Why do we treat infertility as if it's cancer?

So somebody can’t make a baby. So what? Why is that a tragedy? Why are we supposed to act like those people are some kind of unimaginable martyrs? what’s so terrible about not being able to make a baby?

I honestly think it’s a kind of self-absorbtion and entitlement that we shouldn’t feed into. It’s not like anybody needs to make a baby, they just want to the same way they want to buy a new house or car. Nobody’s going to die if they can’t make a baby. Nobody suffers. Why are we supposed to care, and why don’t they just adopt?

All good questions, especially given all the problems that overpopulation of humans are causing on the planet. I don’t have the drive to reproduce that many people have, but I take their word for it that it is very strong, and they want to have a baby very much. That said, my personal take is that living in the Cult of the Child world we live in has actually made things worse for sterile people; there are a lot of sources telling us that the only valid thing in this world is children and parenting, and they want to get on that bus but they can’t.

Is this actually a problem? I never hear anyone complain about this tragedy. Then again, there’s no real reason for anybody to share this woe with me.

Where are these complaints coming from?

I don’t think there would be 6 billion of us on the planet if everyone shared your view. Obviously there’s some driving genetic force in most people that places procreation as a priority in life. I certainly wanted kids, and so did my wife. She miscarried on the first try and we were both very upset. We had two kids, and a miscarriage on the third pregnancy after the first term, and after I had a vasectomy. We were upset again, but at least we had two kids at that point.

Its a loss of a potential dream. And for most people, one that is pretty basic at a biological level. You might as well ask “why do we make such a big deal about erectile dysfunction” - its a similar loss of a dream. Or why do we spend so much time complaining that “women don’t like nice guys.”

Like erectile dysfunction, much infertility can be taken care of through modern medical science. Unlike erectile dysfunction, most people can tell if women of a certain age are busy breeding or not and ask intrusive questions about it, so even if you want to keep it a private hurt, it can be difficult to pull off when Aunt Sadie says “you’ve been married three years, where are those babies?!” Or your coworkers ask.

There are people on this very board who are very stressed out about their inability (or difficulties) conceiving. Some people do think it’s a tragedy of immense proportions. I was going to say something very similar to the OP here, but it seemed cruel, when someone was so obviously hurting, even if I don’t personally understand why. I love my children more than anything, yet I could have survived just fine if I had never been a father.

Same here.

As to why people don’t “just adopt” - that’s the route I took, but it isn’t for everyone.

  1. Some people’s dream involves looking at their baby and saying “he has your EYES.” The child is the physical manifestation of your couplehood - two people becoming one…

  2. There seems to be a biological imperative to spread your genes around.

  3. Adoption is expensive.

  4. Adoption is not open to everyone. You eventually age out of a lot of programs. We had friends who waited to conceive, then started down the adoption path when conception didn’t work for them - entered into a program that closed down after three years of stops and starts, and now appear to be “too old” for pretty much any other program.

  5. Adoption puts “your” pregnancy in someone else’s hands. With the emphasis on healthy pregnancies (don’t drink, smoke, do drugs (legal or illegal), change the cat litter, eat rare meat, get too much exercise, too little exercise, sit in a hottub, drink caffeine, eat too much sugar, get an epidural while delivering - and then make sure to breastfeed or your baby will be sick and stupid) a lot of people don’t want to take the risks that their child was exposed to alcohol, cocaine or cat feces in utero. When we adopted I met a number of potential adoptive parents who were flushed out of the program simply because the agency we dealt with wasn’t even willing to work with “birthmother and father should be in a well-respected 4 year college carrying at least a 3.5, both should be athletes, both should be good looking (and white), birthmother’s pregnancy should be…” - adoptive babies are not like “create your own American Girl doll.” At the same time, infertile couples shouldn’t be required to take ANY child simply because they can’t have their own.

The only thing that sounds at all meaningful to me is that the argument of biological imperative – that women crave babies the way men crave sex. Even so, I still don’t see it as a tragedy, and it’s certainly not universal since plenty of women never feel any desire at all to have babies.

For the record, I don’t think erectile dysfunction is any tragedy either.

Also, my experience is that the more “type A” you are - particularly women - most men don’t seem to feel similarly over infertility - even when they are the ones with a low sperm count - the more infertility bugs you. Most things in life you can control. Infertility you can’t. Its very frustrating, especially since when you are at the trying to conceive age, you often haven’t been through the real tragedies of life - this is the first one - and while with some age and distance it seems like “not a huge deal” - it sometimes takes some age and distance to realize there are larger tragedies.

I don’t think either is, but my brother in law just chose to risk a reoccurance of his deadly stage three cancer rather than have his prostate removed - because that would negatively impact his sex life. So apparently it is a huge deal to some people. And we adopted - that decision didn’t even take us long.

And it isn’t universal to want sex either - but the sex drive is pretty darn basic. Most of us wouldn’t choose to be celebate. And most of us don’t choose to be childfree. (No negative judgment from me on those that make those choices, however).

I have a young friend who is coming out gay…the thing that bugs him the most is that “he won’t have children of ‘his own’” - that’s what he is grieving. (Of course, he could find a surrogate, but that concept is a little lost on an eleven year old boy discovering his sexuality).

Disclaimer: as I have posted on this board before, IRL I work with physicians in the infertility field in the U.S.

In all of the experience I have and all the market research I have found and/or sponsored, one thing is clear: do not judge how individuals feel about their own fertility and the pursuit of extraordinary means to address obstacles. Just don’t - it is not anyone’s place but theirs.

So, from the standpoint of emotional response, you simply need to understand that some women/couples regard the inability to conceive their own child and experience something as close to the organic process as possible as a significant gap in their life. You are welcome to ask why they might feel that gap - there are TONS of chat rooms and websites devoted to the topic.

Now - at a different level - there is the question of “how much of the cost of infertility treatment should be included in a health plan benefit?” and there, the question is huge - a minority of states have varying degrees of required coverage, from up front consultation only to coverage through a few cycles of IVF. The majority of states do not require inclusion of an infertility benefit. The Province of Quebec just opened up a broader infertility benefit and the clinics there are scrambling to keep up with demand.

Hope this view from the medical sector helps. In summary: different individuals regard their infertility issues in VERY different ways. Questioning / Judging the variety of responses is less critical than making decisions about what should be considered a coverable health benefit - i.e., treating access to fertility as part of basic health coverage. Given how this is playing out in the U.S. and around world, this is early days when it comes to figuring these questions out.

I’m sorry, but for many people, wanting to have a baby is nothing like wanting to buy a new house or a new car. It’s a desire on an instinctual level, like wanting sex. And like sex, I don’t have to have it, it won’t kill me not to have it, and nobody would suffer or die if I never have sex again - except that I would suffer emotionally. We have treatments for erectile dysfunction so that men don’t have to suffer emotionally from not being able to have sex. Wanting to be pregnant and have a child is not a purely rational decision; it’s shot through with emotion and instinct.

If my fiance and I discover that we’re not able to conceive, we will adopt, but I will still be heartbroken. I want to have the experience of being pregnant and of holding my newborn baby. If it turns out that I’m not able to have those experiences, I’ll deal, but you can bet your ass I’m going to spend some time mourning that loss.

Breaking up with someone you love isn’t a tragedy, either, but it still hurts like hell, and it still helps to have people to commiserate with.

We use pretty aggressive treatments/interventions on a lot of stuff that isn’t going to kill us. Infertility isn’t some oddball exception.


Is it not enough to invoke our sympathies that the parts of their bodies are not working the way they are normally supposed to? Even if you can’t sympathize with the desire to pass on your genes to the future of the world - a drive that is present in every living thing, sometimes even to the point of the parent’s death - it’s a disability. A paralyzed person doesn’t die from his inability to walk. But there’s something unhealthy affecting his body, and that’s true of an infertile person (within the normal fertile age range) as well.

I think it largely has to do with cultural conditioning. The “script” that people are supposed to follow is to get married, buy a nice house with a white picket fence and a neatly mowed lawn, and to have babies. Many people have bought into the narrative that they need to follow that script to lead a fulfilling life.

The scientific evidence contradicts this narrative, however. In fact, childless people are generally happier than people who have children.

But for some it is pretty close to that:

The desire to reproduce is one of the strongest urges we feel, in some cases outweighing our desire to stay alive. (For example, I’d gladly sacrifice myself to save my kids.) And since human beings take care of their young, this desire consists of more than just a craving for sex. It also consists of nurturing instincts, strong feelings of wanting to care for and protect our offspring.

Some people feel these feeling more strongly than others. And how these nurturing instincts express themselves is highly subject to social forces. But the desire for children is not some fleeting whimsy or fashionable indulgence. It’s as deep and fundamental a part of being human as the desire for sleep or fairness or love.

It’s not just women who crave babies. I’m a man, and I love children; I especially love babies. I love being around them, I love playing with them, I love teaching them things. I love the way they tell long stupid stories, and I love listening to the stories; I love looking at a sleeping baby. I’d love it even more if the baby in question were mine.

There are reasons I don’t ever intend to be a biological father again, and I think those reasons are valid and well-thought out. But I regret it enormously. There are some days when I’d say it breaks my heart. In fact, if I only counted days in which I saw someone else with a baby, I’d say it kill sme about half the time.