On the Friday before Thanksgiving 2009, Julie Bindeman and her husband, David, were ushered into a room at Shady Grove Radiology in Gaithersburg for an ultrasound of their 20-week-old fetus. The couple was excited about learning the baby’s sex. Their first child, Nate, was almost 2, and Bindeman wanted a girl. She had begun thinking about the nursery and dreaming about sharing her excitement with family at Thanksgiving.
As the technician put jelly on Bindeman’s growing belly and turned on the screen, she chatted with the couple. Then she took measurements, said they were having a boy, and casually asked them to head to their obstetrician’s office in Rockville to go over the results.
During the 15-minute drive, the Gaithersburg couple started talking about names. “Nate is going to be so excited to have a little brother next spring,” Bindeman remembers saying.
As they entered the obstetrician’s office, their doctor was there to greet them. “I’m so sorry,” she said.
“Yes, we are having a second boy,” Bindeman said. “We’ll just have to try for another baby for a girl.”
The doctor looked puzzled. “They didn’t tell you?”
“Tell us what? They told us we are having a boy,” Bindeman said.
“There are some problems with your baby’s brain,” the doctor said. She had already made them an appointment to see a specialist in fetal and maternal medicine that afternoon.
“At that point, my husband and I started crying,” recalls Bindeman, a clinical psychologist in Rockville. “It dawned on us that there was something very wrong.”
Thus began a long, painful journey of pregnancy loss for Bindeman—but one that ultimately would shape her career.
The inability to get pregnant or maintain a healthy pregnancy affects about 11 percent of American women between ages 15 and 44, according to a report last summer by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 40 percent of those cases involve a physiological issue with the woman, such as hormonal imbalance; 40 percent involve a physiological issue with the man, such as low sperm count; and about 10 percent are attributable to both the woman and the man, says Dr. Joseph Doyle of the Shady Grove Fertility Center in Rockville. The remaining 10 percent can’t be explained, he says.
The problem often leads to feelings of shame, depression and anxiety, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, an education and advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala. About 70 percent of women said the inability to get pregnant made them feel flawed, and 61 percent hid their infertility from family and friends, according to a 2010 survey by the pharmaceutical firm Merck.
“Infertility is an absolutely devastating diagnosis,” says Barbara Collura, a Herndon, Va., resident who heads RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. The nonprofit, which is based in McLean, Va., provides support to those dealing with infertility, which the organization defines as the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after 12 months of trying. “An infertility diagnosis can be as stressful as cancer,” Collura says.