Most people will feel a deep desire to conceive a child at some point in their life. While a majority of couples will achieve this goal within a year of trying, about 15% of couples will suffer from infertility.
Traditionally, infertility becomes a concern when a couple has attempted to have a child naturally for over a year without success. Women who are able to conceive but have multiple stillbirths or miscarriages are also considered to be infertile.
Infertility is a complex issue that affects millions of people. Every journey with infertility is unique. Thanks to advanced treatment options, about half of the couples diagnosed with infertility problems are eventually able to conceive. However, this option isn’t available for everyone. Read on to learn about what infertility is, what causes it, and how to treat it.
Infertility is neither a male- nor female-specific issue. According to researchers, about one-third of infertility issues in couples are due to issues with the woman. Another one-third are male causes. The other one-third of issues cannot be attributed to either gender.
There are a variety of infertility causes. From age to disorders, couples can face a myriad of obstacles when trying to conceive.
Historically speaking, a woman’s job was to stay at home and have kids. This meant women were conceiving in their teens and early 20s. This is when women are most fertile. Therefore, it makes sense that there weren’t many infertility issues in the early 20th century.
However, as women’s options have expanded, women are waiting longer to conceive. They are more likely to pursue their own careers, attend school longer, and enjoy their 20s. This empowerment has led to many women delaying their first child until their 30s and 40s. While having a baby at 30 may make more sense for a woman financially, age-related infertility is the most common infertility cause today.
Women are born with all the eggs they will have. As women age, their egg numbers rapidly decrease. Furthermore, as aging occurs, egg quality also decreases. Therefore, the longer a woman waits to have a baby, the less successful natural conception will be.
Another cause of infertility is ovulation disorders. With a regular cycle, your body ovulates monthly, releasing a mature egg. There is an approximate 48-hour window for this egg to be fertilized. If the egg is fertilized, then congrats — you are pregnant. When the egg isn’t fertilized, your body sheds the egg and uterine tissue during your monthly period.
Unfortunately, some women have ovulation disorders that do not allow them to ovulate normally. Disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome keep eggs from being released or maturing.
Some common signs of ovulation disorders include an irregular period. Many women keep a calendar of when their next period will come, and the average menstrual cycle happens every 25 to 30 days. If your menstrual cycle is unpredictable, you should see a doctor right away — especially if you are having trouble conceiving.
There are at-home tests you can take to find out when you are ovulating. Similarly, your doctor can do tests to increase the odds of you having sex during ovulation. If you are missing this window, your chances of pregnancy drop dramatically.
As mentioned before, roughly one-third of all fertility cases are due to male factor infertility. Similar to female infertility issues, the causes of male factor infertility are complex. There are multiple types of male infertility, including low sperm count, and decreased sperm motility.
Low sperm count is the most common infertility issue men face. It can be caused by either medical or environmental factors.
Infection is a common medical problem that prevents men from having children. Some infections can interfere with sperm production or sperm health. An inflammatory infection can cause permanent scarring that blocks sperm altogether, but many infection-related infertility issues can be solved.
Fertility is regulated by the body’s hormones. Just as hormones guide women through their menstrual cycles, hormones are vital to men creating healthy sperm. If a man has a hormone imbalance, such as low testosterone, he may not be able to create healthy sperm. If a sperm is not healthy, it can’t reach an egg and fertilize it, causing infertility issues.
Proper temperature regulation is vital for a healthy sperm count. Therefore, if men keep their private areas too warm they may be infertile.
People at risk for this environmental factor include men who frequently use hot tubs or saunas. Similarly, men who wear tight clothing may have a lower sperm count. Lastly, men who work with their laptops on their laps may overheat, causing a low sperm count.
Thanks to modern technology, there are a variety of treatments to help couples overcome infertility. Two of the most common fertility treatments are intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF).
IUI is a simple procedure that puts healthy sperm directly inside your uterus to increase your chances of getting pregnant. Although this process’ official name is IUI, it is better known as artificial insemination.
Before having the IUI procedure, many women take fertility medicines to stimulate ovulation. The sperm used can be taken from your partner if they have a viable sperm count. If your partner is infertile, you can also use donor sperm. The sperm is put directly into your uterus to increase the chance of fertilization.
This procedure is very common because it is low-tech, and therefore more affordable. In general, it costs $300 to $1000 before insurance. If your insurance covers fertility treatments the price can be as low as your copay.
This procedure typically takes just 5 to 10 minutes to complete; however you usually won’t know if it is effective for a few weeks.
In Vitro Fertilization
The other common fertility treatment is IVF. Unlike IUI, this procedure is extremely technical. It has many risks and side effects, and also costs more money. However, for some infertile women who want to give birth — it may be the best option.
IVF works by combining medicines and surgical procedures to help sperm fertilize and egg, then implant the fertilized egg into your uterus.
The first step in the long IVF process is taking fertility medications. These medications need to be taken for several months to help ovaries produce mature eggs. The process of maturing the eggs is known as ovulation induction. During this months long process doctors perform blood tests to ensure hormone production is at optimal levels.
Once enough eggs have matured, doctors will remove the mature eggs. This minor surgery, known as egg retrieval is completed using a needle that sucks the eggs out of the ovaries.
Once the mature eggs are retrieved, they are mixed with healthy sperm — either from your partner or from a donor. The fertilized eggs, known as embryos, are then put into the uterus using a tube.
Even after all this work, pregnancy may not happen. Pregnancy only occurs if the embryo attaches to the lining of the uterus. Again, you will not know the results right away.
With so many medical procedures involved, there are some side effects of IVF. The most common side effects include bloating, cramping, breast tenderness, and bleeding. The hormones associated with infertility treatment can also cause mood swings and depression.
IVF is a great option for women who cannot get pregnant naturally. However, it tends to be expensive. A single IVF treatment can cost around $15,000.
Coping With Infertility
Infertility can be physically and emotionally draining for couples trying to conceive. Research has shown the stress of infertility is similar to the stress people experience when dealing with an illness like cancer or HIV.
Women who struggle with infertility are at risk for anxiety, depression, and physical pain brought on by stress. These issues can also lead to arguments within a relationship, which only makes the situation more complex.
Give Yourself Permission
When dealing with infertility, many people feel anger or guilt. It can feel like you are not good enough, or that there is something wrong with you. By internalizing these feelings, anxiety, and depression can quickly build up.
Instead of hiding behind a cloud of guilt, express your feelings by allowing yourself to have emotions. If you want a child, you have every right to express your emotions. You have every right to cry. Make sure you allow yourself to express these strong emotions.
If you are mad, go to the gym and take your aggression out on a punching bag. If you are sad, eat that pint of ice cream and cry in your pajamas. It is okay to let it out. If you bottle up your feelings, you will end up exploding on your partner — which may hurt your relationship.
Not only should you let yourself feel pain, but you need to let your partner cope too. Everyone deals with stress different. While you may want to throw a few punches, your partner may want to just move on and find a way to start treatment. Let them cope in their own way, and help them when they ask for your hand.
Communication Is Key
When you are first diagnosed with infertility, the world can feel as though it’s coming to a crashing halt. Friends and family may ask you dozens of questions, and will try to offer unsolicited advice. To cope with this information, you should communicate how you want to deal with your infertility.
Right from the start, communicate with your partner or loved ones. Discuss how you individually grieve, so you know how to support each other. When you are ready, also talk about the best path forward for the two of you. Do you want to try IVF? Or is it in your best interest to adopt? By having these honest conversations, you will continue to be strong partners throughout the process.
You should also have an honest conversation with your family. If your parents keep asking why you aren’t having children, let them know that you are struggling to conceive. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about fertility, let your family know the topic should be avoided around you. This will save you from hurt and future awkward conversations.
While you are trying to conceive, fertility will likely be the only topic on your mind for months. To help both you and your partner through the process, you should limit how much you can talk about infertility. For example, you can set up a 20-minute rule. Every day, you can only talk about infertility for 20 minutes. This way, you can focus your energy and attention on other facets of your life, including your work.
Build a Support Community
Over 15% of couples will face fertility issues. It’s likely someone you know is facing the same journey as you. To push past your fear, you should build a community of support around you. This community can be made up of friends, family, and even strangers who understand your issues.
If you and your partner are struggling to see eye to eye, you may want to join separate support groups. No two people react to infertility the same way. If you are feeling depressed, you may want to join a group of other people who feel the same way you do. They will understand, and be able to help you through the process. Similarly, if your partner feels detached, they may benefit from joining a support group that meets their needs, even if it isn’t the same group you are in.
Don’t Give Up
The journey of overcoming infertility is a long, exhausting road. However, with determination and modern medicine, it is possible. Along the road you may feel drained. You may feel distant. This is okay.
No matter what uphill battle you face, just don’t give up. Push past your fear and seek the treatment you feel is best. While traveling this road, don’t forget to support your partner. You are in this together. While some days will be tougher than others, together you can make it through.
For more help getting your physical health and mental well-being in check, be sure to reach out to Dr. Toni today. You can also schedule a free strategy session today to start planning a path toward better health.
About Dr. Toni A. Haley
Toni A. Haley, MD is a bestselling author, speaker, and certified executive coach for high performing women. She is also the founder and CEO of Williams Wellness Group. Dr. Haley is sought after by clients for her 25 years of experience in finance, healthcare, and wellness. Her proven strategies have helped hundreds of women break through personal and professional barriers, such as Perfectionism, Martyr Complex, and Imposter Syndrome. She is a proud alumna of Morgan State University and Ross University School of Medicine. Dr. Haley has committed her career to empowering women to achieve greater prosperity and wellness. Feel free to reach out to Dr. Toni with questions you may have or if you’d like to learn more about her speaking, coaching, or books.