Bald Eagles, Fragile Eggs and Infertility
I remember vividly one weekend I spent with family a few years ago. Eating, talking, squabbling interspersed with racing outside, quietly, to gaze at bald eagles. There were three of them, two immature, and one with a gleaming white feathered head. I have never seen a bald eagle outside of captivity, although when in areas where they are reported to be, I have looked and hoped.
Photo: LimarieC, Flickr Creative Commons
Here are some bald eagle facts: They have a wing span of up to seven feet. They are almost four feet tall. Their talons and beaks are intense and rather scary to look at. When they perch in a tree and look at you, it's intimidating, especially knowing that they can see the pores in your skin, their eyesight is that good. They don't look like anything else. If you see a bird that big, with a white head, it's the only bird that it can be. The noises of other birds change when they are around. First it gets very quiet, and then it gets very strident. It's not the usual bird chatter that you hear; there truly is a sense of urgency in it.
I think the single most fascinating fact that I learned this weekend was how much the birds weigh. We had a bird expert among us who knew but before he told us, we all guessed. The highest guess was forty-five pounds. It turns out that a full grown eagle, with a seven foot wing span, sitting almost four feet tall weighs about eight to fourteen pounds. Probably some of you knew that even a bird that large would weight very little, given the whole flying thing -- hollow bones, lots of feathers and all. I was astounded that a bird so majestic, so powerful, so intimidating would weigh so little. When we had the rare pleasure of seeing one of the younger birds actually snatch a fish out of the water and then have the other young bird grab it away, you could feel the speed, power, determination and utter strength of this bird.
Understanding Infertility and the Power of Possibility
So of course it made me think about you. About understanding infertility. About power, strength and possibility in something that weighs so little. About our eggs, our embryos, our hopes. And for those of us who "only" have one or two follicles or "only" retrieve one or two eggs, or "only" have one or two embryos fertilize, or "only" have one or two embryos that mature to day five.
While I was thinking about this I recalled the conversation during the afternoon of how our bald eagle population went into a serious, dangerous decline for a long time, partly due to the use of DDT which made their eggs so fragile that babies were much less frequently hatched. When the numbers of eagles were declining, each one was important to the continuation of the species. That is still true. They had help, our help, we banned DDT, we passed laws that made it illegal to disturb their nesting area. We helped.
Doesn't each of us deserve the same help?
I came home and looked up some information about bald eagles and found out that they are one of the few species who have struggled and succeeded in being upgraded from the endangered to the threatened list. There are an estimated 70,000 bald eagles in the world.
I had the pleasure of watching three of them that weekend and thinking of our own strength.
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If you are in the midst of infertility treatment, just started or even just started thinking that you may need a fertility specialist, you will be hearing terms that you may not be familiar with. Me, I wasn’t very good with foreign languages. Infertility talk proved to be just as difficult.
In case this is true for you as well, here are a few of my favorite misunderstood terms in the language of infertility. Why did I choose eight? My mother’s favorite number! As good a reason as any.
- Luteinizing Hormone (LH): A hormone produced and released by the pituitary gland. In the female it is responsible for ovulation and the maintenance of the corpus luteum. In the male it stimulates testosterone production and is important in the production of sperm cells.
Author’s note- The next two really work together. Often an embryo transfer, (shortened to “transfer”) is referred to as an implantation. Can I just say, we wish!!! We can transfer them; the implantation is up to the medications, viability of the embryo, the lining of the uterus, etc.
- Implantation: The attachment and embedding of the conceptus (embryo) into the lining of the uterus.
- Embryo Transfer: The procedure of transferring embryos back in to the endometrial cavity (womb) of a patient during an IVF cycle. It occurs on the third or fifth day after an egg retrieval.
- Varicocele: A varicose vein around the ductus (vas) deferens and the testes. This may be a cause of low sperm counts, motility and morphology and lead to male infertility.
Author’s note- The clinical term below, at best, is unfortunate, at worst is devastating to hear.Twofold, as we are doing everything we can to create a family and everything we can to avoid a pregnancy loss. It is, however, a clinical term that is still used by the medical profession. In advance, I’m sorry. It’s a tough one to hear.
- Abortion, Spontaneous: Pregnancy loss by any cause before 20 weeks of gestation.
Author’s note- Chemical Pregnancy, is it or isn’t it a “real” pregnancy? If this is a term that you need to understand, ask your nurse or doctor what they think. It’s a little hard to tell from the definition below, yes or no.
- Chemical Pregnancy: A positive pregnancy test, but with levels of pregnancy hormone (beta hCG) too low for ultrasound documentation of a pregnancy. Typically this definition includes pregnancies that have low beta hCG levels that spontaneously decline without any further development.
Author’s note-A very brief description below for a condition that many women have to deal with. Much more detailed information when you click through.
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: A common endocrinologic condition that causes hormonal imbalances in women of reproductive age. It can lead to dysfunctional ovulation, infertility, weight gain, pre-diabetes and an increase in the male hormone, testosterone.
Author’s note- Below is one of my personal favorites. Eggs are not follicles and follicles are not eggs. Not each egg can be retrieved (removed) from a follicle. Not each follicle has a mature egg. You cannot know how many eggs you will have after retrieval just by how many follicles there are.
- Follicle: A fluid-filled pocket in the ovary that houses the microscopic egg. Each ovary has many follicles within it. Follicles start out extremely small and then grow larger under the influence of hormones (and the medications that mimic these hormones). Follicles are lined with granulosa cells which produce estrogen and nourish the oocyte (egg). Each Follicle contains a single oocyte.
What terms or initials are you struggling with? I certainly know that it’s sometimes awkward to ask your health care providers to explain the language that they are clearly so fluent in, however they are aware that you may not understand every technical term that they use. So ask them. Or ask me.
If I don’t know, I’ll find out. Dr’s Leondires, Richlin, Hurwitz and Murdock are all able to de-mystify the language of infertility and explain things in ways that I am happy to on to you.