I've actually thought a lot about this comparison myself. What I have come up with is that it might be easier to make the point (which you made beautifully, by the way, so this is in no ways a criticism) by using a disease/condition that is not life threatening. I've thought about posting about this myself but your post is just too good of an opportunity to waste! When I've thought about trying to get others to understand infertility by comparing it to something like cancer, my concern has always been that my arguments would be dismissed out of hand because I was comparing IF to something life threatening and that would be hard for some people to overcome. I found myself thinking instead of an injury I had a couple of years ago. I hurt my wrist while at work and what at first appeared to be a minor injury eventually turned into something much bigger involving 2 surgeries, occupational and physical therapy, and more. As I was dealing with this (for what ended up being more than a year), I felt desperate to get proper function back to my wrist (and my arm and hand as well). You could say I went to extreme lengths to fix it. It was not life-threatening, but not having full function of one of my appendages did certainly compromise my quality of life, to say the least. And no one in my life ever commented that I was being desperate, or that it was "God's plan" for me to have a janky wrist. Of course not. It was a medical condition that most people would have gone to lengths to correct. And yet, when those of us dealing with infertility, a medical condition, try various different medical procedures to help "fix" the problem, we are judged for it. Definitely a double standard.
But, to tag on to Tracy's point -- a lot of these statements are coming out of ignorance. Since we made the decision to adopt and to let it be widely known that we are adopting, I've really come to realize how little most people understand about the process. I just take it for granted that people know more than they do, both about adoption and just the process of reproduction in general (not to even mention infertility). I am constantly amazed about how little people know. And most people have no reason to know any of this. While it is somewhat frustrating to discover that our friends who have 3 kids do not even really know what an embryo is, that's just the way it is! They obviously never needed to know that bit of information... oh well.
I just wanted to jump back in here to say that I am appreciating this post even more as all the comments continue to come in. It has really made me think and explore my own feelings even more than I already had and I am actually working on a post right now to continue my thoughts on this -- but I'm thinking that it may take me a little while to finish. I appreciate what Kathy V wrote regarding my earlier comment and think she's correct -- my analogy is not complete. I came up with it months ago as I was thinking about the tendency to classify women going through infertility as "desperate" and thought it would be a way to connect to people in my own life and get them to understand more clearly how I was feeling and how that classification of "desperate" was hurtful and misplaced (even though I've used it to describe myself at times). Of course, I've never actually talked about this to anyone, just explored it in my own head. But the analogy of IF to an injury is not complete b/c an injury such as I described is usually treatable and curable; whereas infertility is for most of us something we have to live with always. And as has been pointed out, it can also sometimes be life-threatening. I should know this, having had 2 ectopic pregnancies, but it's something I tend to push aside and not think about. It's only when I get the rare reaction of "how scary, you could have died" that I remember again how scary it was/is. I'm appreciating this post and the comments because not only have they got me thinking but also because of how nice and validating it is to read other people reacting the same way that I am. So thanks Melissa for starting such a good conversation!
I think perhaps the sign of a good blog post is if it makes you really think about something and question your reactions. So I used the comparison of my infertility to the injury of my wrist because it was something that I experienced personally and that the people around me, (friends, family, coworkers), remember and saw all that I went through. I think in many ways it’s a good analogy, but only up to a point. I have to say I was somewhat proud of myself when I came up with the analogy because I thought it might possibly really help people understand IF a little better – when I was first thinking about it what I was mainly trying to address was the whole issue of desperation and the negative connotations of that word, “desperate” that come to be associated with people struggling with infertility.
So my main point was that no one ever referred to me as desperate when I had appointment after appointment with doctors and various other medical practitioners in search of getting the range of motion and overall functionality in my wrist back. The difference between this injury and my infertility is, of course, that my wrist did eventually heal. The only sign that I was ever injured is the 3 inch surgical scar. And that’s almost a good thing. It’s like an outward sign of what I endured (since it was a work injury I like to show it off as my level of commitment to the organization!). The scars of my infertility are all internal, invisible on the outside. And despite all the doctors’ appointments and treatments and surgery, my infertility is not healed. And it never will be. I suppose there are cases where infertility is treated and cured, in a manner of speaking. But many, if not most, of us we will always be infertile.
For those whom treatment successfully results in a pregnancy, the infertility is not cured. It doesn’t just go away. Because the treatment was only successful that one time—I say this not to discount the joy of that success but merely to make the point that if the couple who had success once desire to build their family further, they are usually once again faced with their infertility to deal with all over again. And just because treatment worked once does not mean it will work again. In my own personal case, my infertility will never be “cured” – because I no longer have functioning fallopian tubes the only way I’ll ever get pregnant is through IVF. So this is where my analogy breaks down – I may be able to get someone to understand the desperation piece somewhat better when comparing it to an injury like a broken arm or leg, but it doesn’t get at the lasting nature of infertility. I think this is why we tend to go to an analogy like cancer. I didn’t want to go there, however, because that is not quite right either. To me, one of the hardest things about infertility is the fact that while the treatment is medicalized and involves large amounts of medicines and oftentimes surgery, in reality you’re not really “sick” (most of the time).
You’re not sick and yet you are taking large quantities of medication, often involving very large needles. You’re not sick and yet a lot of the time you feel like complete and utter shit. You’re not sick and yet you have more doctors’ appointments than anyone you know. You’re not sick and yet you are having surgery, often multiple times. And because you’re not sick in the traditional sense of the word, you also have to deal with the insensitivity of the general public. And, because reproduction is supposed to be something that just happens naturally, everyone feels entitled to have an opinion on the matter and to share their “expertise” with you.
But as I noted to my comments, most people really have very little expertise. I have become so intimately familiar with all aspects of the process that I often forget that others will not know what I am talking about. I just mention off hand that we have done IVF and throw around the terms transfer and retrieval without stopping to even think that they probably don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. So while I can get very upset (alright pissed off) by people trying to share their non-existent expertise or uninformed judgment, I try not to get too upset by sheer ignorance. I think it is unrealistic to expect most people to really understand the details of IF, just as most of us not directly impacted by it don’t understand the details of other diseases; however, I think it is completely justifiable to expect people to show more sensitivity and empathy. And not just for infertiles but in general.