TW/CW: Discussions of early pregnancy loss and sex
Sometimes I wonder if I was just super ignorant about women’s health, reproductive health, and fertility or if I can blame society for not caring about it to teach me. The reality is probably somewhere in between. It’s a complex and multi-faceted topic that requires a lot of attention and education, yet I doubt I’m alone when I say that I am often left feeling uninformed and unsupported.
In fact, the first time I came face to face with the topic was when I became pregnant with my first. Yes, it took me actually experiencing it to really understand it. It’s not that I didn’t have people around me who had gotten pregnant, but when I was just a spectator I fell into the same trap that the uninformed do. Swaddled by anecdotes, myths, old-wives tales, and just plain ignorance, thinking back on the shit that I’ve said to other people make me want to dig myself into a trench in shame. But well, I’ll drag myself out long enough to write this article so that you don’t have to become the topic of someone’s ranting.
So without further ado, here are 5 things about fertility that I wish someone had told me.
1. Recognize that most of the knowledge you have about women’s health is wrong
Ok, how many of these statements are true?
- When a woman gives birth, most often the water breaks, and everyone panics and has to take her to the hospital
- The way most women find out they’re pregnant is when they suddenly have to throw up during a social dinner
- You calculate pregnancy in weeks from when you conceive
If you said they’re all true, you’re wrong. They’re all wrong. And you know how you think all those things are true? Movies and TV.
Don’t worry, you’re not an asshole, I was the same way. I too believed in all these things, and boy did I feel dumb when I realized that the understanding I had of my own damn body was from scripted fake scenarios that were most likely written by men who have never had a vagina.
Here’s the truth:
- Only about 1 in 10 women have their water break before labor begins.
- Unless you have a super irregular period, you’ll know you’re pregnant before you show any symptoms like throwing up. Also, morning sickness comes in so many different forms—I actually had a barf-free pregnancy both times.
- Pregnancy math is stupid because no one understands fertility, and you count the weeks from your last period. That means you’re one week pregnant BEFORE YOU’RE EVEN PREGNANT. So stupid.
Oof. If that ain’t a slice of humble pie.
2. No one talks about miscarriages, but it happens. Like, a lot.
Ok, let’s get one thing out of the way: I hate the word miscarriage. I’m not a fan of aka most of the time but in this case, I much prefer the term early pregnancy loss because come on, it is like laced with a lot of guilt don’t you think? MISCARRIAGE? Like what, a woman just dropped the baby because we couldn't hold onto it? Anyway.
Call a rose by any other name, the statistic is that among women who know they’re pregnant, about 10-20% end in a miscarriage. Some research suggests that the number goes up to about 30% if you include pregnancies that were not known—like, you just thought you were having a regular period and were none the wiser. The figures continue that about 80% of these miscarriages happen before the 12th week of pregnancy. This is why you may have heard the advice not to tell anyone about your pregnancy until your 2nd trimester, when the risk of miscarriage drops to 1-5%.
That means that for a lot of women, they suffer the loss of pregnancy in silence without having ever told someone about it. Which explains why, for the most part, we never hear about it. My sister-in-law said it best: “I had no idea my friends had suffered miscarriages until I did—and they all came out to share their stories.”
This means that yes, you should be happy for your friend who got pregnant but also know to be cautiously optimistic and don’t gift them a necklace engraved with “Mama” as soon as they had pissed on a stick. It also means that you shouldn’t go around asking people “Are you going to have another one? Your first is getting older!” because yes, they may have tried and recently lost a baby. In fact, this leads me to the next point…
3. When we talk about other people’s babies, we’re just using code to talk about their sex life
Allow me to translate some common small-talk statements:
“When are you going to have another baby?” → “When do you plan to let your partner jizz in your vag to procreate?”
“Was it planned?” → “Did you guys plan out the ejaculation or did it kind of sneak in there?”
“Oh, are you guys trying?” → “Do you guys often raw dog it, and also time your sex to the cycle of your bleeding moon?”
…Oh I’m sorry, am I being crass? Is this supposed to be a family publication? You’re right, I’m an asshole for typing those things out but you know, we say this kind of shit all the time.
I’m not saying that all of us would be offended by this. Actually, you’re talking to someone that lost all kinds of shame the first time I went spread eagle in labor for all to see like literally EVERYTHING, and in that same visit every one just oggled and gaggled at how I had breastfed the baby National Geographic style—like, literal animal. But I’m just saying that if you’re kind of just going through the motion on these statements, it’s really easy to forget what they ACTUALLY mean, and therefore, how sensitive and intimate these topics truly are. It’s certainly not something everyone would want to discuss with some random stranger in a checkout line. In fact, sex in all forms is usually so taboo and yet when a baby becomes involved somehow it purifies all that naughtiness into oblivion when it’s like… still the same? Anyway.
Speaking of knee-jerk small talk conversations, here’s another one…
4. IVF is not a cure-all for infertility
You’re trouble getting pregnant? Just do IVF!…is probably something you’ve either said or heard. It’s okay, this is a no judgment zone.
And how could we not view IVF this way? There is some sense of society viewing the medical procedure this way. Not that I use Paris Hilton as a litmus test for anything, but she has recently gotten some flack for saying in an interview that she will be starting IVF so she could have"twins that are a boy and a girl,” and also that "I think it's something most women should do just to have and then you can pick if you want boys or girls. [It’s] the only way to 100% have that is by doing it that way.” Yeah, she actually said it. Yikes.
Until you know someone who goes through IVF, it’s easy to think that yes, this medical miracle is one everyone can just opt for. But it’s ridiculously expensive, has no insurance coverage, and is SUPER emotionally and physically taxing. Think twice daily shots with crazy side effects that doctors need to continue tweaking to “get right,” emotional roller coaster filled with expectations and disappointments and more googling and hoping and having faith and then being betrayed and… you get the idea. It’s a lot.
Is it amazing that couples who had to give up on having children have this option? Yes, absolutely. Is it a fast pass to having kids? Not by a long shot.
And if you know anyone around you who is going through it, even if they don’t decide to share the details with you (because fuck, it’s brutal) just buy them some cake and let them know that they’re a warrior.
5. Giving birth is dangerous, so all forms of birth is REAL birth
Ok the title of this is a bit of an understatement because actually US ranks last among developed countries in maternal deaths, and it is the only one that has a RISING rate of maternal deaths. WTF, right? Every year, 700 women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, which are totally preventable.
Pair this with this really peculiar flex that some women like to do, and this idea of “natural birth.”
Like somehow, we seemed to have decided collectively that giving birth at home in a kiddie pool is like the ultimate badge of true motherhood because I guess we used to do that in caves, and anything that gets further away from that with every medical intervention is like… less than. Okay, but have you heard the statistic, we like die the most of any developed countries, and what’s more, over 50,000 women (1 every 10 minutes) has a life-threatening pregnancy-related complication. That doesn’t exclude every other REAL form of birth, whether with an epidural or a cesarean… they are all births, people.
But yes, there have been some concerns over how childbirth has gotten a lot more medicalized, with obstetrician involvement and medical interventions having become almost routine in what one would call “normal” births, i.e. no complications. As a result of this, women are not involved fully in their own decision-making and are getting bulldozed and mansplained about what’s happening to their own bodies. Are we surprised? Sadly, no of course.
The thing is though, both of those things can be true. Having to have a medical intervention doesn’t make your labor experience any less, AND women should advocate for their own choices and deny certain medicalization when it’s done to make it easier for the doctors or hospital. But let’s all use our judgment ok? Like, if you’ve been pushing for 72 hours and the baby is starting to lose oxygen yet you’re still demanding for an “ALL NATURAL BIRTH! VAGINAL ONLY!” and then call the whole experience traumatic because you had like a third degree tear and your baby came out blue—you totally could’ve made it easier on yourself and still feel proud that you just BIRTHED A HUMAN, all the while doing it in a way that is safe for yourself and the baby.
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