April 26, 2013
I come from an unusually large family.
My parents had ten children in sixteen years, including one set of twins.
I was the oldest.
Raised in a suburban Maine town, mine was not an experience shared by many.
That my parents were so obviously fertile caused me no end of embarrassment as a youngster.
“Another one?” my schoolmates would ask. “How many kids do your parents plan on having, anyway?” I could not answer that question until after my youngest brother was born during the autumn of my senior year in high school.
Ten. That was the final number.
Though I had often suggested that I would never have children myself (having helped raise enough of them already), I became pregnant with my son at the tender age of 21. As a first year medical student, living two states away from my then-husband who visited only on weekends, I was surprised by this turn of events.
Surprised, and again, slightly embarrassed. I cannot explain why I would have felt shame over so normal a human function. Now a mother of three, and proud big sister and aunt to many, I have greatly benefited from fortuitous biology.
Others are not so lucky.
As our guests on the Dr. Lisa Radio Hour remind us this week, fertility does not naturally come to all.
Fertility and adoption counselor Anne Belden and reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Ben Lannon have worked with countless couples for whom having a baby becomes a challenging ordeal. They describe the shame felt by men and women who cannot accomplish what they are told should occur “naturally.”
Fertility issues, for some strange reason, remain one of medicine’s “dirty little secrets.” I come from an unusually large family. My parents’ fertility status was no secret.
The early embarrassment I felt over this--and my own discomfort following the surprise pregnancy with my son-- in no way matches what couples who struggle with fertility must feel.
But I have great compassion for those who experience embarrassment over something they cannot control.
I hope that fertility, whether abundant , inadvertent or lacking, will someday be treated for exactly what it is: a human function about which nobody should feel shame.