Infertility: the totally misunderstood disease

25 04 2011

Infertility: a disease by any other name

What is it with these people who believe we’ve brought infertility on ourselves? Why do they think the way they do? Why are their attitudes so lacking in humanity and compassion? Why do others think it’s okay for them to have kids, but adoption is the only route for the rest of us? The answer is ignorance, and sadly it’s all too common.

In her recent article, Cristina Odone attacks the IVF industry for undermining adoption in the UK. She argues that if all those who want IVF on the NHS had to first attempt adoption that it would somehow force necessary changes needed to the adoption process in the UK.

To use infertility sufferers as some sort of battering ram to change adoption policy is obscene. What is she thinking? The truth is, she isn’t thinking at all. When we first discover that we, a loving couple, are infertile – because it really is about two people, whatever the circumstances – we’re devastated, we’re in mourning, we’re grief-stricken and our femininity or masculinity has some how been found wanting. We feel anxious, guilty and worried about the future. Everything we hoped for as a couple, those dreams of creating a new generation, the progeny of our love, all those hopes and aspirations, plans and fantasies all tied up together, are suddenly dashed. Most of us would never think that adoption was the next move. We were put on this earth for a reason and it is our right to try everything we possibly can to become the biological parents of children we wish to bring into this world.

Imagine, you troop up to an adoption counsellor and she asks ‘so why do you want to adopt?’ and you say, ‘…well, actually we don’t, we want to have our own kids, but we’ve been told we can’t until we’ve tried adoption first…’ Would she think you were suitable? You wouldn’t exactly be committed would you? Besides, you’ve just found out you’re infertile, so you’re all over the place psychologically anyway. Under this scenario and you tried to adopt, you would be turned down, so the whole exercise would be self defeating and what a waste of energy, time and money it would all have been. The whole suggestion is an absurd one.

Adoption comes to mind last, after every other possibility that can be afforded has been exhausted: IVF, donor egg or surrogacy then adoption, in that order. If you’re like we were, we had fire in our bellies and a desire to fight infertility every step of the way. We were going to try whatever medical science could offer us first, then we would look at other options. Only when you have no more money to throw at it, or as in our case, when the evidence was so heavily stacked against us, with a 1% chance of success it wasn’t worth it, did we move on, but not to adoption but to donor egg, surrogacy and then adoption.

In reality, adoption rules need changing, they are antiquated and in need of reform. It is though the decline in unwanted babies, the rise of freely available abortion that has impacted the adoption market, not IVF. I cannot verify this with numbers, but I think it’s a pretty good hunch that whereas thirty to forty years ago adoption was still frowned on, it is today far more accepted.

There are many who think somehow, because we’ve chosen to have children later in life, we should be denied the support of the state to conceive. The argument is that we’ve brought it upon ourselves, therefore we should be made to pay or to accept the consequences. ‘Tough’ seems to be the view that’s held. However, in a civilised society ‘tough’ won’t cut it. We’ve paid taxes, we’ve made a different choice to those who had children early, that choice isn’t wrong, it’s just different. We have a right to be supported to become parents, in the same way that it’s your right to a university place at any time of your life. There is simply no adequate argument that gives others the right to judge us, nor to condemn us or remove the support needed.

In the light of all this, I have come up with something that I call my ‘Articles of Faith‘, the truths that I hold dear:

  1. I believe infertility is a disability and like many disabilities whilst there’s no absolute cure it can be treated, with a modicum of success – in this instance, one chance in five (depending on age etc). It should be recognised as a disability and those suffering given protection under new legislation just enacted.
  2. I believe that it is everyone’s natural, God given right to become a parent.
  3. I believe that everyone should be entitled to three free IVF treatments by the NHS.
  4. I believe that  it is everyone’s right to choose when they wish to try to become parents.
  5. I believe that all those who have experienced infertility have a duty to speak up and fight ignorance and bigotry surrounding the issue.
It is really important that we try to remain calm and rational when debating these issues because for some of the protagonists out there, this is a bit of saloon bar sport. There’s this notion somehow, held by many,  that we’re all middle class, bleeding heart, lilly-livered liberals who wear open toe sandals, read the Guardian and vote Green, and that we’ve brought this all upon ourselves and therefore, they don’t see why they should have to pay for our largesse. How wrong they are.
So, let’s stand strong, tall and proud and fight these people who know nothing of our pain and anguish. There are none so blind as they who will not see. It is our job, the one’s who are free of the constraints of infertility, who must make them see and educate them. Who will join me in this crusade?
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Adoption before IVF? I don’t think so.

22 04 2011

Making couples attempt adoption before IVF is simply wrong.

I recently responded with a letter to an ignorant and ill-informed  post by Cristina Odone in the Daily Telegraph. The link to the blog is here: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/cristinaodone/100084585/the-adoption-crisis-is-down-to-stupid-criteria-and-slow-bureaucracy-but-i-blame-the-ivf-industry-as-well . Here is my reply:

Cristina, I am not sure what I think about what you’ve written, because for me the whole issue is particularly highly charged. That said, I don’t think you really understand this subject at all. Indeed, your last two paragraphs clumsily stumble into the very essence or heart of the psychology of being a childless couple: the choices are just not rational, it’s all so unfair, and you’re both so damned desperate to become parents.

As the fertile half of a marriage (that is no more) that tried IVF (seven times, privately), donor egg (twice) and surrogacy (once, with the donor), and adoption at the end of this tortuous road, I understand something of the issues. My blog, incidentally www.djpnz.wordpress.com “How Green Is My Grass?” graphically describes some of those experiences.

The thought process between IVF and adoption is very different. Whilst there is every hope and a chance (ours was less than 5%) that you can become biological parents, you do it. It becomes addictive, obsessive and dangerously intoxicating. To think about adoption, to us, was to admit defeat and for me, the fertile half, it was the lurking thought that I could still be a dad naturally.

We spent 8 years in the vortex of IVF, donor and surrogacy issues and we came out at the end of it battered, bruised and undeniably holed beneath the water as a couple. However, my wife could not give up on the dream of being a mum, so she investigated the possibility of adoption (in New Zealand, where I am still living) of older children, because the race rules are strict here and for every white baby presented for adoption, there are more than 200 potential parents. She persuaded me, and so we embarked on yet another painful journey.

So, the children we considered were 7 and 9, brother and sister, and wards of court since they were born, practically – mum was retarded and dad was a convicted paedophile. Social services were keen for us to provide a home, placed us under immense pressure to become guardians immediately and were indecisive about what do with parental visitation rights (mum only, since dad had a restrictive order placed on him) – which disrupted the equiliburium (two weeks of bedwetting per child). Add to this both children were damaged, psychologically after so many years in care. And, us, inexperienced, wannabe parents. It was all a recipe for disaster.

Eventually I had to call time, it was destroying us, and social services had simply lied to us, we felt, to get the kids off their books. The children went back into care and we imploded. We’d been treated very badly and bore deep scars now, on top of all the other stuff previously.

It’s not actually about exercising a rationale choice Cristina, it’s about satisfying a need as a human being to do naturally what others seem to take for granted. Therefore, for the majority of couples, exhausting all of the assisted measures is the only consideration; and it has to be a horrific realisation that nothing is going to work, ever, that forces you to regroup into the minefield of adoption.

Adoption shouldn’t be seen as something to go into lightly – a softer, cheaper option, it isn’t. Its got to be considered very seriously and forcing couples to consider adoption in advance of IVF is simply cruel, unfair and unkind. It should be everyone’s right to have at least one IVF attempt before other options are considered, but psychologically, those prospective parents have to be ready, and all the time they are pondering their infertility, as a couple, they are in mourning, emotionally fraught and definitely not ready for someone else’s children.