After being in the infertility industry for 17 years, both as a patient and a professional, I have aware of how sensitive an issue it is for so many people. Most importantly, I wish more people dealing with infertility understood that they are not alone. This is something that many couples struggle with, but they should not give up on their dream of family building.
One in six couples struggle with infertility, whether it's related to male or female fertility issues, or a combination thereof. In fact, infertility is a medical condition that requires medical assistance, and therefore individuals should obtain a diagnosis from a Reproductive Endocrinologist, a fertility specialist. It's important to understand that many different options are available to help combat infertility and they range specific to individual circumstances. Some of these options may include in vitro fertilization (IVF), egg donation and/or surrogacy.
In my experience, the most important place to start is education. Armed with the available information out there, people can make the best medical choices for their specific circumstances. This may include obtaining second and third opinions, and possibly even exploring pathways to parenthood that may be different from expected. After gathering information, my next piece of advice is to be open and receptive to all treatment options. And don’t lose sight of the end family goal: a healthy baby.
Here are the three of the most important questions to ask your physician or fertility specialist. Think of these questions as a toolkit for how you, as a patient, can approach your infertility concerns from a place of empowerment. By asking your doctor targeted questions, you get the most relevant knowledge, and do so with specificity.
1. What is your pregnancy and live birth success rate in women of my age and with my diagnosis?
This is one of the most important questions to ask. Infertility diminishes with age, and so do success rates. Make sure the statistics cited by your prospective fertility doctor apply in your circumstances, not those of a woman 10 years younger.
2. At what age, or after how many failed cycles, do you recommend the use of donor eggs or a surrogate?
This question won't help you understand your doctor as much as it will help you think deeply about your expectations. IVF can be a long road with no guarantees, so it's good to approach the process with a sense of what possible routes can look like.
There are no definitive guidelines with regard to use of donor eggs. Each case is individual and factors such as age, quality of embryos and quantity of embryos may lead to the suggested treatment course of using donor egg. Embarking on a donor cycle is not an easy decision and many factors need to be considered when exploring an egg donation cycle.
For instance, each individual’s emotional tolerances for having to give up a biological connection, the added financial expenditure for the donor, and the cost of that treatment all need to weighed against the increase chance of achieving a successful pregnancy. These choices are different for everyone.
With regard to surrogacy, typically if a uterine issue exists such as multiple recurrent miscarriages, surrogacy is an option to greatly increase the chance of a successful pregnancy. Other indicators for surrogacy may include women who have lost their ability to carry after cancer treatments or women who have endured a hysterectomy. With both egg donation and surrogacy, it is individual circumstances that dictate treatment options more than age or number of failed cycles.
3. What are the latest and greatest technologies in the infertility field and do you have access to them?
New advances in the infertility field are being launched everyday. Ask your physician what he or she knows about these procedures and if such technologies are offered in their practice. Then do your own research, or ask an outside resource, so you know about all options available.
As a patient, I learned first hand that it is imperative to ask the right questions, as the answers you get are only as good as the questions you ask. As a result of my experience and my commitment to the industry, I always arm my clients with a comprehensive list of questions that they should ask their doctor. This is the first step in being your own best advocate through the infertility process.
In addition to becoming your own best advocate, it's important to consider the emotional aspects of infertility, and once again, to know that you are not alone. Your spouse or partner is going through infertility too, and his or her feelings need to be recognized.
Communication and working together is the key to getting through this process successfully. Infertility treatment is well known to cause stress and strain even in a good, solid relationship.
So remember that what you’re feeling may be very different from what your partner or spouse is feeling, and your emotions could be taking a toll on him or her, too. Be open and honest about your feelings. Tell your partner when he or she says something that hurts or upsets you, and let him or her know what you need to get through this together.