Myths, internet forums and bossy doctors

by dee armstrong

I found myself well and truly irritated when I read this piece, Don't Believe Myths About Infertility, in The Irish Independent last week.  In it a nameless journalist interviews Declan Keane, an embryologist who has recently opened up a new fertility clinic in Dublin.  Splice together some of Keane's remarks with a quick rundown of the most common "myths" out there on the internet, which must have taken all of half an hour to "research", and hey presto you have a nice, bossy little piece on infertilty to jazz up a slow news day.  

The fact is that there is evidence to show that tight underwear and lots of cycling can adversely affect sperm quality, there is evidence to show that caffeine can have an impact on the fertility of both men and women and  I would suggest that if couples are not "having intercourse when ovulating" they're going to wait rather a long time to see those two little blue lines.  Of course research studies can vary and sometimes be downright contradictory.   If your semen analysis shows there's room for improvement it would be wise to avoid tight pants and cycling for two hours a day; if not you probably don't need to worry quite so much.  The point is that trying to be too black and white about it does no good - things will vary from couple to couple.  There is so much that we don't yet know about infertility - an honest "I don't know" and an explanation of all the possibilities still being researched would go a long way in the consulting room. 

The article finishes up with: 

Dr Keane added: "Dr Google and chat rooms are the main source of these myths and should be avoided. People these days are too quick to self-diagnose, which can prolong the process if they are not seeking the right advice."

The fact of the matter is, however much some doctors don't like it, that Dr Google is here to stay.  Finding out more about their infertility online helps women to feel empowered and more in control of a situation in which they otherwise feel utterly helpless.  Internet chat rooms where they can talk to other women in the same situation provide invaluable support when talking openly about infertility is still taboo for many people.  More time to talk about their individual circumstances and have all their many questions answered in a warm and friendly way is what couples need, not lazily researched articles in the paper and patronising put-downs from doctors who wish it was still the 1950s.