What I Wish More People Understood About Infertility

Written by Dr. Jane Nani

When your hopes are dashed again and again, it’s hard to have the courage to keep trying — this is a fairly universal and relatable sentiment, in all areas of life. It’s true for any of us who have experienced the crushing feeling of unfulfilled hopes, but especially true for the 7.4 million women in the U.S. who have experienced infertility.

Having a child is one of the most basic human desires, and it can be incredibly painful to encounter problems trying to achieve that dream. I often work with individuals experiencing fertility issues, and see how tremendously emotional the process can be for couples.

Fortunately, treatment for infertility has come a long way and many patients who struggle with infertility can still have the children they dream of. That said, there is still a great deal of stigma in talking about issues surrounding fertility out in the open. This stigma makes things more difficult for everyone, and exacerbates all that is already misunderstood about infertility.

Knowledge goes a long way in cultivating compassion and patience, settling fears and providing confidence and reassurance for those working to achieve the goal of parenthood. In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week on April 19-25, we asked our Facebook readers at Fertility Centers of Illinois to share what they wish others knew about infertility. Here are eight things infertility patients want you to know:

1. Getting pregnant is never just a given.

While it may seem like everyone around you is having babies (and doing so without any problems), getting pregnant takes most couples an average of six months to become pregnant. The odds of pregnancy in any given month are roughly 15% for women in their early 30s, then decline to 10% after age 35 and 5% over age 40.

2. Infertility affects women and men — of all ages.

As we age, our fertility declines. Yet infertility can happen to young people too. In the latest data provided by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, there were 174,962 cycles in 2013, and 21% (36,958) were couples under the age of 35.

3. Infertility can make patients feel broken.

One patient wrote to our fertility center, “When I see others with their children, I feel broken, like something is wrong with me." This sentiment is one I've heard echoed by other patients: watching others get pregnant can be especially painful. Sometimes even being around families with children is a reminder of what you don’t yet have. “I know I’m not a failure, but I feel like one,” another patient wrote. It helps to have the understanding of friends and family that what you are going through is not only difficult, but also difficult to understand.

4. Infertility is a medical condition.

The World Health Organization has recognized infertility as a disease, and just like other diseases and medical conditions, infertility can require medical treatment. However, this clinical definition shouldn't be a cause for patients to feel further "broken."

Infertility is defined as being unable to achieve a pregnancy after one year of trying to conceive if a woman is under 35 years of age, or after six months if a woman is over 35 years of age. Fortunately, there have been many exciting advances in the field of reproductive medicine, including the use of donor eggs. Many additional options are available for those who need help conceiving. See your fertility specialist for a complete fertility assessment.

5. Fertility treatments aren't always covered by insurance.

State law requiring insurance companies to cover fertility treatments varies across the country. At the present time, only fifteen states have passed laws requiring that insurance policies cover some level of infertility treatment. To learn more about coverage in your state, visit the RESOLVE Fertility Scorecard.

6. Infertility can take a toll on your relationship.

Struggling with infertility month after month can take a toll on your relationship. According to one study, couples were three times more likely to break up after unsuccessful fertility treatment. It helps to keep open communication with your partner and share your feelings and struggles. Joining a support group and talking with a fertility counselor can also help you make it through the tough times.

7. Dealing with infertility causes stress-responses in the body.

Going through infertility can be very difficult emotionally. One scientific study found that women whose enzyme alpha-amylase levels, a stress-related substance, were in the highest third had more than double the risk of infertility. Fortunately, stress reduction techniques can help significantly. In a Harvard Medical School study with women who had fertility problems, 55% of women who completed a 10-week course of relaxation training and stress reduction were pregnant within a year, compared to 20% of the group who did not take the course.

8. Support from family and friends goes a long, long way.

Many keep their struggles to get pregnant to themselves, but finding support is crucial to anyone dealing with infertility. It helps to have someone to talk with when times get tough, and it’s good to know others are there for you when you need a little encouragement. It can be especially helpful to talk with others who have gone through the same thing. Online support groups are readily available, and your local fertility specialist may have classes and seminars on infertility.

We’ve come a long way in building infertility awareness, and people of all ages have never been as empowered with information. With the right support and medical expertise, you can be one step closer to having a baby of your own.

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