In our new Realtalk series, we're sharing personal stories about fertility and family planning. We hope they offer support and inspire honest conversation about an incredibly tough topic.
Maybe we’re all masochists, but according to Gallup, 90 percent of us want to have a child. The other 10 percent probably caught OneDirection on tour this summer.
Normally, conceiving a child involves a steamy shower, maybe a bottle of rose, and Enya’s greatest hits. But when you're infertile, or sub-fertile, the majesty of conception is supplanted by teeth-gnashing anxiety (on-par with developing cancer, according to a Harvard study), skyrocketing expenses (one round of IVF depletes two years of household savings) and mating acts so unnatural even SeaWorld would boycott in protest.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, most couples got pregnant in their early 20s. (Maybe concerns over drug use and tight pants were overblown?) Today that age is approaching 30, and in Northern Europe, headed to 35. The trends seem as inexorable, and universal, as our genes are stubborn and unable to keep pace. Caught in the crosshairs are 10 to 20 percent of couples who will rely on medication, surgery and maybe another person’s body, to get the family of their dreams.
I’m no IVF expert, but I’ve stayed in quite a few Holiday Inns — all next to fertility clinics my wife and I have visited over the years. My advice for anyone who is considering fertility treatment, is to find the best doctor for you, as quickly and as thoughtfully, as possible. The doctor who matches your needs carries the expertise, resources and comportment to help you survive the process. The others abscond with your time, money and hope.
But making the distinction is far easier said than done. Most cities have an unwieldy number of doctors from which to choose (for instance, New York has upward of 200) and nearly all have idiosyncrasies that are imperceptible at first, but will prove to be game-changers in time. It can be months until you know if you’re in the right hands and thereafter changing course can feel all but impossible.
Nobody flunked this test with flying colors worse than my wife and me when we realized if we wanted children, we may need to freeze our embryos. With our first doctor, we were eager to get going and sped past countless omens and tepid references. During our first egg retrieval, this doctor instructed my wife to leave in her progesterone IUD and we received a follicle count so low that the only explanation was early menopause. That oversight cost us three months of agony and $20,000. What a barrel of laughs.
When we were looking for doctor #2, we ran a tighter ship and went with a guy who had better references and even once appeared on basic cable. For this doctor we made three trips. The first to his clinic on the east coast, for three weeks. The second, at discharge, to Hyponatremia, which is not a lovely Greek island, and yet still a totally dysfunctional state to be in. And third to our local emergency room, whereby we learned our fertility clinic’s nurses had misread my wife’s chart, ordered her to “pound water like crazy,” induced 15 pounds of weight gain (non-cupcake aided) and almost fatally diminished her sodium levels.
When we finally got Dr. Basic Cable on the phone, we reminded him his job was to help us add members to our family and hopefully that cleared up the confusion.
Having been through all this, I’d argue that after selecting your spouse, choosing a fertility doctor is the most important “people” decision you may ever make. This is serious business, as according to one study, over half of female fertility patients regard the process “as the most upsetting experience in their lives."
But perversely (or relatedly) the resources available to choose a doctor range from the highly-incomplete (Yelp!), to the intellectually-inaccessible (CDC.gov/art) to the shamelessly-misleading (too many count). You have never seen a more dire “I-Need-This-To-Work-Out-But-Have-No-Idea-What-The Hell-I-Am-Doing” scenario since Senior prom. Or the 2014-2015 New York Knicks.
My wife and I have been bothered by this for years and this summer, we decided to do something about it. We are part of a generation that values gray-matter over scar tissue, but in the case of fertility treatment, there is flat-out no substitute for experience.
To harness that insight, and to help it proliferate (this topic is still very taboo), we built a website called FertilityIQ, for fertility patients nationally to assess their caregiver. Since this is just a tad more important than finding the cheapest bikini wax on Yelp!, we take the comically-inefficient step of verifying with each reviewer that they were an actual patient of the caregiver they assessed.
We try to pair the comprehensiveness of TripAdvisor, with the intelligent-sorting of Amazon, with the old-school veracity of Consumer Reports. All in a field where lives are on the line.
Amid all this, last week my wife and I decided to restart our fertility treatment process. Frankly, we’d rather lick razorblades than go down this path again. However, this time, we're consulting the hundred reviews of local doctors that came in last week. We pay extra close attention to reviews written by couples with a similar medical history, background and budget as ours.
Time will tell if this in fact delivers us better results, and lord knows we’ve been surprised before. But in the interim, these reviews have given us an unbelievable sense of confidence and connectedness that feels almost merciful after years of total confusion and intimidation.
Photo courtesy of the author