Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NIAW: Bust an Infertility Myth - Vasectomy is infertility too!

What is NIAW?

I may be in New Zealand, but I am still excited to be involved in America's National Infertility Awareness Week's Bust an Infertility Myth challenge. It's a fantastic campaign to raise awareness for infertility and break apart stereotypes people may have of what infertility is all about. The organisation is the driving force behind the action, and I only wish they had a New Zealand branch!

What is the Infertility Myth that I will bust?

I have chosen to talk about the myths that surround my life, even though they rarely get mentioned out loud.

Myth: Having a sterilisation (i.e. vasectomy) is not true infertility, it's just contraception! What did you expect?

Busted: Actually, that's not true at all. Not. Even. Close.

Let's look at what infertility actually is. The inability to conceive a child after one year of unprotected intercourse (as defined by my doctors and FertilityNZ). And what is a vasectomy? A surgical procedure where the vas (tubes that carry sperm into the seminal fluid) are cut, so that conception will not occur. On the surface, yes it does appear that a vasectomy is indeed a form on contraception. A very effective and (normally) permanent one.

So why am I now classed as an infertile woman?

My husband has a vasectomy. He got it in his previous marriage, and from what he's told me, he did it because with 3 kids already he felt it was the socially responsible thing to do. There may also have been some pressure from the ex-wife too.

We now want kids. I have wanted children for a while. This year we will click over 8 years of infertility. During that time, I have been in as much anguish as any other infertile woman. We may have different underlying causes to our infertility from the majority of other couples, but there is still sweet f*ck all that we can do about it. Without major, expensive medical intervention, of course.

I still desperately want to be pregnant, to give birth, to buy baby clothes for my child and not someone else's, to raise a family with my husband (not just step-kids who very clearly belong to their Mum), and to grow old knowing I will become a grand-mother and have my family line continue.

I remember the shock and hurt I felt when my ob/gyn told me nonchalantly that I was infertile. No I wasn't! I was at his office to discuss getting a vasectomy-reversal for my husband (and more specifically, what I would need to do to get my body ready, as a T1 Diabetic woman) - not to be diagnosed with a new condition!! The shock and disbelief were real. The pain, tears, and anguish are real.

In many blogs I read about IF, women talk about how they hope that their next cycle will be the one, or that next year will be the one, or that this new treatment will work. I feel completely left out, because we are not able to pursue treatment actively at the moment. A vasectomy is 100% effective so it's no use waiting for the next cycle. No amount of (very fun) trying will make a bit of difference.

I see it in people's faces when I reveal that we now want a family. In my parent's surprise, in my friend's careful questions. They are wondering what the hell is wrong with me, wanting to have kids with a (wonderful, loving, handsome, caring, generous, sensitive) man who has a vasectomy! I knew what I was getting into.....didn't I?

Answer: no. I knew that my husband-to-be had a vasectomy, and I vaguely knew that you could get them reversed. But at the beginning of our romance that's about all I knew. I also didn't know that we would fall madly in love and pledge to spend the rest of our lives together in front of our families on Valentine's Day in a heavenly Chinese garden. I didn't know I wanted kids back then when we started dating. And it's not generally something you discuss until the relationship is well and truly "serious".

But once we began investigating the idea of a vasectomy reversal, it soon became clear that it would a) cost a lot, and b) have a very low chance of success. The doctors recommended the big guns for us. What else but infertility would require IVF, ICSI, and sperm retrieval to make a baby?

I was devastated when I found out that I would need to have all the IVF drugs. I did know that IVF was incredibly expensive, and so it was only because we were told that we would "surely" qualify for public funding for fertility treatment that together we went through the infertility workup. Nearly a year passed, with blood tests, ultrasounds, an operation, and consultations, all for naught when we were cruelly denied access to public funding at the last minute. In fact, during the consultation where we were expecting to be given a schedule appointments to kick-start IVF.

I have spent every spare minute over the past year and a half thinking, blogging, emailing, writing, meeting people, and just generally trying to get that heart-crushing decision changed. So far no luck.

But along the way I really hope that I've changed some people's minds about what constitutes infertility. And a sterilisation from a previous relationship certainly counts as infertility. It takes away the couple's right to choose and determine their own life. It brings worry and anguish into the thoughts of the couple, and in our case, it puts the ability to access treatment in the hands of doctors and government officials. How could anyone not be severely affected by this? How could anyone think this is fair? (As the folks who determined the rules do). It has completely changed my life-view. It has made me an advocate for my health and my future.

Believe me, no matter what the cause of your infertility, it will still hurt.

An unwanted sterilisation causes the inability to conceive. This is infertility. It is not able to be changed by the current couple as there is no way to go back in time and alter the decisions made in a previous relationship.

It is my goal to help raise awareness in the New Zealand community about this issue, and I would ultimately love to get the laws around access to public funding for fertility treatment altered so they are no longer discriminatory against couples who have experienced the trauma and suffering of infertility caused by sterilisation from a previous relationship.

Where can you go for more information?

Gain a basic understanding of infertility here

Learn more about National Infertility Awareness Week® (NIAW)

Where can I get more information in New Zealand? - Fertility New Zealand is committed to supporting, advocating for and educating all people who face infertility challenges at all stages of their journey and beyond.


  1. I'm sorry people have said hurtful things to you that have made dealing with your problem more painful.

  2. Myth busted!

    A beautifully writen post which shows just how insensative people can be. I'm sorry you've had to deal with this - you are a very strong woman.

    Now "following" and I can't wait to

  3. Have you had much luck with the Fertility NZ? I emailed them about a month or so ago, but not heard back. I'd written them off in my head already!