Not long ago our practice had two special patients named Wendy. They were very different as individuals, but they shared the common trait of helping me with my own personal struggle with hope. Each Wendy faced the emotional struggles of multiple failed attempts to conceive and a suboptimal medical prognosis. As each progressed through treatment, I saw hope rise and then fade from their eyes.
I’ll never forget the day I had to tell one of the Wendys – one of the nicest people in the whole world – that she was not pregnant. In more than 20 years practicing medicine, I still have not gotten used to having to make that phone call. I always feel like my house has just burnt down. If I feel this way, how on earth must she feel? It was no different that day I spoke to Wendy, who broke down in tears.
Our other Wendy had multiple inseminations, each time steadfastly preparing her mind for her path ahead. What most impressed me was that she was rekindling her hope for her future family despite the heartache of repeated failures.
With every setback I reached inside to find a way to comfort both young women but felt I left their cups half empty. I watched them cry in my office. I wanted to give them hope to go on but struggled with the gravity of an outcome far from certain.
And then I saw each set aside despair and move forward with renewed hope.
Eventually I had the indescribable joy of performing an early obstetrical ultrasound on one of the Wendys, who was pregnant from her ninth embryo transfer after the birth of her first baby. Hope is critical to our lives. In some religions, it is even a commandment. Why must we have hope, even when the odds seem against us? Because without hope there is despair, and where there is despair, there are no dreams, and where there are no dreams, we can achieve nothing.
Without hope, no one finds a way for that last embryo transfer that eventually brings the family of her dreams. The experiences of the two Wendys are played out every day in every city in the United States. The physical and emotional travails of infertility are ubiquitous. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 6 percent of women and 9 percent of men struggle with the inability to conceive.
Some ultimately succeed. Others keep trying. What this means is that every day a dream comes true somewhere and brings boundless joy to someone. Equally, disappointment resurges somewhere every day, breaking someone’s heart yet again.
The great truism of these countering realities is that no matter what happens to anyone in pursuit of pregnancy, some 3 million other Americans are also experiencing the same ups and downs. At the same time, the happier reality is that the onward march of modern medicine brings joy to more couples every day. The rate of female infertility has fallen in the last 30 years, according to national health statistics. And the odds of the average American woman younger than age 35 getting pregnant through in vitro fertilization is approaching 50 percent. In the 1990s, it was less than half that.
No matter what your path ahead may be, I wish you a triumph of hope over despair. The passage of time often brings more and more cause for hope. And no matter your outcome, I also wish you comfort in the awareness that you are on a journey shared by many, many others past, present and future.
About the Author
Drew Moffitt, M.D., FACOG, is medical director and president at Arizona Reproductive Medicine Specialists Phoenix Fertility Clinics and an assistant professor at the University of Arizona.
He has been in practice for over 20 years and has significant clinical experience in assisted reproductive technologies and reproductive surgery. He shares stories with our patients about IVF and infertility treatment.