No one prepares you for the realities that come with getting pregnant. 

As a kid, you learn and giggle through lessons about where babies come from. About ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the uterus forming assembly lines to make humans. About how babies grow inside mothers and eventually come tumbling out of vaginas. About sex being the cause of it all. Then, when you’re a bit older, you’re told to practice safe sex. To use protection and take contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancy.

It all seemed so simple. Because of this, I spent the entirety of my 20s doing everything in my power to avoid getting pregnant. Little did I know, though, it wasn’t going to be easy for me to get pregnant—a sentiment that is surprisingly the case for so many. 

The problem: We don’t talk about it enough to know that.

Why We’re Not Talking About IVF Enough

Sure, celebrities regularly come out with stories of their own fertility struggles. And yes, there are plenty of regular people out there who are open about these things, too. But most stay silent about fertility treatments, keeping their daily injections, invasive medical procedures, and the reason for their sudden moody attitudes secret. This alone makes hearing stories about infertility still rare enough that no one is out there thinking it could really happen to them—until, of course, it does.

The thing is, infertility is not a segment on a morning news show. It’s not an Instagram post from an old classmate. It’s not a chapter in a memoir. It’s something 186 million people are dealing with all around the world. It’s something so common that if you bring it up to a room full of people, you’ll likely find that others have experienced fertility treatments or know someone who has. In fact, a Pew Research Center survey found that 33% of Americans fall under that category. 

Infertility can, and does, happen to anyone. We’re just not talking about it as much as we should be and therefore feel shocked and alone when it does happen, even though we’re surrounded by people silently going through similar, if not the same, experiences.

Not only this, but perhaps society would have a better understanding of the IVF process if we really normalized it by making it as commonplace as sex. Because maybe—just maybe—if we spoke about it in more detail, people would understand exactly why embryos are not babies and should not be treated as babies. And also why there will be far less babies born in Alabama due to the state’s ruling that embryos are babies.

What IVF Is—And Why People Do It

After feeling sick for months and pushing for surgery to remove what doctors thought was a harmless fibroid, I woke up from the procedure to learn I had an extremely rare condition called “ovarian fibromatosis” (only about 30 cases of it have been covered in medical literature to date) that could impact my fertility. My right ovary had been suffocated by the “ovarian fibromatosis” mass and was removed during surgery. And they found it already growing on the left side. 

Me after surgery lol

Because my one remaining ovary had become a ticking time bomb, my doctor suggested I do fertility preservation.

Fertility preservation is something many people with conditions and diseases, including cancer, do when their fertility is threatened. It’s recommended when there is potential danger to ovaries (the egg makers) and/or the uterus (the baby carrier). Having eggs or embryos frozen means that you’ll still be able to try to get pregnant no matter what happens. And if your body can’t carry a pregnancy in the future, fertility preservation also ensures you can still try to get pregnant through a surrogate, a person who carries a baby for someone else.

When fertility preservation was first presented to me, it was recommended that I make and freeze embryos rather than eggs. This is when I learned the low as fuck percentages associated with IVF. The 7 biggest takeaways being:

  1. Egg freezing is the first part of IVF. In fact, some may argue that it’s the biggest, most time consuming part of IVF. It involves the most medications and a surgery where anesthesia is used that is scheduled at the very last minute.
  2. A woman freezing embryos doesn’t do anything differently than a woman freezing eggs. The only extra step between egg freezing and embryo freezing is a man ejaculating into a cup and a lab mixing the sperm in the cup with the eggs.
  3. Only a percentage of eggs retrieved will mature. During egg retrievals, you make a TON of eggs in one cycle, as opposed to a natural period cycle where you only make one egg. More eggs means a higher chance of quality eggs, and higher quality eggs are more likely to mature and then fertilize into viable embryos, which is one of the many reasons IVF really helps people get pregnant.
  4. Only a percentage of mature eggs will turn into embryos. After eggs mature, they can either be frozen to later become embryos—or they can mix with sperm to become embryos right away. Out of the mature eggs, only a percentage will fertilize and become embryos though.
  5. Only a percentage of those fertilized embryos will grow to day 3 or day 5. After embryos become embryos, they have to grow to either day 3 or day 5, depending on what you’re transferring. Obviously, the longer they successfully grow, the more of a chance they’ll have turning into a pregnancy.
  6. Only a percentage of these day 3 and day 5 embryos will have the chance to turn into viable pregnancies. Many clinics test embryos so they’re able to identify genetic abnormalities. This way, people can transfer the embryos most likely to turn into viable pregnancies first and not have to go through a bunch of EXPENSIVE failed transfers first that could have been prevented and so people have lower chances of getting pregnant with embryos that could never actually turn into viable pregnancies. With testing, people can also avoid transferring embryos carrying diseases parents are carriers for, which is yet another reason many people do IVF.
  7. Only a percentage of those percentages of viable embryos will survive thawing after being frozen. At the end of it all, once you freeze embryos (and eggs), there’s always a chance not all of them will survive being thawed.

I didn’t really understand the above math until I saw it broken down. For example:

  • You could have 15 eggs retrieved during an egg retrieval
  • 11 of those eggs could mature
  • 7 of those mature eggs could fertilize into embryos
  • 4 of those embryos could grow to day 5
  • 1 of those embryos could come back normal after testing.
  • Hopefully the 1 survives the thaw when being unfrozen!

Of course, this is just an example. In some cases, 0 embryos end up normal. In others, you could have as many as 7 or 8 embryos come back normal. For me, I had one cycle where 1 embryo tested normal and another where 7 tested normal. It’s bananas. I didn’t do anything differently for the cycles either.

And then you don’t know how many will actually turn into pregnancies. That’s why the more embryos you can make the better. But when we start deeming them children, that’s where the difficulties with IVF come in. You absolutely cannot help the majority of people struggling with infertility unless you can make and freeze embryos without having to worry that you’ll go to jail for destroying or discarding them.

The Truth About IVF Costs

IVF cycles are expensive. Everyone knows that.

Out of pocket, you can pay around $14k to $20k for one cycle of egg or embryo freezing. And one cycle is usually not enough. On top of these costs, you then have to pay for transfer cycles.

Most of the companies considered the best at offering fertility insurance to employees only offer 2-3 lifetime cycles. This means if you have to keep doing multiple rounds of IVF because the cycles aren’t working—which is EXTREMELY common—you could easily run out of insurance and have to pay out of pocket… and this is with the BEST insurance! Many people don’t even have insurance to begin with AT ALL, so they have to pay out of pocket for all of it.

Those aren’t the only costs either. If you freeze embryos, eggs, and/or sperm, you have to pay yearly storage fees to keep them frozen. My husband I pay yearly fees for both frozen embryos and sperm, and neither are covered by insurance.

So What Does This Mean For People In Alabama?

Right now, all IVF treatments are paused in Alabama. As someone who has done IVF numerous times (yes, you read that right 🙂 lol), I am so deeply saddened. It’s unimaginable to have embryos THAT ARE YOURS, that you worked so fucking hard for, that you love, that you can’t have access. It’s heartbreaking to think about having to stop a cycle you have prepped for and planned for and hoped for. Having to stop with no restart date is truly psychological abuse.

There are many ways this could go, and the future is really unknown. All the people who supported the fall of Roe vs Wade said they believed that “life begins at conception.” So it was only a matter of time before they came after IVF and tried to take control of embryos.

Embryos are created at conception. But embryo implantation does not mean pregnancy because EMBRYOS ARE NOT BABIES.

This is not a baby. This is an embryo.

If embryos were babies, IVF wouldn’t be such a grueling fucking process. Every single person going through IVF wishes embryos were babies—but they’re not.

If doctors couldn’t tamper with embryos because they are children, they would really only be able to make one embryo at a time (if THAT would even be legal, who knows!). Now please go back to the breakdown example I mentioned above:

  • You could have 15 eggs retrieved during an egg retrieval
  • 11 of those eggs could mature
  • 7 of those mature eggs could fertilize into embryos
  • 4 of those embryos could grow to day 5
  • 1 of those embryos could come back normal after testing.
  • Hopefully the 1 survives the thaw when being unfrozen!

NOW IMAGINE IF YOU COULD ONLY MAKE 1 FUCKING EMBRYO AT A TIME.

DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY EGG RETRIEVAL CYCLES IT WOULD TAKE FOR MOST PEOPLE TO GET 1 EMBRYO? MOST PEOPLE WOULDN’T EVEN GET 1 EMBRYO AFTER MULTIPLE CYCLES. IF THIS WERE THE CASE, MOST PEOPLE DOING IVF WOULD BE ABLE TO GET PREGNANT NATURALLY!!!!!!!!!!

Not to mention, this would end fertility preservation. Sure, someone in my situation could just freeze eggs and mix with a sperm before a fresh transfer, but those success rates would be insanely low and could potentially lead to a lot more miscarriages and dangerous, life threatening pregnancies for moms and babies. It would also be way too expensive and time consuming. BECAUSE DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY CYCLES IT WOULD TAKE TO GET PREGNANT FROM ONE EMBRYO? A LOT.

IVF is already too expensive. It would become unaffordable and out of reach if done this way. THAT IS, if this way is even possible.

AND what about the embryos that already exist???? They’ve taken them away from people who WANT to implant them, and now they can’t???? After months and maybe years of injections and hormones and stress and tears, you are taking away what you are calling their babies? None of this makes sense.

Imagine injecting yourself with THIS NEEDLE and then not being able to transfer.

There are already SO MANY people struggling to get pregnant after countless amounts of egg retrievals and embryo transfers. These people want to be pregnant so fucking bad, yet people want to make it harder for them? Because they are pro-life? Because they personally believe IVF is wrong due to their religion? Why should that impact someone else? Make it make sense.

TONS of People Do IVF—and We Need to Speak Up

Like most people, I was initially shocked and devastated when I found out I would have to do IVF.

I felt lied to. Betrayed. I did everything I was taught and now I was being told it was wrong. I became angry with myself for waiting too long. I wondered if this was a sign I wasn’t meant to get pregnant. Worst of all, I felt alone.

But I wasn’t alone at all.

Shortly after I found out about my situation, my husband joined me in the land of infertility after being diagnosed with a small number of lazy sperm (that is not the proper medical terminology, but I’m calling it what it is) meaning we would have had to do IVF anyway. But it wasn’t only my husband who had infertility. After finding out we’d have to do IVF, I joined a bunch of IVF support Facebook groups, each with tens of thousands of members—some of which I knew!

Until it happened to me, I didn’t realize how common IVF was—but why would I? Until it happens to you, you’re probably not educating yourself on infertility.  Until it happens to you, you don’t realize that out of all the people announcing pregnancies and births on social media, there have to be a percentage that were conceived through fertility treatments. Until it happens to you, you’re not reading the books, following the Instagram accounts, playing the podcasts, or joining the Facebook groups. Until it happens to you, you’re likely still clinging to the one pregnancy path presented to you in grade school with the thought process that if things don’t go according to plan, you’ll be devastated. 

But there’s more than one path. And with so many of us traveling down different ones, we should be talking about them more. 

Staying silent while going through IVF is fine, but you should be loud about the fact that you went through it if it works. And if you’re comfortable, you should be loud about the fact that you’re going through it.

Brought to you by IVF <3

It’s not enough for only a select number of celebrities and people on social media to speak up about infertility and act as spokespeople for the infertile masses. Nor is it enough to think we’re talking enough about infertility as a society, because we’re not. The more we hide our own experiences, the less common they seem. And the more silent we stay, the less number of people we have to talk to and confide in when things get tough during IVF—because they always do.  And the less educated people are around it, and the more likely we are to see insane laws pass across the country.

We’ll never change the fact that infertility is exhausting. But we can break the stigma and normalize talking about IVF and similar treatments in everyday conversation. No one should have to feel like they’re doing this alone. And also embryos are not babies. The end.

Author

Hi! I'm a 30-something mom who is part of the SPICE GIRLS GENERATION aka an older millennial. This is my new website Forever Millennials! I’m the author of Average is the New Awesome: A Manifesto for the Rest of Us, a humorous self-help book that was published in 2020 by Seal Press/Hachette, and the person behind the Instagram account @averagepeopleproblems. Before launching this site, I ran the website Forever Twenty Somethings for many years. My work can be seen on Parents, USA TODAY, Women’s Health, HuffPost, Cosmopolitan, Reviewed, Seventeen, Good Housekeeping, and more. I live in a suburb outside Boston, MA with my husband, toddler, and 300 pounds of clothes I have been saying I need to post to Poshmark for the past 3 years.

Write A Comment