I cannot fathom the pain of infertility. Having always been a person who gets pregnant if my husband looks at me funny, I think I spent a good portion of my life taking for granted what I now hold as a profound gift. Without effort, money or worry (though of course that all comes later), I conceive babies. My body is able to hold a pregnancy full term, and I've given birth to three healthy babies. One of them was conceived while I was taking birth control. That was a shock.
The second was planned. The third was a bit of an "oops," in that I missed a couple of days of "the pill" on account of a bluegrass concert in San Francisco, but we were comfortable with the risk. So she was an "oops" and a "plan." Sort of.
I cannot imagine the pain of wanting a baby, aching for a baby, and the almost palpable yearning of a mother and father ready, waiting, envisioning their child, and yet unable to achieve that which most people (like me) seem to produce without thinking. This pain must be magnified by the baby-crazed world we live in.
It must be infuriating, actually. And excruciating.
Now, there is a potential new hope for infertile women.
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine developed a technique to induce ovaries of some infertile women to produce eggs. Researchers at the St. Marianna University School of Medicine in Kawasaki, Japan, used the technique to collect viable eggs from five women suffering from "primary ovarian insufficiency" (source). One of these women is now pregnant. Another gave birth to a full-term, healthy baby boy.
Normally the only option for women with this condition is to use another woman's eggs. But through "in vitro activation" (IVA), doctors remove "an ovary (or a portion of an ovary)… from the woman, [treat it] outside the body and then re-implant it near her fallopian tubes. The woman is then treated with hormones to stimulate the growth of specialized structures in the ovaries called follicles in which eggs develop" (source).
In other words, the baby is created through the mother's own eggs. And that, my friends, is the breakthrough.
The new technique, IVA, has only been tested in women with ovarian insufficiency, but researchers plan to investigate whether it can also help women with other causes of infertility, such as "early menopause caused by cancer chemotherapy or radiation, and infertile women between the ages of 40 and 45" (source).
When the medical director of the Stanford Fertility and Reproductive Medical center saw the data for the first time, her "eyes lit up."
"These women and their partners come to me in tears. To suddenly learn at a young age that your childbearing potential is gone is very difficult. This technique could potentially help women who have lost their egg supply for any reason" (source).
While five women is of course a barely recognizable portion of the nearly 7 million women suffering from infertility, this is a breakthrough, and with an issue this painful and important, even the slightest flicker of new hope is profound and possibly life-changing.