Yesterday we heard from a reader with uterus didelphys, a genetic condition that forms two vaginas, two cervixes, and two uteri—each linked to an ovary through its own fallopian tube. It’s difficult to determine exactly how common the condition is, but it’s between one in every 2,000 to 3,000 women, including the following reader. Her uterus didelphys went undetected for many years—and nine months:
I have wanted to share my story since it happened to me, to let other women know it’s OK to have uterus didelphys and that you can successfully carry a baby to term even with the condition.
This spring I was 36 weeks pregnant when my doctor came in with some very scary news. My baby was slowing down on the growth curve and they didn’t know why. There were many possibilities, from genetic disorders to the more probable explanation that my placenta was not giving my baby the nutrients he/she needed. We ran tests and monitored the baby, and the whole while I knew something was different about my pregnancy.
I only ever felt the baby kick on my right side, and we could only ever find the heart beat on the right side.
I shared this with my friends and family, asking questions about their pregnancies and wanting to relate to their stories of the baby kicking their ribs one minute and their bladder the next, but I never shared it with my doctors. I think I thought that I was crazy and was just imagining it; certainly there was no way my baby was just on one side of my stomach.
The next four weeks were scary and we were worried. We didn’t know what was to come. My doctors wanted me to carry the baby as long as possible and were ok with me going into labor on my own. That didn’t happen, and I was brought in for an induction during my 40th week. For 48 hours we tried to get my body to go into labor on its own, but I never felt a contraction, even though I was supposedly going through them like clock work. I went in for a c-section on my second night in the hospital and had a healthy baby boy delivered not even an hour later.
During the C-section, my doctor discovered I had uterus didelphys. I have two sides to my uterus, which explained the baby only kicking on my right side, and I also have two cervices and two openings in my vagina. All of this came as a shock, but I was also so happy there was an explanation.
I was able to carry a healthy baby to term without even knowing that it was a high-risk pregnancy. My husband and I hadn’t been trying to have a baby, though we wanted kids eventually, and I am so glad it happened the way it did. If I knew what I know now, I, like the previous woman who wrote in, might not have wanted to try due to the risks.
The more I read about uterus didelphys and the struggles such women have had to get pregnant, the more I am so grateful for our little guy. He was born small (5lbs, 12oz) and had to be kept in the hospital nursery for about 24 hours, but I would do it over again any day to have him. I hope that other women who have this same condition hold on to some hope that they can have a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
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.
Midnight Mass is a morally urgent critique of how faith can fuel everyday cruelty and violence.
This story contains spoilers for the Netflix series Midnight Mass.
The Exorcist is a film I’ve long loved because it raised the bar not just for horror, but also for movies that explore questions of faith and doubt, good and evil, life and death. I know all of its beats by heart, but when I recently rewatched the 1973 classic, the ending hit differently. The movie concludes with an exorcism, naturally. Chris MacNeil has brought her daughter, Regan, to a host of medical professionals in a desperate attempt to save her from what turns out to be a demonic possession. But the only person who can save the girl, it seems, is a priest. The camera lingers on the mother’s exhausted face as two priests close the door to her daughter’s bedroom and go to work.
The election of the elders of an evangelical church is usually an uncontroversial, even unifying event. But this summer, at an influential megachurch in Northern Virginia, something went badly wrong. A trio of elders didn’t receive 75 percent of the vote, the threshold necessary to be installed.
“A small group of people, inside and outside this church, coordinated a divisive effort to use disinformation in order to persuade others to vote these men down as part of a broader effort to take control of this church,” David Platt, a 43-year-old minister at McLean Bible Church and a best-selling author, charged in a July 4 sermon.
Platt said church members had been misled, having been told, among other things, that the three individuals nominated to be elders would advocate selling the church building to Muslims, who would convert it into a mosque. In a second vote on July 18, all three nominees cleared the threshold. But that hardly resolved the conflict. Members of the church filed a lawsuit, claiming that the conduct of the election violated the church’s constitution.
Thousands of pages of internal documents offer the clearest picture yet of how Facebook endangers American democracy—and show that the company’s own employees know it.
Before I tell you what happened at exactly 2:28 p.m. on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the White House—and how it elicited a very specific reaction, some 2,400 miles away, in Menlo Park, California—you need to remember the mayhem of that day, the exuberance of the mob as it gave itself over to violence, and how several things seemed to happen all at once.
At 2:10 p.m., a live microphone captured a Senate aide’s panicked warning that “protesters are in the building,” and both houses of Congress began evacuating.
At 2:13 p.m., Vice President Mike Pence was hurried off the Senate floor and out of the chamber.
At 2:15 p.m., thunderous chants were heard: “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!”
At the White House, President Donald Trump was watching the insurrection live on television. The spectacle excited him. Which brings us to 2:28 p.m., the moment when Trump shared a message he had just tweeted with his 35 million Facebook followers: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution … USA demands the truth!”
Breaking up social-media companies is one way to fix them. Shutting their users up is a better one.
Your social life has a biological limit: 150. That’s the number—Dunbar’s number, proposed by the British psychologist Robin Dunbar three decades ago—of people with whom you can have meaningful relationships.
What makes a relationship meaningful? Dunbar gave TheNew York Times a shorthand answer: “those people you know well enough to greet without feeling awkward if you ran into them in an airport lounge”—a take that may accidentally reveal the substantial spoils of having produced a predominant psychological theory. The construct encompasses multiple “layers” of intimacy in relationships. We can reasonably expect to develop up to 150 productive bonds, but we have our most intimate, and therefore most connected, relationships with only about five to 15 closest friends. We can maintain much larger networks, but only by compromising the quality or sincerity of those connections; most people operate in much smaller social circles.
In ways both large and small, American society still assumes that the default adult has a partner and that the default household contains multiple people.
If you were to look under the roofs of American homes at random, it wouldn’t take long to find someone who lives alone. By the Census Bureau’s latest count, there are about 36 million solo dwellers, and together they make up 28 percent of U.S. households.
Even though this percentage has been climbing steadily for decades, these people are still living in a society that is tilted against them. In the domains of work, housing, shopping, and health care, much of American life is a little—and in some cases, a lot—easier if you have a partner or live with family members or housemates. The number of people who are inconvenienced by that fact grows every year.
Those who live alone, to be clear, are not lonely and miserable. Research indicates that, young or old, single people are more social than their partnered peers. Bella DePaulo, the author of How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, reeled off to me some of the pleasures of having your own space: “the privacy, the freedom to arrange your life and your space just the way you want it—you get to decide when to sleep, when to get up, what you eat, when you eat, what you watch on Netflix, how you set the thermostat.”
Claims about the drug are based on shoddy science—but that science is entirely unremarkable in its shoddiness.
Ivermectin is an antiparasitic drug, and a very good one. If you are infected with the roundworms that cause river blindness or the parasitic mites that cause scabies, it is wonderfully effective. It is cheap; it is accessible; and its discoverers won the Nobel Prize in 2015. It has also been widely promoted as a coronavirus prophylactic and treatment.
This promotion has been broadly criticized as a fever dream conceived in the memetic bowels of the internet and as a convenient buttress for bad arguments against vaccination. This is not entirely fair. Perhaps 70 to 100 studies have been conducted on the use of ivermectin for treating or preventing COVID-19; several dozen of them support the hypothesis that the drug is a plague mitigant. Twometa-analyses, which looked at data aggregated across subsets of these studies, concluded that the drug has value in the fight against the pandemic.
A brilliant new account upends bedrock assumptions about 30,000 years of change.
Many years ago, when I was a junior professor at Yale, I cold-called a colleague in the anthropology department for assistance with a project I was working on. I didn’t know anything about the guy; I just selected him because he was young, and therefore, I figured, more likely to agree to talk.
Five minutes into our lunch, I realized that I was in the presence of a genius. Not an extremely intelligent person—a genius. There’s a qualitative difference. The individual across the table seemed to belong to a different order of being from me, like a visitor from a higher dimension. I had never experienced anything like it before. I quickly went from trying to keep up with him, to hanging on for dear life, to simply sitting there in wonder.
The James Webb Space Telescope, the long-awaited successor to Hubble, is mired in controversy over its namesake.
In 1999, Karen Knierman picked up a free mug at her first big astronomy conference, just before she started grad school. It bore the logo of an ambitious observatory, designed to peer at the most distant galaxies in the universe: NGST, short for Next Generation Space Telescope. The mug was on Knierman’s desk in 2002 when NASA made a surprise announcement: NGST was going to become JWST, after James Webb. Knierman sipped from her suddenly out-of-date mug and wondered, Who?
That was the prevailing reaction among scientists at the time. Webb, who died in 1992, was more of a behind-the-scenes manager than a space-science star; he had served as NASA’s second administrator, in the 1960s, during the run-up to the Apollo moon landings. But scientists went with the rebrand. Work on the telescope continued. Scientists got new merch, new mugs.
Internal documents show the company routinely placing public-relations, profit, and regulatory concerns over user welfare. And if you think it’s bad here, look beyond the U.S.
In the fall of 2019, Facebook launched a massive effort to combat the use of its platforms for human trafficking. Working around the clock, its employees searched Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram for keywords and hashtags that promoted domestic servitude in the Middle East and elsewhere. Over the course of a few weeks, the company took down 129,191 pieces of content, disabled more than 1,000 accounts, tightened its policies, and added new ways to detect this kind of behavior. After they were through, employees congratulated one another on a job well done.
It was a job well done. It just came a little late. In fact, a group of Facebook researchers focused on the Middle East and North Africa had found numerous Instagram profiles being used as advertisements for trafficked domestic servants as early as March 2018. “Indonesian brought with Tourist Visa,” one photo caption on a picture of a woman reads, in Arabic. “We have more of them.” But these profiles weren’t “actioned”—disabled or taken down—an internal report would explain, because Facebook’s policies “did not acknowledge the violation.” A year and a half later, an undercover BBC investigation revealed the full scope of the problem: a broad network that illegally trafficked domestic workers, facilitated by internet platforms and aided by algorithmically boosted hashtags. In response, Facebook banned one hashtag and took down some 700 Instagram profiles. But according to another internal report, “domestic servitude content remained on the platform.”
James Michael Tyler, who died yesterday, played the beloved Friends character with a sense of ironized self-awareness.
In a Season 4 episode of Friends, Ross is about to get married (again). At his bachelor party, Joey and Chandler argue over who will serve as his best man. Their bickering devolves into pettiness, until a fed-up Chandler makes an announcement about one of their guests, the barista at their favorite coffee shop: When he gets married, Chandler says, he’ll just ask Gunther to be his best man.
Gunther, who is accustomed to being the object of the friends’ varied condescensions, considers this alleged honor. “What’s my last name?” he asks Chandler. Chandler is stymied. “… Central Perk?” he replies.
Through Friends’ 10 seasons, Gunther serves as the consummate supporting character. He is often simply there: working behind the counter at Central Perk, standing around at parties the friends throw, backgrounded even in the moments when he is brought to the fore. But the actor James Michael Tyler, who died yesterday of prostate cancer at the age of 59, didn’t play Gunther as a side character. He played Gunther, instead, as a character who was sidelined. That made all the difference. Tyler invested Gunther, who was otherwise the stuff of sitcom cliché, with a biting awareness of his own exclusion from the show’s hermetic main group. Gunther is always in their orbit, but never in their world—and he is keenly aware of that disconnect. In the friends’ lives, though no one told you life was gonna be this way, things work out all the same. Not so for Gunther. Through him, reality pierces Friends’ chipper fantasies.