29 August, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #5 - Knowledge

I like learning. I have a Master’s degree in Political Science. I speak (well, dabble in) several languages. Development assistance (aid programmes) has been an ongoing career interest of mine. As a result I've learnt a lot about a lot of different topics, including areas about as different from Political Science as you can get. For example, I was once asked by a World Bank engineer if I was an engineer too, after talking to him about civil engineering and road maintenance management! And more recently I've learnt a lot about tertiary education, and about corporate governance. But due to deficiencies in my primary school education, I was never really into science. Biology was an elective subject after the age of 16, and there were other subjects that I was keen to pursue at the time. (Also, I didn't want to have to dissect a rat.)

But through infertility and ectopic pregnancy, I have learnt so much about human biology and reproduction. In fact, I can guarantee that I know more about this than most of my friends and relatives who have actually had children. I know I knew more about ectopic pregnancy diagnosis and treatment than the junior doctors or emergency clinic GPs who were dealing with my case during my second ectopic. And that was before I started volunteering, when I had access to world leading research on ectopic pregnancy, and daily I learned more from the medical professionals (one in particular, she knows who she is) I was working with. 

I know I'm not alone in this. Every woman who has been through infertility or IVF will come out knowing much more about their reproductive biology than when they went in. I've seen many cases of women having to explain to their own doctors the details of their own cycles, and the implications of these. The misnamed 21-day test to check if a woman is ovulating is a classic example. It is only accurate if a woman ovulates on cycle day 14, and many don’t. My own GP looked at my results and said “I'm sorry, I don’t think you’re ovulating.” But I was charting my cycle, and there was strong evidence that I was. A few weeks later, I printed out my charts and presented them to my fertility specialist at our first appointment. He looked at them and said, “there’s no doubt that you’re ovulating.” I felt vindicated. And I have to say that the more I learnt about my cycle, the more empowered I felt, even if I was in fact learning how powerless we are when it comes to reproduction.

Knowledge is power. In my case, it wasn't power enough to conceive or carry children, but it was power. It helped me understand why further IVF cycles would be a waste of money. It helped me understand why I had ectopic pregnancies, and how to keep myself (and others) safe. Knowledge gave me the understanding, and the freedom, to accept the hand I’d been dealt. For me, knowledge was empowering, and I loved learning more and more, regardless of the implications for my own situation, and for years after my own fertility journey was over.

It makes me wonder whether, if my education had been different, I might have considered medicine as an occupation. I’ll never know. But I appreciate that my infertility and losses sparked an interest that lay latent within me.


  1. I've often said that I know more about how to get pregnant than most people who have actually been pregnant. But you're right, that knowledge is empowering.

    ~Kinsey (new commenter but I've been reading for several months)

    1. You might like this post I wrote a while ago - I called it "I'm infertile, not stupid!" http://nokiddinginnz.blogspot.co.nz/2012/02/im-infertile-not-stupid.html

    2. It's so reassuring to know that I'm not the only one who has to deal with stupid people. While I've never been asked if I know how to take a pregnancy test (spoiler alert, I do), but I have been asked if I know about ovulation tests (LOL!) and if I wanted her extras because she bought 10 (can you imagine?!) of the smily face ones and got pregnant their first cycle of trying for number 2. I politely, ok, maybe with a bit of snark, told her that I bought ovulation tests in 100 packs on ebay.

  2. I feel so much more informed about my body since cancer/infertility. When I remove the emotions, the new knowledge I've gained is very interesting and I've been able to inform and help a lot of other ladies because of it. I totally agree the knowledge is power and I think it's important to know more about our lady parts. I have seriously spoken to women who didn't understand I would no longer menstruate after a hysterectomy.

  3. LOVE this post. Again and again one of the things I love the most about your blog posts is the fact that you're using your experience to help others, Mali. KUDOS to you!