I learned the concepts of fertility, periods, sperm, and eggs while sitting crossed legged on the carpet of my grade four classroom. For some reason, I remember the carpet being green. I don’t remember being shocked by any of the birds and bees talk. I saw people kissing in movies and figured something was up. Neither did I go talk to my mom about what I learned. I was an independent type of kid, an introvert.
After this sex talk, I just took it as a fact, as something that happened and now after having it explained to me, I understood what was going on to the bodies of boys and girls in grades 7 and 8. It was the late 1980’s, being gay was not normal, and Madonna was redefining pop culture by singing “like a virgin.” The social message of our sex education was clear – sex is only appropriate within the confines of marriage, otherwise you get pregnant if you so much as breath on a boy. Oh, and by the way, just say no (to everything).
Looking back now, after experiencing a seven-year battle with infertility, I don’t remember ever having a conversation with any educator on how to get pregnant. All I remember is the fear instilled in me that if on any day of the month I have unprotected sex, I could get pregnant. I carried this belief with me for years, even into my marriage. It is hard to admit that I had no real clue about my own true fertility window, I just knew what to do to not get pregnant. Now, a fertile teen maybe more prone to pregnancy, but I kept this belief with me almost until the day I walked into a fertility clinic at age 32 and someone finally taught me that I only had 24 hours to max three days to get pregnant. Honestly, it’s embarrassing. At the clinic I learned what each stage of female discharge looked like and what it meant, and why my cycle was so off, although it seemed normal to me. My family doctor’s advice when we first started trying was: “just have sex every second day.”
“Fertility”, not “pregnancy prevention” – is this not the kind of information every girl and woman should know?
We fear that teaching our young women about the stages of their fertile window will lead to more promiscuous behaviour. Instead of better education, we put them on the pill for pregnancy prevention and then are surprised that the rate of infertility is up. Is this not just another way of controlling women’s sexuality and behaviour through pharmaceuticals? I am not saying that we shouldn’t use the pill, but if we are teaching pregnancy prevention then we should also be teaching the flip side. I dare to say that many boys are clueless about women’s fertility cycle window, apart from the fact that girls are either on their period or busting with hormones ready to get pregnant at a drop of hat. I’m really generalizing here, but it is up to women to prevent pregnancy or to get pregnant, not men.
Our children’s school sex education is fundamentally lacking.
I would have loved to have learned more about fertility than just prevention, that it is not just the fallopian tube and sperm meets egg, that sometimes getting pregnant isn’t as simple as just deciding. I have a friend who got pregnant just with sex, but I know many more who have their life sucked out of them between injections and morning runs to a fertility clinic, where they get better acquainted with the ultrasound machine wand than their own partners. I would have loved to learn the connection between nutrition and my fertility, something I am just really learning now, at the age of 40 and post surrogacy. While I have many other medical challenges that won’t allow me to get pregnant, why doesn’t a fertility clinic and our bird and the bees talk in grade school also include how to be healthy, both to get pregnant and for our own female health?
Lacking a well-rounded sex/fertility education I walked into a fertility clinic for the first time thinking that my visit is a mistake. I thought after one treatment I would be Ms. fertility goddess and done. Gosh. At 32 I really didn’t know much, and I wonder how many other women learn too late to make a difference for them.
Fertility education is such a lost opportunity, and we need to do better. If women don’t know what to ask or look for, how can they advocate for themselves and their own fertility health?