Shame and stigma still attached to infertility

By Catherine Shanahan, Irish Examiner

Helen Browne said infertility, which affects one in six people, was “still isolating, still stigmatising” especially for those living in rural areas where the issue was “not so much taboo” as “not discussed”.

“People are OK, generally speaking, about talking to their families and close friends, but not so much outside that circle,” said Ms Browne. “It can be very stressful for people if they are trying to conceal it from work colleagues. They end up sneaking out to clinic appointments and are very nervous about being seen going into the treatment clinic.”

Cork woman June Shannon, 43, who has endured four failed cycles of IVF treatment since 2009, said her experience was that people simply did not “stop to think”.

“In my experience, people were not deliberately nasty or stigmatising, but you are excluded from a lot of things if you are childless,” she said.

Ms Shannon, who will address NISIG’s annual conference at the Hilton Dublin Airport tomorrow, said she believed childless women — whether by choice or through infertility — were excluded from a lot of things in society.

“If you look at women’s magazines, so much of the focus is on women and their babies and their care, articles like ‘How to get my baby to sleep’,” Ms Shannon said. “It is such a wonderful thing to have a baby and I understand why children are the focus of so many articles but it just seems to be everywhere.”

Medical director at the Waterstone Clinic, John Waterstone, who will also address the conference, said media coverage of fertility treatments meant it was becoming “more normalised”. Last week, the media reported the first baby born from a transplanted womb.

Dr Waterstone will give a talk at tomorrow’s conference on pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) and diagnosis (PGD).

PGD is generally the diagnosis of a single gene defect in the embryo for couples who have a single gene mutation and want to ensure their offspring will not carry the disease.

PGS involves screening for chromosomal abnormalities.

The NISIG conference, which gets underway at 9.30am, will also explore egg donation options and legal issues around surrogacy. Separately, an open information day will take place in the Kingsley Hotel in Cork on Sunday, organised by the CFC, for people unable to make the Dublin conference.