Infertility is more common than most people think. An estimated 7.3 million Americans, or one in eight couples, suffer from infertility. The effects of trying unsuccessfully to have a baby can be devastating. However, there is hope.
Seeing a fertility specialist when you suspect there may be a problem is the first step in making way for baby. With current medical advances in fertility treatments, couples are having more success getting pregnant today than they were just ten years ago. There are a number of family-building options available to couples, as well as great resources to help you figure out the best course of action for you.
Infertility is equally prevalent in men and women, with issues centering on men occurring in about half of all cases. There are many factors that can prevent a couple from conceiving. Sometimes, making minor adjustments in your daily life can help to fix the problem. Other cases of infertility may be caused by physical issues in one or both partners that require treatment.
Common causes of infertility in women include covulatory or physical problems, such as blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome. Many causes of male infertility involve biological or physical issues, such as varicoceles, hormone imbalances, infections or blockages that can result in sperm abnormalities like low sperm count, low sperm motility or irregular sperm shape. Because serious medical conditions, including an underlying cancer, can be presented as male infertility, it is important that men also get a workup from a fertility specialist if the couple is having difficulty conceiving.
If you and your partner have been unable to become pregnant after a year of regular, unprotected intercourse (or six months if the woman is over 35 years of age), then it is imperative that you both seek help from a fertility specialist to identify where the problem exists and to rule out other medical conditions. The sooner you see a doctor, the sooner you can receive treatment. Most infertile couples (85 to 90 percent) are treated with conventional therapies, and less than 3 percent are treated with the more sophisticated procedures.
Before you seek medical help, you and your partner should be on the same page and agree on a plan of action. Educating yourself is key to being an advocate for your health, as is good communication. Men and women communicate differently, and it can be difficult to start a conversation with your partner about infertility. But it is an issue you must deal with together. Open and honest communication is crucial for exploring your family-building options as a team. Here are conversation starters regarding fertility.
- What I need from you to get through this is…
- What can I do to best support you throughout this process?
- What are we willing to tell our family and our friends?
Fertility LifeLines and Men’s Health Network recently developed a free resource booklet entitled In The Know: What No One Tells You About Male Fertility. The booklet includes pointers for communicating with your partner and a checklist of questions to ask your healthcare provider and insurance company.
By registering at www.fertilitylifelines.com, you receive a free copy of the booklet in addition to a “girlfriend-to-girlfriend” resource called In The Know: What No One Tells You About Fertility.
Admitting that something is wrong is not easy, and finding the right fertility specialist can be a challenge. Fortunately resources can support the process. The Fertility LifeLines site also offers a reproductive endocrinologist locator tool for women, and the Society for the Study of Male Reproduction (www.ssmr.org) can help men find a local urologist or andrologist.
When seeking assistance from a fertility specialist, being prepared and having a game plan helps you meet your goals. The following are some examples of questions to ask a specialist.
- What specific tests would you recommend to diagnose our infertility?
- What should we expect from each treatment option and what are the risks?
- How long have you been doing this and what is your success rate?
- Can you confirm what is covered by our health insurance policy?
These resources can aid you and your partner in determining the next steps that are ideal for you as you work to build your family.