Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Infertility Probability Theorem

As an IF blogger, it's inevitable that some of my wonderful bloggy friends will eventually have success in their treatment cycles, or the odd spontaneous natural conception.  I won't go too far into the range of emotions those BFPs can bring up for those of us still in the trenches, as others have put it much more eloquently than I can.  Suffice it to say that after I feel the normal happiness/jealousy mix (we should name this.  Haplousy?  Jealiness?), I often settle into one pervasive thought.  I call it the Infertility Probability Theorem, which states that the pregnancy of other infertiles has a direct and inverse effect on my own fertility.  In simpler terms, the fact that other infertiles are getting pregnant means that it's less likely that I'm ever going to.  Someone has to be the statistic.

This was further reinforced for me today.  Remember Jill, the now-parenting infertile kindred spirit at my office?  Today at lunch when our male colleagues were all out, she had a phone call that I couldn't help but overhear since we sit right next to each other.  I started hearing bits and pieces about "your numbers" and "the transfer" and I pretty quickly clicked in that she was talking to someone who had just had their first positive beta after their second round of IVF.  After a few more minutes I realized that I knew who it was that she was talking to.  It was a colleague at another office out west.  I know this other woman casually, as she is married to a good friend of mine I'll call Derek.

I was initially kind of hurt after this realization.  Derek and I have been through a lot of heavy stuff together that I won't get into now, and even though he moved out west a few years ago and we don't keep in touch as much as we should, I still count him as one of my closest friends.  I actually told him about our infertility in a phone chat only a month or so ago, and while he was appropriately consoling to me he said absolutely nothing about what he and his wife were going through.  It stings that he didn't think he could trust me with it, but as M quite rightly pointed out later I don't really know their story so I can't judge his choice to keep things to himself.  Not everyone has to be "out and proud" about their infertility.

Once I processed the fact that he hadn't told me, I experienced the inevitable haplousy (yeah, that works) and then the Infertility Probability Theorem took effect.  But this hit me harder than when a fellow IF blogger declares a BFP.  Because, as my oh-so-illogical brain pointed out, the interwebs is a big big place and it's a really large sample size.  But I now had two women in my small-ish social circle at work who had IVF successes, which meant that I never would.  I was doomed to be the statistic.

Now, I'm just a lowly arts major, but even I know that this is absolute mathematical bullshit.  To prove it, I did a little research.  We've all heard about the Law of Averages, which people trot out to explain why one event is bound to happen since the opposite has already happened a bunch of times.  For instance, you flip a coin and it lands on heads three times.  Therefore, the next time you think it has to be tails because LAW OF AVERAGES!  It's horse pooey.  Every single time you flip a coin, it has the exact same 50/50 chance of being either heads or tails.  No matter how many times you flip it and it comes up heads, the next time you flip it there's still only a 50% chance that you'll get tails.  Now, if you do it enough times, the results do tend to even out.  It's called the Law of Large Numbers.  But even that doesn't change the fact that for each single coin flip, your chances are 50/50.

Apply that to infertility.  Over a large enough sample size (I'm guessing thousands of women...again, NOT a math major!) the statistical odds of success tend to even out.  But each individual woman still has her own individual chance of success based on her own personal history and infertility issues.  Just like that coin, whether another blogger or my next door neighbour or thirty-eight women in my office have successful IVF cycles, that does absolutely nothing to change my individual chances of success.  They're the same as they ever were.  Which admittedly aren't great, but they're no less than they were yesterday or will be tomorrow.

Class adjourned.

15 comments:

  1. As someone who can't even add fractions, I get this post. Mostly. I hate math. But what you say totally makes sense because I feel like I am the only one going through this because all my IRL friends and family aren't having IF problems. And I feel like the more people in my life who do get pregnant, less I will. Way to hit this spot on.

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  2. Firstly, the title could be an episode of 'The Big Bang Theory'! I often think about the probability as well. As my co-worker and I were cycling together, I felt there was always one of three probabilities, we both get pregnant, one gets pg, we both get BFNs, but given our overall infertility odds, us both getting pregnant always seemed so unlikely, but it did happen and when I miscarried, I felt it decreased the probability of her miscarrying as well, even though it's horsey pooey. When I joined the infertility forum, I would see some write, 'baby dust to all' and I would always feel reminded that not everyone here will become pregnant. There are some that will turn up empty handed. Unfortunate reality. Sometimes when others get pregnant it feels like we're more likely to be in the later category.

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  3. Haplousy. I like it.
    I think this all. the. time. I'm a smart girl, but I have this irrational idea that there are a limited number of pregnancies out there and they keep getting snatched up by other people.

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  4. At first you had me thinking "oh shit!" Here I've been cheering everyone on, but maybe they are all decreasing my chances! And then I felt a major sense of relief when you used the analogy of the coin flip. I'm just kidding (kind if). This is a really great post!

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  5. Not going to lie, I had an opposite opinion (until now, because now you have me thinking). I always thought that the more infertiles that got pregnant, the better, because every one was proof positive that I could potentially get there. And I'm not an optimist, not by any stretch! So I never stopped to consider that someone has to fail and be the other side of the statistic. Thanks for wrapping it up with the coin toss thing, that brought me back from getting obsessively worried about this. Also - I manage to be happy for pregnant infertiles UNTIL they start complaining about the pregnancy. Then it's like, just shut the hell up.

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  6. Hmmm, you know with the fertiles, their pregnancies don't make me reflect on my own chances. I've happily stated "it's not a zero sum game" to many who will listen. However, I have thought the exact same thoughts about other infertiles. How messed up is that? But then I have to remind myself, it's my body, my hormones, my reaction to medications, that will ultimately affect my chances. Not someone else's success or failure. Just another thing that sucks about this--genuine happiness for other BFPs seems as elusive as, well, our own BFP. Great post!

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  7. I can totally relate to your thought process here. However, sometimes I also think "If someone had a bowl of smarties and I had to pick out a red smartie, maybe I wouldn't on the first try, but if you gave me three tries to pick out a red smartie, I would be more likely to get a red one the more chances I had" This line of thinking leads me to think maybe I should try IVF a third time if #2 doesn't work...

    I made a post about Cumulative IVF Success Rates that you might like:
    http://gypsymamasjourney.blogspot.ca/2012/12/cumulative-ivf-success-rates.html

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  8. I used to feel the same way - when other IFers had success I was worried that that made me less likely to have success! Then, on an Episode of Bitter Infertiles, I heard a woman say "There is not a finite number of babies!" Duh Kimberly. Just because someone else has one, dosent make it less likely for me to have one!

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  9. I feel this way all the time! I keep thinking that everyone that gets pregnant by their second IVF takes my chances away of getting pregnant on my third IVF. It's really messed up. I need to remember that the chances of me having a baby are the same each time I try another cycle and people get pregnant every day. That doesn't mean I won't!

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  10. So interesting that you have this reaction -- I definitely would get jealous at other bloggers getting BFPs, but I wouldn't then think my own chances were diminished. If anything, I'd usually think, "OK, so here's more proof that my chances of succeeding are high". Especially because I'd see bloggers who were dealing with, like, PCOS, endometriosis, multiple miscarriages, septate uteruses, DOR and were 39 years old, and they would still succeed in getting pregnant. That just made me feel better.

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  11. My husband, the statistician, would love this post! He's explained the odds of just about everything to me the same way. Your personal odds are going to be what they are, no matter what happens to/for someone else. It's hard not to feel haplous when it happens to them, though. Knowing the odds doesn't change that, for some reason.

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  12. Even though our odds don't really change when it happens for someone else, it sure feels like they do. Great post!

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  13. Yep, I've totally had these thoughts. I guess we all have. It's taking me a lot of fortitude to try and accept the fact that whatever happens for others (good or bad) my story is my story. The ALI blogosphere is complicated, in that we all need and give support, but it's hard not to compare...Sigh.
    Haplousy (with the 'lousy' in there too) really works!

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  14. I am definitely privy to a good deal of jealiness when encountering successfully pregnant infertiles. But I kind of vacillate between thinking it means i will inevitably be the unlucky one and thinking that if these other women can do it, I can, too. Truthfully, for me, it just depends on my mood and how forgiving of myself I'm feeling at that moment. Do I want to give my poor inside a break? Or am I in the mood to pour salt in some wounds. Great job putting this all into words!

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  15. I don't blame you for any thoughts like these, I felt those a lot as all of my friends got married before me, but eventually it was my turn. I hope your problems with infertility don't last and that you'll be out of the trenches sooner rather than later.

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I'm needy and your comments validate me. Help a sister out!