I hadn't intended to be a smart-alec, although it was an added bonus. I did have a point. I've always hated that simplistic test used to determine if one is an optimist or pessimistic, as it entirely depends on the situation. One cannot make an evaluation without any context. A mother who is trying to feed her baby is happy when the bottle is half empty. A pregnant woman taking her glucose challenge test is annoyed when the bottle is half full. A bartender is optimistic when he sees a half empty glass, as it means that the patron may order another. I become irritable if the night is getting late and Husband's pint glass is still half full as I want him to finish up so we can go the fuck home. As it is with so many things in life, it's not black and white.
The 40%-60% split stood out in my mind for another reason. Years ago, when I was talking a colposcopy training course, the instructor referenced a retrospective study from New Zealand. The researchers collected data on women who had high grade lesions on a Pap smear, but failed to comply with the recommended evaluations and treatments. Twenty years later, 40% were eventually diagnosed with cervical cancer. "Isn't it more impressive that 60% did not progress to cervical cancer?" I asked earnestly. The instructor chided that I could not view the results with "Pollyanna thinking." Thus, implying that 40% was still a significant cancer rate, and was irrespective to the fact that 60% did not develop cervical cancer. Maybe it reflects the fact that it's a difficult comparison between infertility and cervical cancer, but on the surface it still seemed odd. In one situation fewer patients gets cancer, but it's still considered bad; in the other, fewer patients get pregnant, but that's considered good? I suppose it helps to frame with ideals and realistic expectations. Ideally, one wants to have a zero percent cancer rate, and I think my instructor was trying to emphasize the role of intervention and treatment in this situation. Ideally, one would like all infertility patients to become pregnant, but unfortunately it's not realistic at this time. Forty percent becomes a significant number when you compare it to the fact that very few patients would be able to conceive without intervention. I also appreciate that 40% is a higher rate compared to couples with more challenging diagnoses.
If we were to take the laize-faire approach to conception, I would estimate our chances for success to be 0.1%. I am somewhat making these numbers up as I go along, with a preference for whole numbers to make my maths easier. I am basing that figure on the fact that even with my Clearblue Monitor, it is still difficult to determine when I will ovulate, and being able to schedule coitus during that time is another obstacle. Perhaps with proactive efforts, our chance of spontaneous conception would be around 1%. Thus IVF increases our chances by 40-400%. It is projected that an IUI only has a 15% opportunity for success in ideal conditions. My RE noted that the sperm count should be between 5-10 million (in the absence of male factor issues, there doesn't seem to be an increase in pregnancy rates when the count is higher than ten million). As we had less than half of the desired sperm count and if you round down a bit to adjust for my old age, we probably had a 4% chance for pregnancy. IVF increases those odds ten-fold.
The diagnosis of infertility really starts to hit home when you approach the data that way. Modest success rates are still preferred to the alternative of doing nothing. It's also helpful to frame your expectations. There is a greater probability that this won't work. It is statistically anticipated that I won't get pregnant with these treatments. Two out of three couples leave their REI clinic heartbroken. I haven't asked my RE to re-estimate our chances for success, and I don't plan to do so. I already know they're probably lower that what he conjectured last year. Just as I dismiss the platitudes proclaiming it will happen! as merely being meaningless words; statistics are only numbers, and they don't necessarily mean anything.