16 July, 2012

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Statistics are everywhere.  We look at the figures, and we understand them.  They're based on science.  We know for example that about 12 % of the population are infertile, which means 88% are not.  We know that about 1-2 % of all pregnancies are ectopic, and about 1-2% of those ectopic pregnancies are interstitial/cornual.   We know too that after one ectopic pregnancy, you have a 10% chance of a repeat.  Which means that you have a 90% chance it will be in the right place.  These are good statistics.  Hopeful statistics.  There is a far greater chance that everything will go right.  And so we present these statistics to others, hoping it will make them feel hopeful, more positive, happier.

But once you've been on the wrong end of the statistics (my second ectopic was cornual/interstitial) then it is hard to trust in the odds any longer.  Someone has to be that 1-2%, or that 0.2%.  Why not us?   I mean, I always think "why not me?" when I buy a lottery ticket.  To be that 1 in a million.  Someone has to be.  But whilst in lottery terms I am in good company, in fertility terms, my only experience has been on the wrong end of the odds.  Being in the 0.004% who have repeat ectopics including a very rare type in a rare location is 100% of my experience.   So I know that if I have statistics quoted to me, I don't get a lot of comfort from them.  My confidence in being in the good side of the odds is much weaker now than it used to be.  I feel much more vulnerable.

Maybe I feel that way because I've always been so lucky in life.  I've been lucky to be relatively healthy, to be fit, athletic, academically able.  I've been lucky to be able to make friends, to travel, to earn enough money to live a reasonable lifestyle.  And so when I was on the wrong side of the odds, I found it shocking.  Now though, I don't find it so surprising.  Other bad things have happened.  So I developed TGN.  It is rare.  Big deal.  I get it.  Makes no difference to me how rare it is.  Just as I'm sure having a peanut allergy or asthma, and knowing that these are reasonably common ailments, isn't any comfort to the sufferers either. In the face of our own personal situations, the words rare and common bare irrelevant.

Still, I happily fly in a plane, knowing that statistically my chances of going down in an aeroplane are less than being caught in a car accident.  (That said, I'm more worried about car accidents these days).  I even went up in a balloon in Turkey.  I'll take risks, I don't live my life cowering in fear.  I have to have some trust in the statistics.  After all, they didn't fail me.  I just fell on the wrong side of them.  And I think that's my point.  That we have to trust in the statistics to be able to continue to live our lives, or we'll be paralysed by fear. 

That said, if the Odds Gods are watching, I think it's about my turn for some luck on Lotto.  Don't you?


  1. Statistics are strange bed fellows, especially when you fall on the wrong side of them. I read a post once where the author stopped asking "why me?" and started asking "why not me?" The result was incredibly humbling for her. Reading her post was powerful for me and now when I start playing the statics game, or I fall on the wrong side I ask myself that questions and it somehow helps me put things in perspective.

    1. Exactly! I also heard a cancer sufferer say that, and it made a huge difference to me, especially in terms of acceptance of my losses and infertility.

  2. Ahhhh...after being thrown into IF world, I found some IRL friends who are also IFers - some of them end up being mothers, some don't. I have 6 best friends and 3 of them are mothers (1 is still single) and now one of them is TTC and I always think, "OK, the odds are saying that she's gonna be a mother, too, because I'm already an IF among them." HE HE HE HE HE...Maybe that's my self-defense mechanism as well, though, preparing me for the time when she announces her pregnancy he he...

  3. I've been thinking about statistics lately, too. My RE has apparently never had a case of long-term, post-op pelvic pain like mine. I'm sure she's treated hundreds, if not thousands, of women. I feel a little freakish.

    I am so, so scared about car accidents. Let's fall on the good side of the statistic for that one, ok?

  4. I've always been on the unlucky end of the spectrum, so I honestly wouldn't know what to do with myself if the odds suddenly turned in my favor. There was an old country song that had a line in it appropriate for describing my life "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all..."

    So whenever I hear any statistical number on the odds for and against, I'm pretty sure which side I'm coming out on. :(

  5. This post resonates so much with me. I had always felt that I was "fairly lucky" in many aspects of life. Then one day BOOM I found myself on the wrong side of the statistics ..suddenly I feel less and less confident about myself, my health, my work, etc. It seems that I doubt myself more and more now that I know I am not "invincible".

    I'll definitely remind myself everyday to take risk and not spending my life cowering in fear :) thanks again for the beautiful post.

    And yes, yes, yes, it's definitely your turn to win the Lotto!

  6. A few months ago when on vacation, we were suppose to hike accross the Grand Canyon. After waking up feeling ill, and forecasted 106 degree heats (on average...it was only suppose to be 80-90 degrees), we decided to scrap the plan.

    Depressed about the decision, we took our car to Kanab a day early knowing that there was a hiking lottery for 10 permit spaces for a special wilderness call "the wave". We asked how many people a day were showing up, and they told us over 100, so make some alternate plans in case you are not picked.

    We got up the next morning and drove over. We talked about how we should have been hiking out of the Grand Canyon, but accepted that instead we were at this lottery instead...unplanned. Guess who's name was picked first - yes, US!

    I often wonder why we were dealt the infertility hand...and also the failed internation and domestic adoption plans...but sometimes, we just get lucky. So, yes, I do buy my lotto tickets on occasion. And when I win, I'll have a big smile on my face!

  7. ah, I am a numbers person, partly due to my job, and I too have often thought about the small odds I faced... Like, when I had my cone biopsy, my doctor told me "For 98% of people, this will be successful treatment for the pre-cancerous cells." Well, I was in that 2%. Then, I also have a more aggressive, less common form of the cancer cells.... So like you, I've had a pretty lucky life for the most part... but there are some damn haunting numbers...

    I think you do deserve some lotto luck!!