Although Teen Mom may be out to convince us that getting pregnant is as easy as a few wine coolers, some bad decisions and a pimply-faced partner, not everyone is so lucky.
In the great irony of life as a woman, infertility is often blamed on many different reasons that often rest on her shoulders: "You're too stressed!" Or "You're not eating well enough." Or "You just need to relax."
Of course, we know now that infertility isn't a divine punishment for women's sins or a sign from the heavens, but a condition with many different causes, some not even fully understood yet.
"Often couples present with a combination of female and male factors," notes Dr. Jamie Morris of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey (RMANJ). With so many planets that must come in alignment perfectly in order to achieve pregnancy, honestly it's surprising that anyone can ever get pregnant. Among physical deficiencies like sperm abnormalities and ovulatory dysfunction, Dr. Morris states that the No. 1 reason she sees for infertility is diminished ovarian reserve, or in other words, a decreased supply of eggs in a woman's body. "This happens when the quantity and quality of the woman’s eggs are reduced, and can occur from a variety of reasons," she goes on to explain, with the most common cause of a reduced egg supply being advancing age.
Like many things in life, a woman's weight is often blamed for infertility, but Dr. Morris explains that it's actually large shifts in weight— either a loss or a gain — that are likely to lead to problems conceiving. "Having and maintaining a healthy diet is very important for overall health and well-being," she notes. "Sustaining a healthy weight and not being under or over weight, is especially vital for people trying to conceive."
When I came across this radiation blocking underwear that promises to block radiation that may be damaging sperm with an invisible force field, I thought it was a joke. But it turns out, it's not. Dr. Morris explains that a Sept. 2014 article in the journal Environment International suggested that mobile phone use does have a negative effect on sperm count. "However, the impact on clinical infertility has still not been studied so we don’t have definitive results," she cautions. She also mentions that other agents, such as chemotherapy, can damage sperm.
Many couples wait six months to a year before seeking help from a specialist to conceive, but Dr. Morris warns that treatment should not be delayed, especially with any known history that could cause a problem. "If a woman is having irregular menstrual cycles, or has a known history of a pelvic disorder such as severe endometriosis or fallopian tubal blockage, or has a medical condition, then she may want to seek out an earlier evaluation," she says. She also mentions that any pelvic surgeries, chemotherapy or radiation treatment or abnormal semen analysis warrants a trip to the doctor's earlier rather than later. Time can be of the essence when it comes to conception.
Unfortunately, we can't escape this one. In the end, age always gets us. "It is not a little-known cause but it is an under acknowledged reason women have difficulty conceiving," says Dr. Morris. "Even though it is a well-documented fact that as women age their fertility declines, most patients still don’t realize that it may be harder to get pregnant just because of age."
Dr. Morris advises that a woman under 35 years of age should seek treatment if she has been attempting conception for one year without success while a woman over 35 years of age should seek treatment after six months of failed attempts at conception. "With new technologies offering oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing), women can now have more choices about their reproductive time line with some planning," she notes.
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