Talking out loud about infertility

Although 1/6 Canadians suffer with infertility, it’s still a taboo subject discussed in secret

The last week of April marked the 12th annual Canadian Infertility Awareness Week (CIAW), which creates a conversation around and strives to find solutions for the one in six Canadians struggling with infertility.

This is the second in a three-part series that began during CIAW that examines infertility, how it affects our community, and what can be done to overcome its psychological and physical challenges.

READ PART ONE: Looking for the key to the infertility puzzle

What’s the big secret?

Human beings reproduce—it’s what we do—and we do it all the way down to a cellular level. Reproduction is also what we have in common with every other living organism on the planet, although the actual methods vary.

However, humans are a bit different than the rest of the Kingdom Animalia brood: not only do we typically have far fewer offspring during our lifespan, but about half of North American pregnancies are now planned rather than simply occurring as a byproduct of sexual activity.

So while people don’t have a biological drive specific to reproduction, meaning not everyone shares the same deep, ingrained desire to have children, at least half of our society is actively seeking entry into parenthood.

“We’ve come to a point where women (and couples) can decide when to get pregnant, so many wait until they feel the time is right,” said Dr. Shaun Tregoning, an OBGYN who works with Olive Fertility Clinic in Abbotsford.

And although infertility isn’t new and is becoming more common each year, it’s not as openly discussed as other health issues. Perhaps it’s because infertility isn’t easily understood by those who’ve never experienced it, or because it deals with matters of love and sex, but either way it’s a taboo subject and discussing it is outside of societal norms.

But not talking about it is only hurting the one in six Canadians who are dealing with infertility because silence doesn’t lead anywhere but isolation.

Heidi & Jacob Loeppky

There was no doubt about it, Heidi Loeppky always wanted to be a mom. From the time she was a little girl, she knew that once she met and married the man destined to be her husband, they’d have lots of babies and she’d be the mom she always wanted to be.

“I love babies,” said Loeppky, who has her early childhood education certificate. “I’ve always loved children and babies. When I grew up I knew I wanted to be a mom, that was my biggest desire as a young girl.”

So when Heidi married Jacob Loeppky—who was also eager to become a parent—when she was 21-years-old, it made perfect sense that they began trying to get pregnant right away “because you never know how long it’s going to take.”

Or how heartbreaking the journey to parenthood is going to be. In the first few years of their marriage, the Loeppkys suffered multiple losses. “It took us four years to get pregnant with a sustainable pregnancy and we had four miscarriages in the two years prior to the sustainable pregnancy,” said Loeppky.

“The doctors chalked up the first two to, ‘It happens,’ but I had never been exposed to that aspect of miscarriages. I didn’t even know my mother had had two miscarriages until my after my second.”

More than 600,000 Canadians struggle to conceive each year.

It was then that Loeppky says she went to her family doctor and asked for help. After receiving a referral to a specialist who ordered diagnostic tests and prescribed medication, the Loeppkys experienced yet another miscarriage.

“By the third (pregnancy) I was just waiting for (a miscarriage) to happen so I could (act) like it was like water off a duck’s back,” said Loeppky, wiping tears away from her eyes. “I’d had yet to carry past 11 weeks, and our earliest (loss) was at eight weeks.

“You’re losing a child and that’s devastating,” Loeppky continued, her voice cracking. “I didn’t even really have anyone to talk to about it and grieve with other than with my husband. I began to feel so discouraged. The friends around me were starting to have babies … and my sister had conceived her second child.

“I started doubting my self-worth and wondered if I was broken, or if God was mad at me.”

Breaking the silence

When it comes to nature and reproduction, natural selection is key. And like many people in a similar situation, Heidi Loeppky didn’t know almost a quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage, which is perfectly normal because in up to 80 per cent of early losses the embryo has chromosomal abnormalities.

“But miscarriages can be embarrassing,” said Loeppky. “There’s so much shame, thoughts of being broken or that something’s wrong with you. And (it’s isolating), you must be alone if others don’t talk about it.

“I think if I’d known my mom had miscarriages early on, I think that would’ve helped,” Loeppky added. “I needed confirmation that how I was feeling was okay: that I had the right to feel angry, that I had the right to feel upset, that I had the right!”

Wanting to break the silence around miscarriages and fertility struggles, Loeppky decided to be forthcoming about her own challenges. “I needed to be open about my miscarriages because there’s not enough support for women like me who are going through the exact same thing,” Loeppky said matter-of-factly.

“They feel abandoned, they feel alone, broken and destroyed, and it’s not okay as a woman to feel that way. I want others to know if they’re struggling they can come talk to me about it.” And talk they have. Loeppky has had family, friends, and strangers approach her about their own struggles.

Creating an openness and conversation around infertility “is a very good, powerful, and valuable way of increasing awareness,” said Tregoning.

If you can increase awareness in people who don’t have infertility problems, then everyone can rally for “the right for every person to start a family—something that shouldn’t be seen as a luxury. It’s not the same thing as other uninsured services and should be something that we as a society should say we are proud to support. Certain (human) rights can’t be more important than others.”

The access dilemma

Besides the obvious, the largest problem with struggling with infertility is the cost associated with its treatments. “As fertility specialists, we feel people do not have equitable access to fertility treatments in B.C. (Our residents) don’t have the same access to care that their counterparts in Ontario and Quebec have,” said Tregoning.

“Infertility isn’t the same thing as other uninsured services,” he continued. “There should be universal, federal access available to care because it’s not like specialized cosmetic surgery.

“But it’s the patients who need to put pressure on the politicians (because) they won’t listen to doctors—changes only happen when the patients bring the changes about.”

The problem is, “those dealing with infertility aren’t a very big lobby group and don’t have a large enough voice when compared to groups like those needing orthopedic joint transplants, and unfortunately, politicians usually only pay attention to the squeaky doors in need of oil.”

As it stands, once fertility treatments leave the offices of one’s family doctor, the costs begin to pile up pretty quickly. A medicated intrauterine insemination (IUI) cycle begins at around $1,000, with a single round of in vitro fertilization (IVF) ranging $15,000 to $20,000, and neither have a guaranteed success rate.

Where to turn?

At the centre of their infertility journey, many people struggle with hopelessness and the loss of control, explains Dr. Lorne Brown, director of Acubalance Wellness Centre, which specializes in fertility treatment assistance.

To try and regain some control, many people with infertility seek out a variety of medical treatments says Brown. “The people we see know they have fertility problems, but need to know they left no stone unturned. They want to know they did everything they could. They’re not ready to give up (and) know there are options out there.”

Check out next Friday’s Chilliwack Progress Life & Leisure section to learn more about infertility and what people are doing to overcome it.


@SarahGawdin
Sarah.Gawdin@theprogress.com

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