Apologies for the lack of elegance in this blog-post but I just had to get my thoughts out there…
Yesterday morning on the popular UK Lorraine TV show they ran a segment on IVF. They invited women who had been trying to conceive to contribute to the programme via skype with questions for their ‘expert’. “Yaaay!”, I thought, “fantastic! A mainstream, high profile programme is highlighting this as a significant issue”. My initial excitment, however, changed quickly to despair as one of the courageous women (who had volunteered to appear on live television in front of a massive audience) gave an eloquent and clinically detailed description of her situation before asking for advice about what she could do differently in her next IVF cycle. The advice of the ‘expert’ was to “relax”. Yep, that was it, relax!
Now, most of us who have been TTC for a while would have received this pearl of wisdom at some point “just relax and it will happen” and it is, of course, completely rubbish advice! Firstly I would love to know how you can relax when you are injecting yourself every five minutes(!) but more seriously, behind this comment there can be a more pernicious message. That it is somehow your fault – you are not relaxed, therefore you are not conceiving. Or, even more troubling, that you are making a lot of fuss about nothing and if you just got yourself together everything would be OK.
The presentation of the women to the TV doctor put me in mind of the way in which the hysterics were viewed at the turn of the last century. Hysteria literally means ‘of the womb’ and was coined as a catch-all diagnosis for ‘women’s problems’ with symptoms ranging from fluid retention through fainting fits to missed periods and extreme irritablility. The picture above depicts Charcot, a celebrated physician of the time at one of his Lecons Mardi where he displayed his hysterical patients. Charcot believed that hysteria was a disease in the mind of the woman which resulted in excess emotion – despite the fact that his patients’ symptoms often pointed to more deep-seated issues. We have inherited this idea that people (particularly women) can be ‘hysterical’ and over-react to a situation.
So, to counter all this nonsense and resist the continued dismissal of women’s concerns around their fertility as over-emotional, that it is all in their mind and that they just need to relax and everything will be OK, I suggest that we don’t relax. That we pay attention and take women seriously. That we truly listen to what women are saying and experiencing and give value and weight to their testimony and try to find ways forward.
To the women of #relaxgate I salute you! And don’t you dare relax! It matters too much!