Thursday, May 3, 2007

An anecdote about anecdotes.

Shortly after my wife and I got married, we started trying to have a child. My wife is old enough that we knew it could be tricky. Womens' fertility starts declining at a fairly early age (as early as 25). My wife was 38 when we started trying to get pregnant. Shortly after she turned 39, we visited some fertility specialists. They measured her FSH levels, and discovered that she had a level of 16 mIU/mL (many organizations call >14 infertile). The first fertility person we saw said basically that there was absolutely no way we were going to have kids that were biologically ours. No chance. No hope. I'm sure you can imagine that this was rather depressing for us. It was suggested that we either use someone else's eggs, or adopt.

My wife and I are both biologists. We delved into the primary literature, and discovered for ourselves that what he had told us wasn't entirely true. We opted for a second opinion. The second fertility specialist told us what we had essentially read for ourselves. That we could *possibly* have a child. But that the odds were very, very slim. 1-5%, if we used in vitro fertilization, probably much lower if we used more conventional methods. And we were at a much increased risk for having a miscarriage. He said he generally didn't attempt fertility treatments with women in her state, as it is an expensive process, and likely wouldn't be worth it for us. When we decided to go ahead with it, he told us that it probably wouldn't work, and that we shouldn't have unrealistic hopes.

We prepared for fertility treatments over the next month. We both were tested for a variety of sexually transmitted diseases, and had our Rh factors checked. Around this time we changed the brand of toothpaste that we use, as the toothpaste that is available in CostCo changes from day to day. Four weeks before we started fertility treatments, my wife got pregnant. We knew that it was very likely that she would miscarry, so we didn't get our hopes up. She didn't. Nine months later, a healthy baby boy was born. He's now over a year old, and is healthy and cute and a damn lot of fun.

We've told this story to many of our friends and family. What have we heard from them?

"I guess you proved that doctor wrong."

"Had you changed your diet?"

"There must be something in your water."
People are really lousy at making conclusions about this. In general, people are lousy at finding causal relationships.

I assert that it was the toothpaste. I think it makes my point rather well.

There's no way to put a causal relationship on any of this. We had a baby, even though the odds were against it. But millions of women have my wife's condition. Thousands of them will become pregnant. Less than half of those thousands will carry their baby to term. My wife happens to be one of the lucky ones, and we remind ourselves that every day. That's the only viable conclusion.

I tell this story to anyone who tells me that reiki "works for them". That echinacea "cured their cold". That homeopathic belladonna "cures their son" every time. That the "president of Gambia cures AIDS". Pass it around, would you?



Thursday said...

Heh - and what are the odds, out of millions of sperm and hundreds of eggs, that you would be here?

One out of one, of course!

Like the story.

daedalus2u said...

Actually, it could have been the toothpaste. I shop at Costco too. One of the toothpastes they have is sensodyne, and if you switched to sensidyne, that might explain it. Sensidyne has about 5% nitrate in it. If you have a low NOx status, switching to a toothpaste with nitrate in it might raise it enough to matter.

25 mg of potassium nitrate orally can have significant effects on platelet aggregation

NO also delays oocyte aging, increasing the length of time over which they can be fertilized.

Of course if you didn't switch to sensodyne, then it is probably just a coincidence.

autism diva said...

Have you had people demand to know which brands of toothpaste were inhibiting ovulation and which was the magic brand that enhanced ovulation (and everything else that allowed the baby to be carried to term)? You could market the 'bad" toothpaste as a birth control product, maybe. :-D

Congratulations on the successful pregnancy!

The Factician said...

autism diva,

Thanks :)

I hadn't thought of that. Now I can make my millions as a persecuted alternative dentistry practitioner!

How's this for a book title:

"The Toothpaste They Don't Want You To Know About"

-by Factician