My Thoughts on an Early Death

Recently, Danish researchers proposed that not having children may shorten your life.  Specifically, that going through IVF and coming out the other side without children, whether biological or adopted, makes you 2-4 times more likely to die an early death.  They looked at over 21,000 couples who were pursuing fertility treatments.  These couples wanted children, and the researchers make this distinction in the study.  They are also quick to point out that correlation does not imply causation.

Mel @ Stirrup Queens and Katie @ from IF to when have both written about this, and they both seemed to take a similar view–that someone out there is trying to scare you into having kids.  But when I heard about this research, my first thought was something very different.

My husband was the one who discovered the study, and when he told me the statistics, I thought, That’s the same increased death rate that women who lose a living, breathing child experience.  The loss any of us feels after a failed cycle is real.  Just as real* as for a woman who loses a child outside the womb, as described here.

Not to be morbid, but I found this notion comforting.  We all know, through blogging or personal experience, someone who has suffered from a failed IVF cycle, an early loss, a chemical pregnancy.  And we know that the pain that woman feels is acute, though often unrecognized by the outside world.

Finally, we’re not the only ones who see it.

The body reacts physically (sometimes as Broken Heart Syndrome) to the stress of dealing with the loss of a loved one.  For me, my (hypothetical, future) babies don’t even exist in the form of embryos yet, but it doesn’t mean I love them or miss them any less.  It doesn’t mean I don’t wish every day that they were here.  I can only imagine how much harder it must be to have nearly touched that possibility, only to have it ripped away.  And then, to never come any closer than that.  Physically, emotionally, it’s a real loss.  One that deserves to be acknowledged, which, it seems to me, this study, in its small way, has done.

So, no, I don’t feel scared.  I feel validated.  Am I the only one?  Am I making too large a mental leap?

What do you think about this study or how it has been portrayed in the media?  (And if you haven’t seen any media coverage, just google “childless women death rate.”)


P.S. My scientist husband read the full study and endorses the methodology, statistical analysis and inferences, and disclaimers as valid.

*And just to be clear, I don’t want to get into any kind of Pain Olympics here.  I’m not saying that one kind of loss is equal to or lesser than another.  I’m just saying that we have indeed all experienced loss, in one form or another.

9 thoughts on “My Thoughts on an Early Death

  1. What a sad study!

    I agree with you that the absence of the babies you always thought you’d have is a huge loss that society sadly does not yet recognize as valid. It’s the death of a dream. If I can’t have kids, I’ll mourn the loss of the hypothetical, dreamed of child that reminds me of my husband or of my parents and that represents the love between my husband and me.

    I think that some people unable to conceive are eventually able to accept that their lives won’t be as they expected and are able to move on somewhat and create fulfilling, happy lives full of new dreams. And some people are never able to move on from the immense loss. Everyone is different. I hope that I’m the first type of person, but I really won’t know until I get to the end of the line and see. (And I hope I never have to see.) I’m guessing that the first type of person probably tends to be more healthy and live longer.

    I think that personally, I’d rather never have a child than have one only to experience its death. For me personally, the loss in the abstract would be easier than the more concrete loss, but both are very painful.

  2. This makes total sense to me. I read something else that talked about how with infertility, you essentially go through the grief cycle every month you’re trying. Denial (maybe this month will be the month!), anger (it’s not fair, why is this happening to me?), bargaining (well, maybe next month I’ll try yoga, that should do it), and depression (yup, here’s AF, my life sucks). The problem is that you never reach the end stage of acceptance, since just when you’re hauling yourself out of your depression it’s a new month and that whole cycle starts again. You only reach acceptance when you reach the end of your journey somehow. It’s obviously a grief over a life that never was versus a life that ended (unless you miscarry, which is another special hell), but when you experience that month after month or year after year, that huge amount of grief has got to take its toll.

  3. I love this take on it, Daryl. Thanks for speaking so eloquently for us. It is comforting when you look at it in that light… I just wish the news articles would frame it in the same way.

    I haven’t read the actual study yet, only the articles, because I was afraid of coming to the conclusion hubby has. Dang it.

  4. I think is is an incredibly astute observation as well as a beautiful way to honor and respect women that have struggled with IF without the resolution they had hoped for.

  5. I’m still with Mel on these studies regarding what the real purpose of this is. That said, I do believe that infertility and loss can shorten someone’s life. The grief and the heartache can substantially impact a couple’s life (been there, still living with it) and without relief and resolution, can lead to long-term unhappiness. And I completely agree with you: a loss is a loss.

    What I wonder from a study such as this, though, is what will come of it? If it results in people no longer telling ALIers stupid things like “just relax,” or “not least you don’t have cancer,” or “it’s all in G_d’s plan,” then bring on the research. But, if it’s just another way to view us as “sad cases,” then I’m not for it.

  6. I certainly feel older and sadder and less full of hope/life after my failed IVF cycles, especially because I’m supposed to act like it was just a medical procedure and not my whole future that didn’t implant. I agree with Mel on some points, especially about how this study is pointless since no one wants to help women. I’d be doing 2 more IVFs if we had the money for it… but we don’t and no one will give us the same help they give folks with “real” medical problems…

  7. Don’t have much to say except that I totally agree with you, and even thought that right away as well. I would also add that I would’t be surprised if the loss affects one so much, as well as not being able to grieve publicly so to speak. As in, it’s so hush hush, you grieve silently. That seems like it would shorten ones life to me!

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