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If You Don’t Have a Baby, You are Going to Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie

This is simple science: parenthood brings about immortality.  What?  No?  I misunderstood the headlines this week?  We’re all going to die but parents live longer?  Oh… so infertility if you don’t reach parenthood is like your uterus smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, shortening your lifespan.  That little reproductive punk.

Yes, I read the headlines this week announcing that if you don’t have children, you may want to purchase a coffin now to be on the safe side.  If you thought that the stress of infertility was quite enough, think again.  Scientists have just served you up a heap of new devastation to add to that heady stew of failed cycles, financial woes, and self-administered injections: early death.  And at first I snorted the milk from my Special K (the cereal, once again) at the study.  With so many factors that can’t be controlled in the study, the results become ridiculous and the study itself becomes pointless.

Do more children mean more time on earth?  Is Michelle Duggar going to remain vampire-like, still here centuries from now, protected by her large brood?  The study looked at soft numbers without interviewing actual people — how do they even know what they’re interpreting?  How do they know who has chosen to live child-free and who is still resolving their infertility?  They looked at an 11-year period of time (1994 – 2005): how many people actually died in that group?  If we’re looking at people who were utilizing IVF as recently as 2005, all the people in that group would still be fairly young.

And by “fairly young” I mean, my age.

Oh, and in case you were wondering if the media was reporting this study as a giant fuck you to the very viable option of choosing to live child-free after infertility, they are.  The Daily Mail answered that one quite clearly with their report:

Scientists say the study throws new light on the age-old question of whether life fulfillment provided by children can actually extend your years. The answer appears to be yes – but only compared with people who want children and are unable to have them. In these circumstances, adoption may reduce the risk of early death, according to Danish scientists. But their investigation did not look at whether couples who choose to be childless are likely to have shorter lives as a result.

Hmmm… is someone worried about fertility rates?  Because the fearmongering feels a little Handmaid’s Tale-ish.  It’s almost as if someone in an office was pacing around saying, “we can’t appeal to those women who never wanted children in the first place; they’re not going to have children to boost the population.  But what about those people who wanted children and couldn’t have them?  YES!  Those women are the ones we’ll guilt into remaining in the vortex of infertility for as long as they can stand it!  They’ll either give us more children to boost the population, or they’ll die trying!”

In other words, they didn’t study women without children.  They studied women who wanted children, couldn’t have children, and chose to resolve their infertility by living child-free (or, since it isn’t clear from the study and the time span for it is fairly small, perhaps also women still treating their infertility).

As the days passed, my stomach started twisting about the reporting of this study.  It’s not just the new stupidity that could be unleashed at your Christmas dinner (“So when are you two going to start having children?  Did you know that if you don’t have a baby you won’t be here for future Christmases and we’ll have to take time away from staring at the Yule log on television to visit your grave?”).  It’s all the other implications in the articles.  For instance, the scientists looked at what effect adoption has on your life span.  If you resolve with adoption, will you live just as long as someone who resolves their childlessness with fertility treatments?

Luckily, you can take the magic pill of adoption and cure yourself of early death.  The child literally becomes the medicine.  No pressure there, kids.

And then there was the brainstorming of why childlessness could lead to early death: “Among possible reasons for early death rates are risky behaviours, such as more drinking and drug abuse, depression and psychiatric illness, and physical illness linked to their infertility.”  In other words, living child-free after infertility OR simply being in the throes of infertility but not having built your family yet, will turn you into a boozy, cocaine-snorting, OHSS-addled fiend.  Though the Atlantic reports that “The death rate for childless women was 4 times higher than for women who had given birth. Women who had adopted had two-thirds the likelihood of dying prematurely… All of the deaths were attributed to circulatory disease, cancers, or accidents.”  So, I’m sorry, not a boozy, cocaine-snorting, OHSS-addled fiend, but a vascular-impaired, tumour-ridden woman who falls down stairs at the drop of a hat.  Sound familiar?  Isn’t that how every childless aunt dies?

I once again need to ask, what is the purpose of this study?  To convince women who are already considering parenthood to consider it until they reach it?  To bump up the population — are 7 billion people on Earth really not enough?  To account for early death in child-free-after-infertility women? — again, to what purpose?  So they can be watched closely for circulatory disease and cancer (and accidents — Josh suggests that we wrap all women in bubble wrap to protect them from all the falls that occur from not having children) after resolving their infertility?  Are doctors going to take this study and monitor their child-free patients more carefully?  Because if they don’t, I really have to ask again: WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THIS STUDY?

Fine, let’s just say that all of this is true: infertility is going to kill you unless you can reach parenthood (and fast!).  Why don’t we have more governments standing behind the importance of making fertility treatments affordable to all people who wish to utilize them?  Why isn’t mandated fertility coverage and adoption aid part of the Affordable Care Act?  Why are we still making infertile women jump through hoops to utilize the technology that exists?  Why aren’t we doing more to help and less to condemn?

Because that doesn’t make a snappy headline?


1 Juanita { 12.10.12 at 7:17 am }

Oh boy, I am soooo glad that we are adopting. Better get that baby soon though, before I start smoking something and fall down the stairs! 🙂

2 Arwen Rose { 12.10.12 at 7:19 am }

What the fuck!? That is all I can manage on this. WTF.

3 Meghan { 12.10.12 at 7:58 am }

I just don’t understand the point of ‘science’ like this. How does crappy pointless research like this even get funded?? I can think of much more worthwhile research related to infertility

4 Nicole { 12.10.12 at 8:26 am }

We don’t help families because in this country we just like to say that we (as in our political figures at least) are spouting off that they are pro-family and pro-life but really we don’t care about families or babies/children. Isreal pays for unlimited IVF until people choose to stop or they have two children. That would be the pro-family country not the US.

Also birth rates in the US have plummeted which will set up the same situation we have now with the baby boomers facing retirement and increasing medical expenses with less children to support the system. Social security is pretty much a pyramid scheme as far as I can tell.

5 Cristy { 12.10.12 at 8:32 am }

“What is the purpose of this study?”

To scare people. Not to allocate dollars for research into understanding the cause of infertility and RPL. Not to advocate for coverage of treatments. No, it’s simply fear mongering.

6 Mina { 12.10.12 at 9:00 am }

Melissa Ford, you know better than wasting your time on the likes of Daily Mail. For crying out loud, liz jones is one of their prized columnists, THAT should tell you more than anything what kind of drivel DM publishes.
Now, the study. Let’s do a study too. Let us look up on the internet and pick the two first results for the number of live babies born in January 2011, the quantity of snow fallen in February 1987, the sugar imported by the Wales in 2011 and publish the conclusions under the common signature of “a group of international researchers”. If you are wondering what the conclusions are, I propose several: cold makes people eat more sugar, sugar helps women birthe live babies, snow directly influences fertility and reduces stress. You’re welcome to pitch more other pertinent conclusions and share the fame.
And we’ll apply for funds everywhere and when we get the money, after we organize a trip to Seychelles for all of us, to plan future “research”.
Agree? See you soon in Seychelles.

7 Chickenpig { 12.10.12 at 9:04 am }

Supposedly, every child you bear takes 5-10 years off of a woman’s life. And according to an old wife’s tale, you lose a tooth for every one you have (no doubt due to calcium loss). Not even a century ago, childbirth was the leading cause of death to all women of childbearing age, and if a women had ANY health issues it was recommended that she abstain from childbearing. Now being child free makes you die younger? HAH tell that to my aunt Jessica who lived to be 90, or her cousin that lived to be 92. What-the-heck-ever.

8 Chickenpig { 12.10.12 at 9:52 am }

PS Did I mention that my Great Aunt Jessica earned her Masters degree and her Doctorate in chemistry from Columbia in the 1920’s? She went on to work at Phizer in NY developing antibiotics and the polio vaccine for the public. She was married two times to men she loved deeply*, traveled the world, and offered to pay my grandmother’s way through college. Not only did she live a long, healthy life but her work made it possible for millions of people to live longer lives as well through her work. Having children in the 20’s may have very well shortened her life, and it would certainly have made her career difficult if not impossible.

*her first husband died of complications from appendicitis. According to my grandmother it was one of the reasons why she became so dedicated to creating antibiotics, they would have saved his life.

9 Sunny { 12.10.12 at 9:58 am }

Are you SERIOUS?! This is absolutely ridiculous. And I really have to question their findings. Thanks to ART, I have four children under the age of five. I am pretty sure I have aged about 20 years since 2008, and I sometimes am not sure if I will survive the day, much less live to see extended twilight years. :/ I call BS.

10 Pamela { 12.10.12 at 10:35 am }

Well, I can say honestly that in the darkest time there were days I would scream to the heavens like George Constanza’s father, “take me now!” either because the infertlity pain and loss was too great or because I couldn’t tolerate the ignorance about my experience … But now I rather relish my role of survivor, provocateur.

That’s right study authors and media: I defied the odds. I’m very much alive and I’m not gonna let you forget it.

Thanks, Mel. This will likely lead to more on my blog …

11 serenity { 12.10.12 at 10:37 am }

I recently read an article: “Why we should be concerned about declining birth rates in the US.”

So it doesn’t surprise me that there exists funding for studies that encourage people to have kids, many kids, under whatever guise necessary. Fear of aging and/or dying young seems to be an effective tactic in this day and age, so might as well try and prove that having more kids = living longer.

Mina, I’d love to join you in Seychelles. I’m SURE we can find connections somewhere to justify our hypothesis (*cough* Funding! *cough* Money! *cough* Agenda! *cough* *cough*)


12 Pamela { 12.10.12 at 12:15 pm }

p.s. While I used to detest this sort of sensationalized reporting, I’ve learned that it does accomplish one helpful purpose: it gets us buzzing and maybe — just maybe — it will serve to reframe the discussion about CBNC women and how our lives are unfolding…

13 It Is What It Is { 12.10.12 at 12:30 pm }

Regardless of the integrity of the study or its results, what we should capitalize is that since not having children is a killer, the government, by not mandating infertility insurance coverage is killing infertile people. That would be headline grabbing (for a day).

14 Alexicographer { 12.10.12 at 2:28 pm }

Totally agree re: the reporting.

About the study itself (and question of whether it was worth doing), we can grumble about allocation of (Danish) resources and perhaps we should, but this kind of study is really cheap. The authors didn’t collect any data, they took a few existing data sets, linked them, and looked for patterns therein. It’s (likely) not quite just the cost of 4 hours of a post-doc’s time + a Macbook, but it’s pretty close.

As for the findings, actually I think they are perfectly plausible and likely real and point to an important but neglected reality: some of the things that contribute to infertility have real and serious health implications for the people they affect. Clotting disorders are one obvious example, and PCOS is another. Bearing in mind that a total of 96/21,276 (or .005%) of the women studied died, we are talking tiny, tiny risks at least in this time window (relative youth), but it’s still a statistically big effect given the actual ratios — 33/15,149 biological mothers versus 56/5,354 women who sought IVF but did not have children (and let’s not forget that pregnancy itself carries risks, perhaps making that difference in the proportions even more meaningful). I’m prepared to contend that this supports the notion that we as patients should demand more of reproductive endocrinology, insisting that our doctors not just try to circumvent whatever obstacles make it difficult or impossible for us to get pregnant, but also educating themselves and us about the implications of our conditions for our own health (and ways to minimize the risks associated with e.g. clotting disorders and PCOS), no matter what the outcome of our infertility treatments, and that the field of reproductive endocrinology would do well to move toward taking approaches focusing on overall health and not just improving pregnancy rates. Anyone who’s made it this far in reading this comment should feel free to quote it to Aunt Jane over Christmas dinner or at any other occasion when it seems useful.

I don’t know whether the same argument applies to male sources of infertility or not, so I can’t comment on that.

15 Alexicographer { 12.10.12 at 3:20 pm }

… oh, and duh, in my comment above the point is that (perhaps) the health-implications-for-woman-ttc set of causes of infertility are more difficult to surmount/circumvent than those that don’t have long-term health implications. That could of course be wrong! But I am guessing that a woman who does IVF and yet doesn’t — get pregnant? give birth? take home a baby? (I am not actually clear where the study authors draw the line between “motherhood” and “not-motherhood”) — you may be more likely than a woman who does IVF and does achieve motherhood to be someone whose cause-of-infertility has long-term health implications for you. In other words, that the health status of these two groups isn’t really equivalent *except* for the fact that one group consists of mothers and the other does not, as the authors suggest (it is).

16 IrisD { 12.10.12 at 3:31 pm }

Unless the study is meant to propel further research on infertility, its causes, its treatment… unless it is meant to be used by groups lobbying for government mandated coverage for treatment and/or financial assistance for adoption… unless it is meant to in any other way support those mourning for a child they could not have… the study is utterly useless. The study also appeared on the Guardian, and Fox News in the U.S. Since Fox typically supports Republican “you’re on your own, good luck” policies, I hope their reporting of this story is inundated with calls for government support for infertile couples.

17 Another Dreamer { 12.10.12 at 4:09 pm }

That study is so pointless. It’s fake science, media scare tactics, and that’s all… and it’s sad because it hurts people who are already hurting. Just… ugh.

18 a { 12.10.12 at 5:31 pm }

I do love data mining – yet another example that statistics can show anything you want them to show.

19 persnickety { 12.10.12 at 5:43 pm }

the purpose of the study- to make the people with kids feel better. Because they can’t handle the thought that there are people out there who are both happy and childfree. This is not to suggest that all people wth kids are trying to make those with none feel miserable, but more that there may be some subconscious ideas underneath the stated sientific purpose.

And i can perhaps see one element of truth- if the round(s) of IVF scheduled for next year don’t work, we will be packing our bags and engaging in long term travel with risky (ish) behaviours. So i suppose more likely to die young because I choose to go mountain climbing.
And hmm- adoption rates in Australia are abysmally low (long story, stupid policy) so in theory that should present a nice clear children/no children picture.

20 persnickety { 12.10.12 at 5:44 pm }

I wrote a comment and it disappeared?

21 Stupid Stork { 12.10.12 at 5:49 pm }

Oh please… I barely want to live in a world where Michelle Duggar is free to do her own thing NOW, if that woman is made vampire? peace I’m out. Bring on the cigarettes and bleach-huffing.

22 Jo { 12.10.12 at 10:23 pm }

Interestingly enough, I watched a documentary-style TV show recently that claimed that the longest-living people (over 100 years old) actually had FEWER children (1.5 on average), and began their families later in life (as in mid-to-late 30’s). Many were also child free. I will seeif I can find the link.

23 Jo { 12.10.12 at 10:25 pm }

Here is a link to the study….I am still looking for the video. http://www.impactaging.com/papers/v3/n12/full/100415.html

24 Jo { 12.10.12 at 10:31 pm }

Also, http://medicine.jrank.org/pages/289/Centenarians-Why-some-people-live-be-one-hundred.html

My favorite is this quote: “Women with fewer children seem to live longer. Observational data from humans support this, and studies with nematodes and insects also demonstrate that less fertile individuals live longer. This may be an example of one theory of aging at work, George Williams’s Antagonistic Pleiotropy. Antagonistic pleiotropy holds that some genes which may be beneficial (in this case, genes that cause one to be reproductively successful) are harmful later in life, leading to disease or accelerated aging. Conversely, genes that are detrimental early in life (and so make one less successful at reproduction) may be beneficial in late life, promoting longevity.”

I, personally, plan on living forever….. 🙂

25 Pepper { 12.10.12 at 10:46 pm }

Love your last couple paragraphs. Yes, why doesn’t society support us in our treatments? Insurance covers so much and yet so much insurance does not cover infertility or adoption. I am one of the lucky few who had a large portion of my IVF costs covered when I conceived my daughter and will have adoption assistance if we choose that route for a second child. Phew – guess I won’t die just yet. Really dodged a bullet there.

26 Eskimo Kisses { 12.11.12 at 12:28 am }

I have so many emotions flowing right now. I can’t pick just one…I’m not sure *who* thought this was a good thing to study. The money and time wasted on it is laughable. Why couldn’t the study have been about helping others understand infertility…instead of attempting to scare (and I am sure there are a few newly diagnosed infertiles out there that are scared and trying to find decent information) those that are already terrified, why couldn’t it have been helpful? All I can say is I agree, WTF?

27 Battynurse { 12.11.12 at 9:37 am }

I have to admit that this is why I don’t read the “news” much. I believe science can be a great and awesome thing but seriously who decides what the fuck to study.

28 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 12.11.12 at 11:54 am }

Oh no, but the thing about this study is: it makes infertility a real disease now. Where’s that report? Headline: I told you infertility was serious: childlessness after infertility linked to higher mortality rates (funding for IVF services increased).

Seriously, this is the first time that someone in mainstream press has agreed with myself and my doctors that achieving pregnancy despite infertility might be a desirable thing from the point of view of my family history of breast cancer. (The adoptive parent thing is probably just a selection bias brought about by the rigors of the adoption procedure.)

There is also a question here that needs to be answered by a society that doesn’t embrace people without children to the extent that they perhaps embrace people with living children, to make them included and useful, especially as they age. I believe this isn’t the only study showing that having a role (some studies this is specifically a caring role for the youngest generation) going into one’s dotage has a protective effect.

29 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 12.11.12 at 12:02 pm }

Alexicographer, well said.

The last research I saw shows that sub or infertile men have lower life spans, on average, than normally fertile men.

These studies are really important because they focus scientific thought on questions such as, well why the hell is that, now, and what should we be doing about it?

Mind you, the press suck at science reporting.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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