The inability to give birth to a child when desired is a very personal and stressful life experience. Many myths surround this area of human life and though medical science has brought about a rapidly growing number of interventions and technologies to assist individuals toward pregnancy, much of it is misunderstood. It is helpful to separate some of the common myths from the truths regarding important subjects such as the causes and nature of infertility and the care of infertile couples.
Myth – “Infertility is a rare disorder.”
Truth – Primary infertility is understood to be the failure of a couple to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse. In the female older than 35, it is generally defined as no conception in six months since problems with infertility increase with age and age reduces the likelihood that treatments will be successful. Actually, 1 in 10 couples are infertile in the U.S. and approximately 15% of American women of childbearing age receive care for infertility each year.
Myth- “Infertility is usually due to a problem in the woman.”
Truth – It is important for couples to understand that the causes of infertility are almost equally shared by female and male partners. In addition, frequently the causes are multiple with some belonging to each side of the fertility “equation”. This is commonly referred to as mixed factor infertility. The critical point to understand about causes is how important it is to discover what they are. Just knowing one (i.e. blocked Fallopian tubes in a woman or a low sperm count in a man) does not mean that others do not exist. A full investigation by a knowledgeable medical provider is essential to saving time, money and emotional energy.
Myth- “ Most infertility is due to psychological or relationship problems, not physical ones.”
Truth – Although the disappointment and frustration associated with wanting a child and experiencing failure is very well recognized, the reality is that infertility always has an underlying physical cause. Discovering the cause(s) and exploring treatment methods brings a measure of relief to most, regardless of their ultimate decisions about fertility services. The relationship between the couple will almost always undergo some strain and many have reported difficulties in communication and sexual satisfaction. It is vital, therefore, that infertile couples begin, early in their experience, to talk about individual feelings and reactions to their specific situation. Some have found it very helpful to seek counseling with health care professionals that have expertise in this area. Other resources for guidance are local RESOLVE meetings (a peer support group for individual experiencing infertility) and web sites such as americanfertility.org, ASRM.org, inciid.org, fertilitynetwork.com, or ivfkentucky.com.
Myth – “There is no hurry to get pregnant! Look at all the women in the news having babies well into their 40’s and even 50’s!”
Truth – The vast majority of women who become pregnant after their 43rd birthday have used another women’s egg or even adopted an embryo to achieve conception. In addition, there are significant health risks to both the mother and the baby when she is of advanced reproductive age. These facts should not deter a woman from seeking consultation from her gynecologist or a reproductive specialist about her unique situation and potential for success.
Myth – “Just adopt and you’ll get pregnant!”
Truth – Adoption is a wonderful way to build a family and many couples who experience infertility choose that route. When a pregnancy follows, it is, understandably, a delightful surprise and gets lots of attention but, truthfully, it is not a cure for infertility. The reality is that only about 5% of couples who adopt later become pregnant.
Myth – “Now that we’ve had success with fertility care, getting pregnant the next time should be easy!”
Truth – The same factors that were present before the success are very likely to still exist. Conditions affecting the female such as uterine or tubal damage, ovarian dysfunction, endometriosis or sperm factors in the male may well impede conception again and require specialized care. In addition, age will have increased and may pose an additional concern.
Myth – “Services for infertility (like IVF) are too high tech and too expensive for most couples to consider.”
Truth – The truth is that IVF is expensive but many couples find, if that is what their situation dictates, that there are acceptable ways to manage the costs. Sometimes health insurance will pay a part of the fees, there are low interest loans available and some couples just choose to save until the money is banked for this very special use. The other truth is, although IVF is usually every couple’s best chance for pregnancy, most couples do not need it. The majority of infertile couples who achieve pregnancy do so without employing the most expensive, most “high tech” interventions.
Dealing with infertility is challenging and exhausting and brings with it a great number of new, sometimes anxiety-producing experiences. Finding the right physicians, nurses and counselors to guide you through this unfamiliar territory is very important. Talking with your primary care or gynecology provider will help put you on the path of discovering the truths and strategies you may use in your very own quest for a child.
Kit S. Devine, DNP, APRN©
Nurse Practitioner, Fertility & Endocrine Associates
Partner, Louisville Reproductive Center
Fertility & Endocrine Associates
4121 Dutchmans Lane #414
Louisville, KY 40207
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