As humans, we’re hardly impressed by the fact that each and every single one of us are capable of contributing to, harbouring and fostering life. And perhaps it is in our pursuit of mechanisms to control our fertility – for logical, rational and personal reasons – that we’re prone to sideline considerations of our fertility in the future.
Beginning my adult life, I decided that it might be a good idea to go to a doctor and get a comprehensive overview of my health. Along with a standard blood test that detailed various vitamin and mineral levels and even my first prostate exam (another story for another time), I was told that this clinic would be assessing my fertility. It seems like a completely sensible aspect of health to assess and obviously, in a comprehensive medical screening, it would be sensible to become aware of your future capacity to have children. Yet for some reason, it wasn’t the pricking and prodding of needles and stethoscopes that made me nervous – it was the assessment of my fertility.
For the first time in my adult life, the question burned in my mind – “what if I am infertile?”
The thing is, absolute infertility is rather rare to begin with, especially given our society’s advanced technological capabilities to treat the causes of it. Equally, the answer should be quite plain in saying that even if I were infertile, it shouldn’t make a difference – there are plenty of children who need adoption, foster care and ultimately, parents. To say that some people have a tendency to overrate and overemphasise genetic relatedness to their children would be an understatement.
But the question still made me nervous. As a relatively healthy eighteen year old who only occasionally attempted to drink alcohol and had never smoked or consumed drugs, there would be no reason for me not to be fertile. Of course, I did the worst thing possible and consulted the most comprehensive and unfailingly accurate medical database that I had access to… Google.
And the results were worrying.
Being the kind of person that I am, I imagined myself in the myriad of situations that I came across online from infertility-related resentment in intimate relationships to simply being too poor to afford the technology to have my own children. I experienced the trap of blaming my body for letting me down and believing that I would be less of a person if I were infertile.
Yet, I found myself overwhelmed with information that would significantly increase my ability to ensure my future fertility. This was information about egg freezing, fertility medications, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) bursaries, sperm freezing and stem cells that bizarrely, no adult had ever thought to consult me on.
For example, according to IVF Australia, “The Medicare Safety Net entitlement does not include hospital/day surgery related services, such as egg collection and/or embryo transfer – and it doesn’t reimburse for items without a Medicare item number, such as fertility preservation for social reasons.”
Perhaps if we spent half as much time awkwardly skirting around “the birds and the bees” and instead educated our youth on the options available to them – especially women – in order to inform them that they can have children on their own terms and not because of an arbitrary, ‘biological clock’, there wouldn’t be so many too-late discoveries about problems with fertility.
So for the purposes of this investigation, I decided to seek a more objective understanding of what the phrase fertility actually encompassed – when is our fertility at its peak? What technology exists under the status quo that allows us to extend this window of opportunity, how is that information made accessible currently and how can this distribution of awareness be improved for young people in particular? The following were my findings.
The clinical definition of infertility, according to the World Health Organisation, reduces the concept to the following: “infertility is defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse”.
Inherent to this definition is the reactionary principle of post-disease diagnosis, where there is no incentive or even capacity to tell if you are infertile until you have been attempting to conceive for more than a year. So the first problem has been identified – detection.
There is actually no recommendation from any large, overseeing health organisation that actually advises fertility testing for young people at all with, as the philosophy around fertility stands currently, this kind of testing only generally being encouraged for women over 30 (for whom fertility is considered to have decreased by as much as 50% already).
But our options for encouraging fertility don’t start when we’re 30. In fact, it seems irrational to wait around for such a potentially significant dimension of our health to slide before we do anything about it. So the most interesting part of this discussion, then, is – what can we actually do about it?
Let’s firstly acknowledge that men and women quite literally share half of the of the responsibility of health and wellbeing to conceive. It has stood as true for far too long that women overwhelmingly carry the most issues surrounding fertility and often, given the dynamics of relationships in which heterosexual couples are trying to conceive, women can be blamed for a lack of success.
So the options presented in the upcoming editions of Farrago may be categorised by sex, but are the responsibility of women and men in order to ensure the preservation of your fertility health.
Funnily enough, my own fertility results showed that I am indeed fertile and that my fears were unfounded. Having said that, the fear should not have had to exist in the first place. Infertility is – amongst many things – frustrating, but you can imagine that missing your chance to create a life because of a simple lack of information, is the most frustrating thing of all.