On my husband’s 45th birthday, the two of us crammed into a closet-sized restaurant bathroom armed with several hormone-filled injections. “Ready?” my husband asked as he poked each needle into my stomach’s puckered skin. With the music thumping overhead, I couldn’t help but feel like an illicit drug user, racing to get the injections into my body fast enough to return to our dinner companions without missing a beat.
If the hormones worked, they would help us add to the 9 million babies worldwide born via in vitro fertilization (IVF) since 1978. For those unfamiliar with assisted reproductive technology, IVF involves stimulating a woman’s ovaries with medications to make eggs, which are retrieved and then fertilized outside a woman’s body to make embryos. Finally, the embryos are implanted into the uterus to create a successful pregnancy.
The procedure is incredibly costly. And it doesn’t always work. An important disclaimer here: I am not a doctor. Nor a medical expert. All I can speak to are my experiences as a 41-year-old woman, having gone through IVF, unsuccessfully, twice. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), success rates depend on several factors, including a woman’s age and a couple’s overall health. The numbers can be shocking for those of us at an advanced maternal age. The CDC’s IVF success estimator calculates my success rate after one IVF retrieval at a mere 8 %.
Slogging through the blood draws, medical procedures, and endless calls with insurance companies is nothing compared with the pain of grappling with the statistics telling me that I might not produce a baby in the end.
And here is where Jennifer Aniston’s story about infertility matters. In a headline-making Allure magazine piece, Anniston explains that she tried to conceive through IVF, but failed. She tells Allure, “It was really hard. I was going through IVF, drinking Chinese teas, you name it. I was throwing everything at it…So here I am today. The ship has sailed.”
The revelation shocked me. I have always liked Jennifer Aniston. As a teenager growing up with the show “Friends,” I loved her approachable persona. And her hair! But I never found myself relating to her—a celebrity, versus me, a mortal. Yet I’ve found reading about her experiences incredibly validating—even a woman as wealthy and successful as Jennifer Aniston could not overcome the brutality of reproductive health.
To be sure, I am grateful that IVF exists and can help millions of people grow their families. But I wish more people would understand that success is not a sure thing. The public’s general ignorance about IVF can be its own challenge. Explaining our poor outcomes to friends and family is hard enough. But it’s even more complicated when most don’t realize the odds are stacked against us.
Back to Aniston, who describes in the Allure piece how she’s been through some “really hard shit.” I hope she realizes that by sharing her truth about infertility, she’s helping women like me get through our own shit, which becomes easier as more people like her share what they’ve waded through along the way.
If you want to learn more about IVF, here are a few great web resources to peruse:
- From the Washington Post: How often does IVF succeed, and how much does it cost?
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What is assisted reproductive technology?
- Resolve: The National Infertility Association
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