always to bust a mouth (I got my mom's temper, too). Instead, I use it as an opportunity to Bust a Myth. Maybe if my girls have to face infertility, by that time people might be more educated about it because I, and others, chose to educate instead of retaliate.
Infertility affects 1 in 10 of the population. Chances are, even if you've never dealt with infertility, someone you know has. Unlike most other health issues, infertility is one that has little mandated insurance coverage, little public understanding, and far too many myths. Learn more about the causes and effects of infertility at Resolve.org. Make National Infertility Awareness Week last the whole year; there are over 300 Bust a Myth entries, one for almost every day until next year's NIAW celebration. Read 'em or write 'em, it's your choice. Either way, keep bustin' myths.