I have uterus didelphys—a.k.a. having two uteri, two cervixes, and two vaginas. (On top of that I have a hormonal imbalance, which one doctor said was PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome]—I had a trans-vaginal ultrasound done and my ovaries are riddled with cysts—but a second doctor said it’s not PCOS.) Each of my uteri is smaller than a normal-sized one. But my menstrual cycle is like clockwork, and there are no other downsides besides high-risk pregnancy.
The doctor told me that the organs of the female reproductive system are duplicated at one point during development, but eventually the organs merge and become one. For mine to have not merged is like a mutation! I’ve thought of it like the X-Men. It’s pretty cool, IMO, because I can break the ice by telling people I have two vaginas.
I’ve read about women with uterus didelphys who have successfully become pregnant and carried almost to term, successfully delivering via C-section. I recall reading that one woman carried twins in one uterus and a single child in her other uterus simultaneously and they were all delivered successfully. [Our reader is likely referring to Hannah Kersey’s story. And here’s the story of Sarah Reinfelder, who also had twins—one in each uterus. That occurs in one in 25,000 women with uterus didelphys, making the overall likelihood one in 50 million women.]
The doctor said that my uterus that looked more developed was on the side with the smaller vagina. It’s too small for a penis, let alone a baby to come through, so if I ever got pregnant, they would likely do a C-section. I really wanted to give birth naturally, but it would be impossible.
Though to be honest, I’d rather not try to conceive. I’ve always been extremely squeamish and quick to faint (while having blood drawn, for example). I’m honestly glad about my malformation, so I see it as a sign to not try. I would be risking my life. I’ve never been on birth control or used protection with my husband and I’ve never become pregnant. (I wonder if my hormonal imbalance may be contributing to my luck.) I’ve never tried to get pregnant and I can’t afford any other options [e.g. in vitro fertilization]. Adoption would be nice. Until then, I have animals.
Among the many emails we’ve received from readers struggling with infertility, one of the emotions that keeps coming up is envy—unspoken envy toward people who seem to have no trouble conceiving and giving birth to healthy children. As one of our previous readers put it:
I also struggle with jealousy. “Oh! We weren’t even trying to get pregnant!” Even a good friend of mine at age 42 is about to have a baby girl via IVF. I think of her every day and hope I am so lucky.
Another reader can relate:
I am in my late forties. I have not been on birth control since my early twenties and have been married 17 years. We have been through IVF three times. I would have thought the next step was adoption, but my husband said that was a deal breaker. I was not willing to get a divorce over it, so I just suppress my feelings of wanting to be a mother and channel them into caring for three dogs and a horse.
Everyone automatically assumes you can just get pregnant whenever you want. People even say to me they got pregnant just by talking to their husband. It’s very hard to hear that as someone who has tried so hard and has been through so much. I can’t even tell you how many pregnancy tests I have peed on—a ridiculous amount of hope each time, only to have a huge amount of disappointment and tears after. Not to mention the money we have poured in.
I gave up in my late 30s. Having a family should have just been easy—something everyone assumes will happen if you want it. I do feel I have been successful in other areas in my life, but it still is hard seeing all of my friends and their happy families.
This next reader’s excitement over being an aunt was clouded by her feelings of jealousy:
In five days, I’ll have my second FET (frozen embryo transfer) and I feel I like I should be excited, but I’m just numb.
My husband and I have been struggling with infertility for almost three years—about the same amount of time we’ve been married. I wouldn’t say this issue has been hard on our marriage [unlike these readers], because he’s been more than supportive. It’s definitely affected me more than him. My heart aches for a child.
We got pregnant right after our wedding and were thrilled to see the tiny heartbeat at our eight-week appointment. But the joy was short-lived, as I miscarried right after. We had already told friends and family that we were expecting. I was so naive about miscarriages, as I had only known one other person who had gone through one. But after mine, I heard from friends who had also had a miscarriage, which made me feel better that we had told people. [Read many more stories of miscarriage here.] I also learned that most women who have a miscarriage go on to have healthy children soon after, so I was hopeful.
Then, just a month after the miscarriage, my younger brother and sister-in-law announced they were having a baby. I was devastated. It’s irrational, I know, but it felt like something of mine was stolen: a due date close to our baby’s, our parent’s first grandchild, and just the joy I once had was now theirs. I kept up appearances around them, but inside I ached. I had difficulty being around her pregnancy, but once my niece arrived, I couldn’t help but have joy in being her aunt.
It took about six months before I got pregnant again. That one only lasted maybe five weeks. I went on to get two more positive pregnancy tests and yet two more rounds of disappointing news.
That’s when we saw a fertility doctor and decided to go with IVF and genetic testing on the embryos, since miscarriages are usually caused by genetic abnormalities. My husband and I both were tested for about everything that could affect pregnancy. Nothing was found. We had unexplained infertility.
After two egg retrievals, we had five healthy embryos. In August, we had our transfer of one embryo. I was so excited for the pregnancy test, thinking that this would be it. Our chances of success after genetic testing were even higher. We had eliminated the major factor causing miscarriages, so how could this not work?
It didn’t, and I didn’t even get a positive pregnancy test.
Around this time, my brother and his wife announced they were pregnant with their second child. Of course they were. Them and everyone I know on Facebook.
All of this is why infertility has made me numb. I protect myself from pain, because I’m afraid to put too much hope into it. I brace myself for disappointment. All I know is I won’t give up. I will have a child one day, however that may come.
Even if this isn’t shared, it was definitely cathartic to write this out. So thanks.
If you have any words of support or advice for either of these readers, please send us a note and I’ll update.
Below are two very different reactions to our previous note, “When Infertility Threatens Marriage,” which featured a reader expressing anger toward her husband for persuading her to wait until 35 to try for a baby; another woman who broached—with studies to back it up—how infertility can ruin a couple’s sex life, and marriage overall; and another reader describing how infertility led to her friend’s divorce. The second reader featured below is outraged over that note—“disgusted” even—because she believes it perpetuates myths about infertility.
This first reader, however, exclaims, “OMG that note is exactly right; infertility is brutal on marriage.” She elaborates:
My husband had an undescended testicle at birth and testicular cancer when he was an adult. Despite those issues (should have been red flags), we didn’t get tested until well over a year after we started trying to have a baby.
I had turned down several good career opportunities to conceive. When my tests were fine, but his weren’t (they were all over the map), he blamed it on me, saying I stressed him out. He also flatly refused to see a specialist, so I left and took a job I loved far from our home.
We did see a specialist in the city I was working in and he was optimistic about IVF-ICSI, since my numbers were fine and age was on my side. Then I had an HSG (x-ray to see how the tubes and uterus are) and I got what was later confirmed to be a false positive. My husband was weirdly satisfied, but IVF was still on the table. I ended up leaving my job for a job where I would travel to work and back home, week on, week off. He was paying for the flights. While I loved my job again, the cost was insane. So I moved back.
In hindsight, I should have just called it quits and got my dog, moving on. After all, I had a husband who would not support fertility treatment or my career.
I did get naturally pregnant twice. The first was a missed miscarriage [a.k.a. silent miscarriage] and the second miscarriage was just before a trip to the fertility clinic. The first was just bad luck—a trisomy incompatible with life. After the second, a battery of tests were done and I had an autoimmune disease that should have been obvious as the symptoms were so classic.
We actually did do IVF-ICSI with a lot of backup from a fertility psychologist and the doctors pushing my husband along. They said they’ve never seen anyone so stubborn and resistant. At one point the psychologist said my mental state had deteriorated so much that it was cruel to not do treatment.
The first round worked and we have a beautiful, healthy child (after a terrible pregnancy and emergency C-section). Now we are trying again, but I still feel so much resentment towards my husband. It’s been eight years! I started off being a young wannabe mom and now I’m the dreaded advanced maternal age.
I have felt completely unsupported and alone in both the quest to have a family and in my marriage. No support for infertility or my career. Meanwhile, my husband has gone from strength to strength in his career.
Let me preface my comments by saying that The Atlantic online is my most favorite print media outlet. Your feature pieces are so engaging I have even used them inside my classrooms. So, when I saw Resolve [the National Infertility Association] post about an Atlantic piece on infertility in the Notes section, you can imagine how excited I was to see the topic finally generate some real discussion in a serious online magazine. Being infertile these last eight years, well, I’ve been around the infertility block and I think this topic is one that should no longer be whispered about.
I was completely disappointed. I realize what I read was a rough-ish first take on a story that might not even make it to print, but I was disgusted by it, because it simply perpetuates every misguided stereotype of infertile men and women that exists. It’s unfortunate stories like this that are the very reason why infertility is not considered a legitimate health problem deserving of medical treatment covered under health insurance, just like every other disease.
I don’t have a lot of time to go through your piece point by point, because I don’t even know if a live human will be reading this. But you should know:
Infertility has strengthened my marriage. I know this to be true of a great number of couples. If someone’s marriage was crushed by infertility, maybe their marriage wasn’t too strong to begin with. I could elaborate on this all day long. It is the one thing I am thankful for and proud of: my marriage is better and more solid than most couples I know with kids.
Some of the strongest and bravest women I know are part of my island of infertility-warriors. They fight the stereotypes infertility, and they advocate for themselves with friends, family, and health care professionals tirelessly. They are relentlessly stubborn and hopeful. I invite you get to know some real women who have been through multiple rounds of IVF. There's nothing weak or broken about them.
Not being able to conceive has not turned me into a weeping puddle of a woman and I resent the age-old, sexist implication that scary female hormones—endogenous or exogenous—are insanity-inducing. We are not The Girls On the Train; stop making us out to be hormonally imbalanced nut cases. The IVF hormones I’ve had to take for seven failed IVF cycles (you read that right: seven) basically just leave me with a headache and a few extra pounds to lose each time. Most of the women I know don’t even struggle with the extra weight like I do.
$15,000 [the amount spent thus far on infertility treatments by this reader] is a drop in the bucket in the IVF world. I have no infertility coverage and have paid every dime out of pocket for our treatment. IVF clinics charge people like me MORE than they charge insured patients. I paid a little more for my first two IVF cycles out of pocket than an infertility acquaintance’s health insurance company paid for five IVF cycles. I think clinics actually like it when someone is uninsured. They make more money that way. I think that’s gross. The financial aspect of infertility is the most stressful part of this entire process. We need to start demanding that infertility be covered by mandate like any other disease.
If someone really does read these emails, I’m more than happy to continue this discussion.
If you’d like to ask that reader a question about her experience, about infertility more generally, or if you’d like to discuss your own difficulty with fertility and how it affected your relationship, for good or for ill, please send us a note: email@example.com. All views welcome.
Update from another reader who struggled with both infertility and marriage:
This article could not have hit any closer to home. Infertility has almost ruined my marriage. My husband and I are 34 and 35 and have been trying for a child for five years and have had five reoccurring pregnancy losses at six weeks each time. Each loss is devastating.
We did all the testing and seeking options from three fertility specialists and no cause can be identified. They say it’s likely genetic and recommend in vitro, but when you don’t have $15,000 to spare and no guarantee the next pregnancy will take, it adds financial stress to an already emotionally stressful situation. When no cause can be found, you start think irrationally, and unknowingly anxiety and depression start to develop. If there is not a scientific explanation, then there must be a divine force making a statement that we shouldn’t have children together.
This stress compounded over five losses and many years made me weak and vulnerable, and I allowed someone outside my marriage into my life for distraction and understanding of these new feelings. I fortunately determined that it’s not another man I need. I need clarification to accept that we may not have a child, but my husband is my family and he is everything to me.
This next reader shows a lot of self-awareness and self-reflection over the trying process he put his wife through, and what they endured together:
I have a genetic abnormality which results in the absence of the vas deferens (the duct which conveys sperm from the testicle to the urethra). This means that IVF—via medical extraction of sperm directly from the testicles—was the only way for my partner to get pregnant with our child. It also meant, ironically, that many prior years of contraception to avoid getting pregnant was pointless.
I still feel guilty about the IVF process my partner had to go through, which was entirely because of me. Lots of time consuming and distracting medical appointments. Lots of effectively voluntary medical procedures. Increased risk of various forms of cancer.
All I needed done was an extraction needle-gun shot into my testicles every now and then, to get the sperm out. (Although yes, that was as painful as it sounds—give me a basketball or a football to the groin any day.)
The IVF treatments became an obsession. Everything else —jobs, friends—took a back seat. We were initially cautious and put back one embryo each cycle, but it kept not working. Time was getting away from us (my partner was approaching 35), so we started putting two embryos in each cycle.
After half a dozen cycles—voila—boy/girl twins. We were grinning ear-to-ear coming out of that ultrasound room. It was a stressful, high-risk pregnancy, but in the end they were healthy babies born close to full term in the end.
But there was another thing to feel guilty about: That twin pregnancy did a lot of damage to my partner’s body. Fortunately only muscles and no internal organs or spine or anything, but still.
Again, because time was still running out, we crazily decided to go a few more times (my partner was approaching 40), but we were clever this time; we only put one embryo back each cycle. After a few cycles, the signs were good.
Then it was time for another IVF pregnancy ultrasound. You have never seen a couple so devastated by one of those ultrasound confirming a pregnancy—identical boy twins. (IVF increases the risk of embryos splitting, result in identical twin pregnancies.) Our existing twins were about to turn three.
More guilt, but this time for being disappointed when anyone else without children trying to fall pregnant would have been elated. It was a more stressful and even higher-risk pregnancy, but again we were fortunate to have healthy babies born close to full term in the end.
One thing which amazed us about the whole IVF process was how uneducated society in general was about fertility decreasing with age. Some well-educated friends of ours told us the first they heard of it was when they first told their doctor their intention to get pregnant and universally, the doctor’s response was something along the lines of “better get a move along then!”
IVF can be seen as an excuse delay pregnancy, but it shouldn’t be viewed like that at all. It should be viewed as a last resort. It is expensive, invasive and stressful. There are no guarantees it will work. We made some bad decisions (delaying having children; putting back multiple embryos; trying for a third baby) and had some very lucky outcomes. Not everyone is so fortunate.
My partner would have considered adoption, but I only wanted to have genetic children. But the moral dilemma of potentially passing on my genetic abnormality to any male children was an interesting one: When do you get a boy tested for the absence of the vas deferens? Do you really want an 18 year old running around thinking they’re bulletproof because they can’t get anyone pregnant? On the flip side, do you want an 18 year old having a masculinity crisis of confidence for the same reason?
We still haven’t decided when to tell our boys and/or get them tested, but we continued on regardless because we thought that at least IVF will improve in 20 years time, so our sons would always have it to fall back on, just in case.
This story from a 39-year-old reader is utterly heartbreaking. He and his wife not only struggled for years to conceive—suffering a miscarriage along the way—but also struggled to adopt. (Perhaps they can find some helpful insight from our reader series on adoption or the one on miscarriage.) Our reader begins his story plaintively: “Being a father was always the thing I wanted the most, from childhood on up.”
I was an only child to an only son from my grandfather who had lost a courageous battle of MS over ten years before I was born. My nuclear family connections were important and I wanted to have a good job, but not a great job because I wanted to have the freedom to be there for my kids when they needed me, like my family had been for me.
I got married pretty much straight out of college and my wife wanted a professional career that required a master’s. We put off starting a family until she was done, after we’d been married three years. We were both 26 when she went off birth control.
The following January we were pregnant. The following March we were not.
The product of our conception slipped away, and we were excoriated for not visiting the emergency room instead of urgent care. We knew that miscarriage was common, so we chose not to tell anyone (or nearly anyone) that we were trying, nor that we were unlucky.
We were told that our miscarriage meant our clock started over, but six months later there were no positive results. Meanwhile, the parade of friends, family and co-workers getting pregnant started to get bigger and bigger. I became more and more desperate and my wife, obligingly, went along—beyond things that she thought were appropriate: Clomid, IUI, laparoscopy, injectables, IVF.
All the while the costs mounted—both the cost of the treatment and the cost on our marriage. I took each drip of bad news as a personal failing, and both of us were more and more separated from family, friends and each other. Instead we felt trapped, bitter, and unfairly persecuted for something that wasn’t out fault.
When our second round of IVF failed to produce nearly enough eggs, the doctor (who worked for a clinic that had said they could make my wife's ovaries do anything) reported that there was no chance we would ever have a child biologically. My life was basically over at that point. There was no more writing on the pages in the book of my life. All I saw was blankness.
My wife tried to convince me to leave her. She wanted me to have what I wanted, and since she couldn’t give it to me, she’d release me. Like I could be happy with someone I didn’t love.
After pausing for several months, we elected to pursue domestic infant adoption —infant because I wanted as clean a slate as possible, and domestic because international made us both feel icky. Both of us are fastidious book learnin’ types, so we started to read and take the necessary classes. We got into an adoptive pool and waited ... and waited ... and waited. Many times we were told that we were the last couple that a birth mother was looking at, but every time she chose someone else. (And once we even got trapped in CPR class with a couple that had been chosen ahead of us.)
The march of negative pregnancy tests and, later, rejection e-mails from our social worker left a mark. We had become failures of both biology and the judgment of birth mothers. We more distant from one another than ever.
And my wife, who had been in school or trying to have a baby for all but 24 months of the 12 years I had been with her, discovered alcohol—and, just behind it, alcoholism. I was too blinded by my need to be a father to see it. So, as were trying to re-up for another year of being judged by birth mothers, my wife took a water bottle full of vodka on an errand in our car, got lost, and hit a telephone pole.
Let’s just say: we didn’t end up adopting. The empty book returned and we both headed into recovery programs. The good news is they worked. The bad news is neither one of us feels that adding the stressors of adoption would be healthy. Indeed, I was addicted to becoming a father so much that I was willing to throw almost everything away for it.
There isn’t a day I don’t wish I were a daddy. That child we miscarried would be 12 today.
I still don’t talk about this with anyone. What can they say? They have their kids and their lives and here I am stuck. A failure. I built my whole life around something basic and I have nothing to show for it.
I reel when parents complain about their kids being monsters or burdens. I worry for my lonely future when no one will be there to help take care of me when I am old. I resent childcare tax credits when IVF is prohibitively expensive. I resent abortion warriors who think I am the reason that other mothers should be required to carry their children to term. I just wish things were different for me.
But I try to live one day at a time now. I try to think about whether we could be foster parents, as if that would somehow be easier. I try to see what the point of all the suffering and anguish was. I have the heart of a parent and I want to do something with it. As I approach 40 next year, I recognize that it would take a Powerball-level miracle for me to ever really be called someone’s daddy, so my job today is to learn to accept that, tears notwithstanding.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share. I have been looking for more ways to advocate for this community I’m a part of, and telling my story is a way to do that.
If you have any words of support for our reader, especially if you’ve experienced something similar, please send him a note. Update: Here’s one from Leila:
I read your story with tears. When a door to personal life is closed, it can mean we are meant to act on a universal stage. You mention fostering a child, which would be a kindly act. Of course I don’t know what your circumstances are, but you sound like someone who would be a great help in any number of countries, setting up or working with an orphanage to rescue abandoned children from the streets. You could find yourself a Dad to hundreds of children over the years.
I wish you peace in finding your purpose. I am sure it is a different path than most others.
Here’s another note, from Peggy, who addresses another option for our reader:
I am not sure why you and your wife feel “icky” when you contemplate international adoption. But if that possibility remains, do it!
Sure, the process is exhausting, time consuming, and at times painful. But like any pregnancy, the rewards are never ending. Our infant daughters came to us from China. One, who spent many early months in an orphanage, has some anxieties, but then she is a teen now, so I suppose that comes with the territory.
Our 11 and 14-year-old girls are straight-A students with kind hearts and wise minds. And, of course, I think they are as pretty as daisies in a field. My husband and I would not trade them for any other, even children born to us biologically. These are our forever children, and we are so grateful to have them.
Don’t dismiss this possibility. Please.
One more note of encouragement, from Don:
KNOW THIS: YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE BY ANY MEANS! Life doesn’t always follow the script we develop in our minds and hearts.
I too have wanted to be a Father since I was very young. In my first marriage my wife became pregnant in both of her tubes and they were removed. At that point we reassessed and considered adoption. As time wore on, we focussed more on her three children from a previous marriage and adoption never occurred. In my second long-term marriage, I fully expected to have a child, and after a few years I broached the subject and learned that my wife did not feel the same. I was frustrated and disappointed.
I have spent my life trying to be the best “Uncle Don” I could be to the children of all of my family and friends. Not having my own child will always be the biggest regret of my life, but there is much more to life. You sound like an amazing person and brought your partner through a very trying time. It may be time to rewrite your “script.” I wish you well.
I’m 36 and I’ve been struggling with infertility for a bit over a year now. I say “I” because from my point of view, this is much more my problem than my husband’s (yes, he’s had tests done and all is normal). I know many men are as heartbroken as their partners over trying to conceive, but that hasn’t been my experience, nor my friends’. My husband loves me and wants me to be happy, but it’s very simple for him to say “we’ll adopt” or “we’ll have a baby some way; you’ll be a mother.” It’s very different to be the one who feels that her body doesn’t work; who doesn’t feel like a woman; who feels as if life is passing her by every day that passes without a baby.
I feel guilt and anger every day about waiting so long to try to get pregnant; anger at my husband for persuading me to wait until we were 35 to start trying; anger at myself for listening to him when having a family is my life’s goal.
I also struggle with jealousy. “Oh! We weren’t even trying to get pregnant!” Even a good friend of mine at age 42 is about to have a baby girl via IVF. I think of her every day and hope I am so lucky.
That reader’s marriage doesn’t seem to be imperiled, but we’ve heard from other readers about the damage that infertility can inflict on a couple. Rachel has seen it secondhand:
I’ve known a few people who have done IVF. What people don’t talk about much is the high level of divorce correlated with the procedure. Couples are three times more likely to divorce [at least according to this 2014 study of Danish couples]. The impact of the hormones often leads women to have harder time moderating feelings, and feeling out of control is compounded with an impact on sex drive that reduces the sexual relationship to mechanics. [This 2010 study from Stanford backs up that last assertion.]
It’s an interesting choice: your marriage or a child.
My only story on this subject is not a happy one. My friend was not conceiving, and after the full battery of testing the problem ended up being on her husband's end. She was ecstatic with that answer (donor sperm is a lot less expensive and taxing then if the problem had been her) but he balked. He was on board with the idea of IVF, but not donor sperm and not adoption. Biological or nothing.
She left him over it, since “nothing” wasn’t an answer she was willing to entertain. He tried to get her back after about six months of separation, but she was already living with someone else by then. She’s married with two kids now, but I always think of her first husband and feel bad for the guy when I see her. She could’ve given him a little more time to come around, you know? That’s a pretty big thing to accept. Infertility has a devastating impact on a lot of lives.
Update from a sympathetic reader, Jill:
I just read the story from the 36-year-old woman struggling with infertility for over a year. I struggled too, for years, and it was only my fertility doctor that actually helped me. He said at one point, you have to know you’re more than a vessel to carry a child. It may not sound like it was kind, but it was. He did not want my entire life ruined because I felt inadequate if I did not have a child.
To that reader: Don’t ruin your entire life with anger and resentment or ruin your relationship with your husband. You did what you thought was right at the time. I did end up having one pregnancy and I am fortunate for that. I’ll keep you in my thoughts.
The first story in our new reader series comes from a 33-year-old woman who has struggled to conceive for more than two years. “As I write this, I have one hard-won blastocyst on ice, waiting to be transferred to my uterus.” She looks back to the beginning:
From my early twenties, I often told my doctor at annual exams that I was concerned about my fertility because of irregular, scant, light periods and a history of eating disorders in adolescence. I was written off as young, healthy, and too anxious for my own good.
When we started trying for a family at 30, I brought it up again and was told to come back after one year of trying. After spending almost $2,000 on acupuncture, hundreds of dollars on vitamins, thousands more on counseling and mindfulness and relaxation, seed cycling, supplements, and ketogenic diets, I was finally referred to a specialist. After an invasive and painful procedure to open a blocked fallopian tube, we spent a year on medications and HCG injections to force ovulation, awkward timed intercourse, and bouts on birth control to suppress the cysts that kept developing.
After over a year with a specialist, our infertility is still unexplained.
My recent IVF cycle results were surprising and devastating. After 11 days of stressful and uncomfortable injections, the dozen good follicles I had left yielded only three eggs—well below average, especially for someone under 35. Only two of those eggs fertilized. Only one survived to blastocyst.
I made a $15,000 bet on my body and feel like I lost. I am hopeful my upcoming transfer will bring me a positive pregnancy test, but I don’t believe it will. Without any other blasts in the freezer, I’ll have to start all over again.
Infertility is isolating, painful, and discouraging. We watch as others around us build their families and move forward with their lives while ours remain stalled. Vacations, career changes, moves, and even dinner plans revolve around cycles and medications and often can’t be planned at all. We live two weeks at time, for years at a time, always treading the line between the hope that keeps us going and the despair that month after month of failure brings.
It becomes hard to remember to picture a child at the end of the process, and even doing so can be a painful reminder that we may not get there.
Not everyone in our tribe of infertiles will become parents. Some will find motherhood (or fatherhood) in other ways—by fostering, adopting, or something else that works for them. But we all hope we beat the odds and come out with more than just a mountain of debt in the end. Until that time, I’ll keep living two weeks at time and cling to the hope that my single frozen blastocyst might one day be my baby.
My colleague Olga just started a discussion with readers about the reasons that ultimately compelled them to become parents. But there are many people who would love to have their own biological children but can’t because of fertility problems, and we’d like to discuss that distinct experience as well. (Adoption is one major option, and we’ve heard from readers in our 14-part ongoing series who adopted children for a variety of reasons.) In a recent Atlantic interview conducted by Julie Beck, The Art of Waiting author Belle Boggs discussed the taboo topic of infertility “in a culture that venerates parenthood above all else,” as Julie put it. She continued:
One in eight couples have trouble conceiving. Boggs and her husband were one such couple. In her book she tells the story of her infertility, of treatments and support groups, of giving up and then trying again, of the jealousy sparked when she saw other mothers, of nightly shots and picking out embryos for the in-vitro fertilization that eventually allowed her to have a daughter. […] And she grapples with the fact that trying for a child is always an uncertain prospect. In a “never-give-up” culture, how do you decide when it’s time to let go?
Did you ever decide that? Have you struggled with infertility more generally? We’d like to hear your story: firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s one reader, Rachel:
I have twins thanks to fertility treatments, so I’m not personally dealing with the negative emotions of infertility now. But yes, the guilt and shame and trauma, there’s much of it on the way there. To this day, every time I drive on the highway to the city where I had my treatments, I think about ultrasounds and blood work and all of those emotions. Even though in the greater context of my life and that city, I’ve traveled there MANY MORE times for other reasons. My twins are three and a half, but that city still reminds me of infertility.
In the July/August 2013 issue of The Atlantic, Jean Twenge more specifically examined the issue of infertility related to age—“but the decline in fertility over the course of a woman’s 30s has been oversold,” a claim she supported with a slew of statistics. Twenge also invoked her own experience:
[T]he memory of my abject terror about age-related infertility still lingers. Every time I tried to get pregnant, I was consumed by anxiety that my age meant doom. I was not alone. Women on Internet message boards write of scaling back their careers or having fewer children than they’d like to, because they can’t bear the thought of trying to get pregnant after 35. Those who have already passed the dreaded birthday ask for tips on how to stay calm when trying to get pregnant, constantly worrying—just as I did—that they will never have a child. “I’m scared because I am 35 and everyone keeps reminding me that my ‘clock is ticking.’ My grandmother even reminded me of this at my wedding reception,” one newly married woman wrote to me after reading my 2012 advice book, The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant, based in part on my own experience.
One of the readers on Twenge’s piece, Stefania, struggled with pregnancy in her late 30s:
The real problem is that, after 37, and then after 40, and then after 45, there is a very increased risk of miscarriages. I conceived four times in two years, for example, but I had four miscarriages. First time I was 38. So I don’t think it is wise to wait if you really want to have babies. I was aware of that and I suffered a lot through my miscarriages. I am not willing to give up, yet, but I know that there is a high possibility of not becoming a mom. And I will accept it.
But since most women are not able to accept it and end up being depressed, obsessing with forums, doctors, drugs, fertility treatments, and going on for years, I strongly suggest to begin early IF you have this big desire to become a parent. My experience in forums and with other women taught me that. Act fast or be prepared to accept the consequences.
Do you feel you waited too long to try to have kids and were unable to? If so, and if you’d like to open up about it (anonymously or otherwise), please send us a note.
Three Atlantic writers discuss the HBO epic’s divisive series finale, which tries to break the wheel one last time.
Every week for the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers have been discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we’ll be posting our thoughts on the series finale in installments.
Credentialed authorities are comically bad at predicting the future. But reliable forecasting is possible.
The bet was on, and it was over the fate of humanity. On one side was the Stanford biologist Paul R. Ehrlich. In his 1968 best seller, The Population Bomb, Ehrlich insisted that it was too late to prevent a doomsday apocalypse resulting from overpopulation. Resource shortages would cause hundreds of millions of starvation deaths within a decade. It was cold, hard math: The human population was growing exponentially; the food supply was not. Ehrlich was an accomplished butterfly specialist. He knew that nature did not regulate animal populations delicately. Populations exploded, blowing past the available resources, and then crashed.
In his book, Ehrlich played out hypothetical scenarios that represented “the kinds of disasters that will occur.” In the worst-case scenario, famine rages across the planet. Russia, China, and the United States are dragged into nuclear war, and the resulting environmental degradation soon extinguishes the human race. In the “cheerful” scenario, population controls begin. Famine spreads, and countries teeter, but the major death wave ends in the mid-1980s. Only half a billion or so people die of starvation. “I challenge you to create one more optimistic,” Ehrlich wrote, adding that he would not count scenarios involving benevolent aliens bearing care packages.
It was a blockbuster discovery at the time. The team found that a less active version of the gene was more common among 454 people who had mood disorders than in 570 who did not. In theory, anyone who had this particular gene variant could be at higher risk for depression, and that finding, they said, might help in diagnosing such disorders, assessing suicidal behavior, or even predicting a person’s response to antidepressants.
Back then, tools for sequencing DNA weren’t as cheap or powerful as they are today. When researchers wanted to work out which genes might affect a disease or trait, they made educated guesses, and picked likely “candidate genes.” For depression, SLC6A4 seemed like a great candidate: It’s responsible for getting a chemical called serotonin into brain cells, and serotonin had already been linked to mood and depression. Over two decades, this one gene inspired at least 450 research papers.
To save the Church, Catholics must detach themselves from the clerical hierarchy—and take the faith back into their own hands.
To feel relief at my mother’s being dead was once unthinkable, but then the news came from Ireland. It would have crushed her. An immigrant’s daughter, my mother lived with an eye cast back to the old country, the land against which she measured every virtue. Ireland was heaven to her, and the Catholic Church was heaven’s choir. Then came the Ryan Report.
Not long before The Boston Globe began publishing its series on predator priests, in 2002—the “Spotlight” series that became a movie of the same name—the government of Ireland established a commission, ultimately chaired by Judge Sean Ryan, to investigate accounts and rumors of child abuse in Ireland’s residential institutions for children, nearly all of which were run by the Catholic Church.
The German chancellor has shown how to win and keep power in a man’s world.
To the six women currently running in the 2020 presidential race, I offer this advice: Study German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the world’s most successful living politician, on the basis of both achievement and longevity. Now in her 14th year as chancellor of Europe’s powerhouse, Merkel has upended the rules of the male-dominated German political culture, and transformed her country along the way.
Without fanfare, Merkel made German society friendlier to the ambitions of women. Merkel’s handpicked successor to lead the Christian Democratic Union is a woman, there are six other women in her cabinet, and women abound in her circle of advisers. Alexander Gauland, the leader of Germany’s far-right political party AfD, recently asked, “Are there no men left in the CDU?” The party still has quite a few men; they just don’t run it any longer.
No president I know of has asserted a blanket power to reject any request that doesn’t suit him—until Donald Trump.
In my long career as an academic jack-of-all-trades, I sometimes teach law students Jurisprudence—that is, Philosophy of Law. The course begins with the question “What is law?” and its corollary, “What is lawlessness?”
The latter comes in two flavors. The first is anarchy—Hobbes’s “war of all against all,” a Mad Max moonscape in which only stealth and brute force provide even a semblance of safety. Such situations existed for millennia and, though relatively rare, exist in remote parts of the globe today.
But there is an authoritarian lawlessness that is far more common in the 21st century, and next time I teach the course, I will have the most precise example of this second version I have ever seen: the dispute over 26 U.S. Code § 6103(f)(1), which reads: “Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary [of the Treasury] shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request,” subject only to a requirement that the return be considered in closed session.
The French and Italian politicians see different futures for the continent. Both face tests in this week’s European Parliament elections.
PARIS—French President Emmanuel Macron and Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and interior minister, are from the same generation, but more than the Alps divides them.
Macron always wears a suit and tie, and has a penchant for lofty rhetoric and formal ceremonies. Salvini likes sweatshirts that say Italia, rails against illegal immigration, and tweets pictures of himself eating Nutella. The differences go beyond style. Their dueling visions for the future of Europe will be tested in elections for the European Parliament this week.
The Parliament has limited powers and the vote, to be held across the bloc’s 28 countries May 23–26, is generally seen as a test of voter sentiment across member states. But this time more than ever—after Brexit and with Trump rattling the transatlantic alliance—it’s also a test of which Europe will prevail: Macron’s call for a more top-down union that shares responsibilities for borders, defense, and the environment, and maybe more; or Salvini’s euroskeptic one, a “Europe of nations” in which each country retains more sovereignty.
Knock Down the House set out to show an inspiring political movement—but instead revealed its boundaries.
The final image of Knock Down the House, the hit documentary about a quartet of 2018 congressional primary candidates, shows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her boyfriend newly arrived at the east plaza of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. She has just been elected to Congress, but not yet taken office. They both start to cry; the waterworks run at a low gurgle throughout the movie, and at this point the viewer won’t be alarmed by another eruption.
Suddenly scooters appear, and the couple, with infectious delight, takes off in zigzags across the plaza, which is usually closed to tourists. The image thus combines three elements—Millennials, scooters, and trespassing—that seem designed to make a certain kind of conservative Republican’s head explode. The poor fellow will probably view the film as an exercise in trolling, a giddy, unapologetic version of his worst nightmare.
It expands by 10,000 times in a fraction of a second, it’s 100,000 times softer than Jell-O, and it fends off sharks and Priuses alike.
At first glance, the hagfish—a sinuous, tubular animal with pink-grey skin and a paddle-shaped tail—looks very much like an eel. Naturalists can tell the two apart because hagfish, unlike other fish, lack backbones (and, also, jaws). For everyone else, there’s an even easier method. “Look at the hand holding the fish,” the marine biologist Andrew Thaler once noted. “Is it completely covered in slime? Then, it’s a hagfish.”
Hagfish produce slime the way humans produce opinions—readily, swiftly, defensively, and prodigiously. They slime when attacked or simply when stressed. On July 14, 2017, a truck full of hagfishoverturned on an Oregon highway. The animals were destined for South Korea, where they are eaten as a delicacy, but instead, they were strewn across a stretch of Highway 101, covering the road (and at least one unfortunate car) in slime.
A philanthropist surprised Morehouse College graduates at commencement by announcing he would pay off their student loans. But one person—even a very generous one—can only do so much.
Commencement speakers have a routine: a few words of encouragement, a good—or maybe not so good—joke, and a bit of advice. But this year, Robert F. Smith, the billionaire founder of the private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, who delivered the commencement address on Sunday morning at Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta, took a different approach.
“You great Morehouse men are bound only by the limits of your own conviction and creativity,” Smith told the soon-to-be graduates of the venerated HBCU (historically black college or university). Smith then did something astonishing: He did what he could to make that actually true, telling the class that his family would be eliminating the graduates’ student debt. The crowd, as expected, went wild.