I recently came across a question in an online infertility support group and was drawn in by the responses. The question was: do you plan on telling your children that they were created through IVF?
I read through the responses divided into yes and no camps. Those that favored the “no” side gave varied reasons. One woman feared that her child could be bullied if it was known, since we live in a world where criticisms of assisted reproduction can be harsh and many people are ignorant. Another said that IVF conception (and the resulting baby) is no different than any other conception. While other women were unsure and thought they would keep it a secret unless their child grew up to have infertility problems of their own, at which point they would share. Some felt that young children wouldn’t understand IVF anyway, but they might tell them about it when they were older.
On the flip side, women countered that creation through IVF is part of the child’s story and they should know. Many wanted their children to know how very wanted they were, as indicated by the great lengths their parents went through to conceive them. Others expressed the opinion that education is important and science is cool, so they want their children to know.
The reasoned responses went on, and clearly it is a personal choice.
Honestly, to ask this question never even crossed my mind. My first IVF baby was about 2.5 years old when we began the grueling succession of IVF cycles in pursuit of baby #2. The question I asked myself was whether or not to let my daughter know that we were trying to make a baby. For us, making a baby meant IVF. There just wasn’t any other way. The two are inextricably connected, so if we told her that we were trying to make a baby, then knowing about IVF would be a given.
Ultimately, we let our daughter in on it. We told her we were trying to make a baby, and without skipping a beat she expressed her desire for a little sister. A desire that didn’t waver for the entire year of non-stop infertility treatments that lead to my current IVF pregnancy. I knew there were dangers of telling her what we were trying to do. After all, so many things could and did go wrong. There were many failures. I wanted to protect her from that. But I also wanted her to know that I was desperately trying to give her the baby sibling she so very much desired. And then there was simply the reality of the process. The medications and transfers impacted our breastfeeding relationship. Although she did continue to nurse through treatments, there were times when my milk would decrease or we would take breaks during the two week wait for my own (likely paranoid) reasons. There were times I couldn’t lift her, per doctors orders. I spent much time at doctor appointments. And lets face it, I can’t even poop without my daughter busting in on me (yes she can unlock a door with objects that aren’t even keys), so the idea that I’m going to administer 4 or more shots daily without her knowing is laughable.
So instead, I decided to embrace it – and bring her into the experience. She loved being a helper and was tickled to help me do my shots by wiping my belly with the alcohol swab. She knew what it meant when she would get to nurse again after the two week wait was over – that there was no more baby in my belly. And when it finally worked, as scared as I was of a miscarriage, we still told her. And she was ecstatic that she was finally going to get to be a big sister, and I desperately hoped she really would.
In our world this is simply normal.
My daughter understood all of this, a simplified version, to the extent possible at a very young age. I’ve joked that when she finally experiences sex-education in school and hears about the birds and bees, she’s going to raise her hand and say, “yeah, that’s NOT how babies are made!” Of course, I’ll have told her all about reproduction in it’s many forms long before school does. Because I want to make sure she gets the right information. I don’t think a complete conversation about reproduction can be had without talking about all of the variability that comes along with this complex topic. I also believe it should include dialogue about the common problems that can go along with females’ cycles, many of which may impact fertility, as well as male infertility issues.
My mom had painful periods and this was presented to me as normal. Just the curse of being a woman, I suppose. But then, as I trudged through years of infertility, tests, and surgeries, I learned that it’s not necessarily normal. In fact, painful periods can be caused by endometriosis, hormone issues, or other factors. Imagine my surprise when an exploratory laparoscopy found endometriosis in my body. It never even occurred to me that I might have endometriosis. I didn’t even know anything about it. Then imagine my surprise when, after removing it, the pain that plagued me during my period vanished. My periods were pain free. I didn’t even know that was a thing.
I want my daughters to know that they were conceived through IVF. I want them to know that infertility is unfortunately common. I want them to be educated about sex, in all it’s many forms. I want them to be educated about choice, consent, rape, and options. I want them to know about human reproduction, how it really works, and why it sometimes doesn’t. I want them to know about what a healthy period is like and what things can impact that. I want them to know all this and more – without shame or embarrassment. So that they will always have a voice that can be heard and a body that is their own.
I hope that future generations of women and men understand these things and can face them without shame or secrecy. That, in my opinion, is how change begins to happen. And when it comes to the world of infertility, there is a lot of change that needs to take place – from opening up dialogues, to increased research and insurance coverage. We have a way to go, but education is a necessary foundation.