Why fertility should no longer be a closed subject
Most people expect that if and when they want to start a family, it will happen. While many couples will conceive naturally, it is estimated that one in six will experience fertility problems. So why is it still taboo?
Fertility is a topic many people still shy away from discussing. In fact a recent survey of women aged between 35 and 45 revealed that 60 per cent of respondents felt stigmatised for not having children.
“It can be a very isolating situation,” says Helen Browne who set up NISIG (The National Infertility Support and Information Group) in 1996 after her second failed IVF treatment. “When my fertility treatment failed to work a second time I felt absolutely crushed and devastated. The realisation that I’d never have a child of my own came crashing down around me.”
While Helen did seek counselling support, she felt that she really needed to speak to someone who had been there and knew exactly what she was going through.
“The main reason I feel fertility is still not talked about in this country is that it is almost impossible to convey to people who haven’t been through it what it feels like. There’s a feeling of loss and despair that you really can’t quantify.” In fact, a 2004 study found that 40 per cent of infertile women suffered from depression.
But it’s important not to consider fertility as a woman-only problem – one third of all cases of subfertility can be attributed to a male factor. “In my experience men can find it even harder to open up about infertility than women.
This is largely due to society’s portrayal and terminology of men facing fertility problems. People can use phrases like ‘shooting blanks’ or ‘poor swimmers’ which can be extremely emasculating.” So what needs to happen to bring fertility out of the closet?
According to Helen, the first step is for it to be recognised as a medical condition. Infertility has been recognised by the World Health Organisation as a disease but there is still a lack of financial support for those going through the treatment.
“If infertility was looked upon by the general public as a medical condition it would take some of the stigma away. Fertility drugs are accepted on the drugs payment scheme and you can claim tax back on your fertility treatment, but more needs to be done.”
Twenty per cent of the total cost of fertility treatment can be claimed back in tax. That’s just €1,000 back for treatment totalling €5,000.
Another area Helen feels needs work is public education.
“It’s important for the general public who are not going through fertility problems to have an understanding – as far as that’s possible - of how infertility affects a couple. At counselling sessions people often tell me that they told a good friend that they were having problems conceiving and the friend said just relax, it will happen. It’s a very Irish thing to say but it’s also not helping the situation. Nor are stories of a friend of a friend going to Lourdes and conceiving shortly after.
“We held a fertility conference recently which included lots of information from fertility experts throughout Ireland. While we have no way of knowing why the attendance was low, I fear that people may have been afraid to come in case they bumped into someone they knew. I would like to see that change.”
Top tips for coping with fertility problems
• Don’t blame yourself – Fertility is a medical condition and should be treated as one.
• Confide in your partner – It’s not only women who feel the pain of infertility, so it’s
important to lean on and support each other.
• Educate yourself – Find out as much as you can about the treatments available and
ask your doctor plenty of questions. This will help you to make informed decisions with
regard to your treatment.
• Get support from professionals and others with fertility problems – It’s important to realise that you are not alone