Alex Johnston is the CEO of 360 Concussion Care and author of Inconceivable: My Life-Altering, Eye-Opening Journey from Infertility to Motherhood.
Dr. Marjorie Dixon is the founder, CEO and medical director of Anova Fertility & Reproductive Health.
Of all the decisions we’ve made in our lives – going to medical school and law school, choosing where to live and who to love, building our personal and professional networks – the most important, life-defining decision of all was to become a parent. It changed us in the most profound ways possible. Between the two of us, we have six children aged 16 and younger. We know that raising children is not for the faint of heart, but it is our greatest joy.
The path to parenthood wasn’t a straight line for either of us. We both needed help to have our families, and we believe much more can be done to help others preserve their options and achieve their dreams.
Infertility is a growing health issue requiring an infinitely more thoughtful, pragmatic and modern approach to family-building than the one Canada currently employs.
Since 2010, the majority of Canadian women are having babies in their 30s. This demographic shift is significant because the average woman’s fertility peaks by the age of 28 and steadily declines after that. Today, one in six couples will experience infertility making it difficult or impossible to get pregnant
In order to change the problems we currently see in the fertility landscape, education is vital. By the time the average patient is referred to a specialist, a lack of education about reproductive health has already negatively affected her fertility journey. Most young people today continue to learn how to prevent pregnancy, but know little or nothing about how to stack their odds in favour of one day having a family. There is no public conversation about fertility, nor is there guidance available on how to be better informed about one’s own fertility.
People hesitate to share they are having fertility issues with their physician, family or friends because of a lack of awareness about the prevalence of infertility. They feel ashamed and embarrassed, often suffering in silence without seeking out the support they may need, which compounds the problem. When they do speak with their family physician about not being able to conceive, they are often told it is too early for them to see a specialist and to keep trying for another six months to a year before they can be referred.
A better approach would be to ensure that women have relevant fertility information early enough for them to use it, including learning about their own fertility (through what’s known as a fertility workup) as part of their routine annual medical check-up.
Beyond education, access is also crucial. Unfortunately, being able to afford fertility care services is a pipe dream for most Canadians in 2022. While some government funding exists for treatments in certain areas of the country, even the most comprehensive programs are not nearly enough to make fertility care accessible for most patients. We need to put pressure on Canada’s large employers to offer fertility benefits and medication coverage and we need to acknowledge and applaud those that already have.
Since many people don’t work for large companies, we also need to increase accessibility for all Canadians who want a family by further expanding government funding. We need to ensure that all minority groups’ reproductive rights are respected by ensuring everyone can access the care they need to create their families. This is the Canadian way, and the current accessibility landscape is not yet where it needs to be.
For anyone who has watched someone they care about – a friend, daughter, son, sibling or colleague – stand at the edge of the infertility abyss, hoping to get to the other side and become a parent one day, you know it is a uniquely heartbreaking and painful experience.
Becoming a parent is not for everyone, but we believe that everyone should be able to make the fully informed choice that is right for them.
So, on behalf of the tens of thousands of Canadians that will struggle with infertility this year, let’s advocate for a more effective and inclusive approach to helping Canadians build their families.
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