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Infertility: The past, the present and the future

Kristen Fischer is a writer living at the Jersey Shore. In addition to writing for SheKnows, she has penned articles for Prevention, Health, Woman's Day, BELLA, and New Jersey Monthly. Kristen enjoys spending time with her family, friend...

National Infertility Awareness Week

A recent Yale study of 1,000 American women from ages 18 to 40, found that just 50 percent discussed reproductive health with their doctor — and only one-third saw their reproductive health provider less than once a year or not at all.
Sad couple looking at pregnancy test
Photo credit: Monkey Business Images/360/Getty Images

According to the National Infertility Association, tens of thousands of women have problems conceiving — about one-third of cases are attributed to male factors and one-third to female factors. In about 20 percent of cases infertility is unexplained, and the remaining 10 percent of infertility cases are caused by a combination of problems in both partners.

A recent association survey of 649 respondents found that 92 percent of those who saw a specialist for the first time chose to keep seeing a specialist for treatment; 6 out of 10 wish they had seen a specialist sooner. Nearly 74 percent thought there should be more information on fertility floating around the internet — an effort we’re pitching into. The survey reported that 73 percent want more information on infertility via social media. (Translation: Read this article and retweet it!)

The future of infertility

Dr. Alice Domar, Ph.D., the director of mind/body services at Boston IVF and an associate professor of OB-GYN and reproductive biology at Harvard, believes the future is looking brighter for those experiencing infertility.

"For most people who are struggling with infertility, getting access to care is the highest priority and that is an area where we are seeing real progress," she said. "We’ve seen a general trend in increased advocacy for individuals with infertility across the board, which is great. Luckily, we are seeing more influencers standing up and trying to make infertility a priority."

Technology is also becoming more advanced, leading the way to less invasive procedures and less daily blood work.

Domar said that there is also a shift in the way that infertility is perceived by society in general.

"Moving forward, I’m looking forward to seeing infertility become an even more common topic of discussion; the majority of women today don’t tell most of their friends and family about their infertility and I am hoping this will change in the near future," she said. "Infertility is a disease, not something to be ashamed about."

Infertility gets personal

Infertility isn’t just the road to conceiving — sometimes, you don’t conceive at all. Yet, good things can happen as a result of the journey.

Chris and Candace, a couple who appeared on MTV's True Life, "I'm Desperate to Have a Baby," underwent six intrauterine inseminations (IUIs), five surgeries and six failed rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) as they’ve documented on their blog and the show. After all that, Candace’s doctor advised that she have a hysterectomy to avoid uterine cancer.

Even though it’s been a long road for the couple, they now have a surrogate.

"It was a path we never expected, however we plodded down into that unknown rabbit hole chasing after our dream. Our lives will be changed forever because we took that chance," Candace told SheKnows. "We pushed our chips all in into the middle of the table and we are now expecting a little girl in June."

This week, Candace will be in Capitol Hill to represent infertility-related issues as a part of National Infertility Awareness Week — namely, these three bills. Her story hasn’t always been a happy one, but we’re hoping for her happy ending!

Davina Fankhauser serves as president of Fertility Within Reach, a nonprofit educational resource helping patients gain access to infertility health benefits so they can receive care. She and her husband tried for 15 years to build their family and wound up being able to do so. The struggle stayed with her even after having two children and she became an advocate for those experiencing infertility.

"I know firsthand what the cost of infertility can be," she said. "What we've learned is the cost is much more than financial." Her group works with insurers, employers and legislators to educate policymakers on the affordability of infertility health benefits, including those for IVF.

Kim Griffiths, the editor-in-chief of FertileThoughts.com and an advocate for FertilityAuthority.com, conceived her twins via IVF.

She married young and always knew she wanted a family. "We began trying about one year after our wedding and I knew something wasn't right from the start," Griffiths recalls. She had a history of ovarian cysts and irregular periods from the age of 13, and was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Her husband had poor male-factor infertility.

"The hardest thing about infertility is that even today, in 2014, it is still taboo to talk about your inability to conceive," she said. "I don't imagine women discuss the status of their uterus with any stranger in the tampon aisle, but we are even afraid to tell our sisters, friends, and cousins. Why? Infertility plagues so many couples!"

Griffiths said more people need to advocate for infertility, and is happy that one newer source of support is the internet. Several infertility sites host forums for women and men at various stages of the family building process to discuss their fertility concerns anonymously.

"It [the internet] really is a wonderful resource to have considering so few people talk about infertility in real life," she added.

How to deal

Dormer shared a few tips for individuals and couples that are dealing with infertility.

  • Remember that you aren’t alone and your feelings are valid. Infertility may be a more common medical condition than you think. Sharing your story with a few close family members or friends is likely to lead you to others who are either currently experiencing infertility or did so in the past. Having someone else to talk to who really gets it, or who can share their wisdom, can be incredibly helpful and should convince you that your thoughts and feelings are entirely appropriate.
  • Know when it’s time to see a specialist. Women who are struggling to conceive should know when it’s time to see a specialist. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine guidelines say if you are under 35 years of age and have been trying unsuccessfully for at least a year or 35 and over and have been trying successfully for at least 6 months, it may be time to see a fertility specialist for a consultation. If you know that you have a medical condition associated with infertility — such as endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome — it is better not to wait for a whole year, no matter what your age.
  • Remember that it’s just a conversation. Making the decision to see a specialist can be hard, but it’s important to remember: it’s just a conversation; it’s not a commitment.
  • Find where else to turn for support and information. RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association has many online resources and many different opportunities to connect with others who have experienced infertility for support.

"The key is to keep the dialogue open, to get people to keep asking questions about their fertility and treatment options," she said. "Wouldn’t it be terrific if reproductive psychologists like me could be put out of business?"

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