Stephen Collins, MD, PhD, a fertility specialist, says that the burden of childlessness is not only heartbreaking for those going through it but poorly understood or appreciated by others.
“Until someone has walked through that pain, they are just guessing how a person feels,” Dr. Collins says. “Studies show that for women who have gone through both cancer and infertility, they say the harder experience was infertility because it had a tremendous impact on their sense of womanhood and how they fit in with their community and family.”
That impact, Dr. Collins says, also affects men, and his goal as a physician working with people struggling with infertility is be sensitive to their needs. “We have to be with them for this experience. It’s not OK to be cold and clinical,” he says. “These are people’s lives. And they are suddenly facing an inability to have something they so desperately want.”
Dr. Collins has a special interest in the genetics of infertility, including recurrent pregnancy loss and preimplantation genetic testing. His research focuses on how ethics and religion (including religious leaders and communities) impact the experience of infertility.
“I think one important thing we as health care providers need to recognize is that when a patient comes into our office, we may see them with the problem that they present with, but their world is much bigger than that,” he says. “For many people, their religious community is a part of that. We need to think about how that affects the steps they are taking. What matters is success as the patient sees it and how we can help them get to that place.”