A few years ago, while working as a lecturer teaching genetics, I spent a class period talking about diagnosing genetic diseases and twin studies. Following spending weeks talking about classical genetics, my students were a lot more alert and immediately had lots of questions about all the different assays. It was during the discussion about twin studies that I learned I have two students who had a twin/ part of a triple. Both students began sharing with the class their family history and answering questions about fraternal vs identical siblings (which helped drive home the distinction). But then they both did something I wasn't expecting. Both of them talked about how they were conceived through IVF. I was utterly shocked not only to hear them share this information openly with their fellow classmates, but to also see the pride that was there as they talked about how they came to be in the world. The pride they had particularly in their mothers for undergoing these treatments.
I thought about these students over the weekend, both with the looming holiday, but also following this video by Leah Campbell (formerly Single Infertile Female).
If you read Leah's post about this project, you'll find that her request for stories was met with overwhelming amount of entries and people sending pictures. And after watching this video and wiping away my own tears of gratitude, I got to thinking about the stigma and myths that is associated not only with infertility, but also with fertility treatments and the paths to resolution.
And it made me wonder why this is. Why there is still this stigma.
With my students, there was a clear pride about how they were conceived. Talking with them both after that one class, they both were aware of the struggle their parents went through to conceive them. One talked about her mother's 3 rounds of treatments prior to the pregnancy that lead to her. The other talked about PCOS. And both talked about how much their parents rocked and were so brave. "Infertility is a terrible thing," one said. "Which should tell you about how much my mom rocks."
Despite this, there's still a debate about whether to share information like this with children. Unlike adoption, where more data is showing the importance of openness about the child's history, a couple can easily remain mum about ever having dealt with infertility to begin with. For years there's been discussions about how this should be a choice for the couple who survived this trauma and are now parenting their biological children.
Yet, given what I've seen, I wonder if by remaining quiet we're actually perpetuating the myth of shame surrounding this disease. And that we are also underestimating our children in the process, assuming they couldn't handle this information.
I'm the first to admit that I'm coming at all of this with one point of view. That my decision early on to be out of the closet has colored my view point. But, like with adoption, I'm wondering if it's time we revisit this topic. That if we want recognition that infertility is a multifaceted disease that affects 1 in 8 couples in the US (1 in 6 couples in Canada and 1 in 4 couples globally), we need to start talking about this.
And this includes with our children, sharing with them how they were conceived. Giving them the chance own this part of their story too.