Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reflections on "the truth about IVF"

A few days ago, SIF wrote this post that has been causing somewhat of a stir. Before I go further, I feel it's necessary to state that I admire her bravery and strength in expressing her point of view. For a lot of people in this community, it's not a popular one. But blogging has never been about being popular and I hope that though there is disagreement, there will continue to be support for expressing different points of view.

Back in December, while in the middle of our IVF cycle, Grey started digging into the history. His interest was not only sparked by the fact that we were in the thick of things, but also from the announcement of Robert G. Edwards receiving the 2010 Nobel Prize. Briefly, for those of you who don't know the history, Edwards and his colleague Patrick Steptoe developed in vitro fertilization. Their work lead to the birth of the first "test-tube" baby Louise Brown. What lead to Edwards receiving the Nobel Prize was not simply the fact that the procedure lead to Louise's birth, introducing a new way to help infertie couples who formerly had no possibility of having a baby, it was the fact that Louise was ultimately able to go on and reproduce without additional medical intervention. The reason Steptoe wasn't awarded this honor was because he passed away in 1988 and the Nobel Prize is not awarded postmortem.

All of this is fascinating, but equally fascinating is the history of fertility treatments, which is long and staggering. For those of you who want an abbreviated version, here's a timeline. To see that some of the first attempts at fertility treatments began in 1855 is mind-boggling. But what is really a piece of fascination that I was previously unaware of is the Del-Zio's lawsuit. I won't talk about this case today, as I believe it desires its own post, but I will say that the idea one would interrupt someone's attempt to expand their family, even though it happened almost 40 years ago, caused a very strong emotional respond.

As of today, tens of thousands of children are born each year in the US because of fertility treatments and IVF, though only a small percentage of these treatments, still has the highest success rates. Because of this procedure, many women like myself are able to become pregnant.

Despite what we know today about fertility treatments, there's still this onslaught against those who pursue treatments. Because we are willing to inject our bodies with hormones, take medications to sustain a pregnancy and even go through extra measures to bring home healthy children, we are viewed as pushing something that is "unnatural." Not too long ago, I listened to someone who was clearly ignorant on the subject talk about how she would rather live childless than expose potential children to any of "those drugs."

But here's the thing: we live in a contaminated world. Our food, our water, even our air. There's no escaping it. Worse yet, we accumulate these harmful chemicals in our bodies over time, ultimately passing them on to our children. Sure, we can try to live an organic lifestyle, but the reality is that the fertility drugs we use to promote ovulation and pregnancy are far safer than the fumes we are exposed to from motor vehicles. They're far safer than some of the water we drink. And they are far safer than most of the chemicals we expose ourselves, our world to on a daily basis.

In addition, biology is a wonderfully robust system. It's amazing under what conditions life will thrive! If given just enough to be able to do so. For some, it requires a little bit of progesterone because their bodies aren't making enough, for others it's a matter of identifying what is not functioning properly and correcting it. Again, there's nothing wrong with this, because it is proper medical care. And for a lot of women, addressing these issues not only allows them to have children, it also allows them to lead healthier lives.

Despite the fact that I don't agree with SIF on the point of supplementation and fertility drugs, there is one thing she talks about that I do agree with, which is the dark-side to ART treatments: with the technology comes the continual possibility of hope. And it's all to easy for couples to become lost in the loop of trying again and again.

So when is enough, enough? The reality is, that decisions is a personal one. I've met a couple who have gone through many years for treatment, pursuing multiple rounds of IUIs but will never venture into IVF or adoption because of religious/cultural beliefs. I've met a couple who have moved straight to IVF after being diagnosed with endometriosis. And I've met a couple who decided after 2 yrs of this madness that adoption was their path to parenthood. Their son and daughter will turn 2 yrs and 4 yrs this year. I think what we each need to ask ourselves is how long we will continue on this journey before we are willing to explore other options. Because I've also seen women who have ruined themselves and their families through continually pushing for fertility treatments, refusing to ever look to another road. Though it's wholly unfair, their refusal to resolve leads to madness. And to allow infertility to take your sanity means that it wins.

The truth about IVF is that it's an amazing medical treatment. One that will hopefully be more accepted in our society one day soon. But the other truth is that it's not a silver bullet, as some will not be able to bear children after going through this procedure.  And though it has given so many a reason to hope, ultimately it is our responsibility to those we love as well as to ourselves to make potentially painful decisions.


  1. This is an excellent post. Thank you for writing it.

  2. This is a very good post. Your SILs was very interesting, also. The basic fact is that pregnancy puts all of those hormones we are putting in our bodies with IVF, and THEN some. Progesterone doesn't cause birth defects, or every human alive would have them. The fact is that not all eggs and sperm are meant to get together, and when we put them together artificially, the chances of miscarriage and birth defects increase. The manufacturers of the hormones (they aren't drugs, they are hormones) have to put that on the box to avoid lawsuits, not because they actually cause fetal harm. Estrogen, which is a hormone that increases with IVF treatment, as well as pregnancy, is the hormone that causes breast cancer, fibroids, and endo in women. But high levels of estrogen are naturally necessary to maintain a healthy pregnancy, even in perfectly fertile women. Your estrogen levels peak between ages 35 and menopause, which is why those are the most dangerous times for us regarding ovarian, cervical, and breast well as fibroids.

    The medical facts are that women who never get pregnant or breastfeeds are more likely to get breast cancer than women who do, and that getting pregnant and having a baby decreases endo in the future. IVF can be really scary, but so is parenthood, and fear alone shouldn't hold us back. Before reading the legally required side effects on your IVF medications, talk to your Gyn and your RE and get the facts before you panic.

    1. Quick clarification: SIF = Single Infertile Female. We've never met and, hence, are not related.

  3. Amen. I agree completely. It's a very personal journey and each of us has to come to these decisions on our own time for our own reasons.

  4. I found this very interesting. Yes, we are making our bodies do things they aren't able to do on their own, but we aren't making them do something they aren't meant to do. We are only providing our bodies with what they need in order to do what they are designed to do. I know different people have different thresholds for "drugs" vs. "natural." I am baffled by people who think thyroid hormone is a "drug", but dessicated pig thyroid is "natural" and would rather put that in their bodies. But that is their prerogative.

    In the end, people do have to do what is right for them. It's similar to my refusal to consider intralipids. It just doesn't make sense to me, and for others the entire IVF process doesn't make sense. I think SILs post was actually very respectful. Her views are her own, and while I don't agree, I don't think she is wrong for believing that. There is so much uncertainty in this process. We all have to find some way to come to terms with it.

  5. Thank you for posting it so clearly and with so many links for reference. Its a sad fact that in the end not all of us will end up with the dream and we must seek out other routes. I just hope that I can retain my sanity.

  6. In the early stages of trying, I believed that 'there was a plan' and I really struggled with the notion that if things didn't happen for us, would I be ruining 'the plan' by taking a more serious approach and receive help through ART. Now I think differently. I totally agree with your statement that IVF and ART gives hope to couples - and sometimes it is hard to know where to stop. Before IVF became so common, people would take their diagnosis of IF and cope with it and come up with a new plan. Now, people have options (which is a GOOD thing) but it becomes difficult on when to say enough is enough.

  7. Really great post. Thank you for writing this. I read SIF's post and I didn't take it personally, which I thought I would since I'm still in the process about starting IVF. I think she was writing just about her experiences and her changed opinions. I completely agree about the "dark side" of ART. The double edged sword is that to get through IF treatments our goals have to become short-term and small. Make follicles, ovulate, raise my estrogen levels, etc. Anything longer term than that and it gets overwhelming because too much is in the balance. Because of this, I can see how it can become difficult to step back and see the larger picture and identify when enough is enough. I just hope that all people going through IF can respect that each decision is a very personal one.

  8. Great post, Cristy. I agree with you. These decisions are so personal.

  9. Girl, I could sit and read your posts all day. I'm trying to catch up on my blogs from this week and this is so very true. My best friend IRL is also battling IF. We went through IVF #1 within a few months of each other. Sadly, theirs was unsuccessful while just a few short months later we had a BFP. The miscarriage followed shortly after and at the end of several whirlwind months, we had both experienced that "dark-side" of IF treatments.

    We never thought that it wouldn't work for her. We never dreamed once we had our BFP that it could still be ripped away from us.

    We are now a few days away from retrieval for IVF #2 while they have chosen not to pursue IVF #2, for now. Everyone handles things so differently and there are so many other factors that can affect us in making these decisions. I guess we all try to make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time. Sometimes we look back and know that we made the right decision, other times we look back and cringe, wishing that we would've went the other direction. But maybe everything in life is like that to a point. We do what we think is best for us, while that may be something very different for another couple.


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