More than 6 million women in the United States have difficulty getting and staying pregnant, yet we continue to feel a sense of shame and failure when it comes to infertility. It doesn’t help that we’re bombarded with dangerous and downright silly and illogical misinformation about our own bodies and pregnancy.
There are two major reasons why we can’t seem to get a handle on the causes of infertility and possible treatments: We assume our natural “job” as women is to conceive and, therefore, feel something is terribly wrong with us if we don’t become pregnant on our wedding night, and — apologies, Department of Education — our sex education is pitifully lacking in pertinent information about fertility.
“Infertility is a life crisis for many people, and it deals with a very private and taboo subject — sharing your sex life and reproduction,” said Barbara Collura, president and CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. “And, frankly, most people do not know much about how reproduction even works or what would cause infertility. Our reproductive health literacy in the U.S. is abysmal. So now you are diagnosed, and it becomes very difficult to share this issue with others on many levels.”
Here are 10 myths about infertility to know so you can quickly ban them from your brain.
1. “It’s a woman’s problem”
On the contrary, one-third of infertility problems are caused by women’s bodies and one-third are caused by men, according to the Office on Women’s Health (the causes of other cases are unknown or a combination of both men and women’s problems). The veins on a man’s testicles can be too large and can affect the shape and size of sperm. A man might make too few sperm, none at all or his sperm may not travel fast enough to fertilize an egg. Bottom line: Stop blaming yourself.
2. “But my husband had children in a previous marriage, so I’m definitely the problem”
Nope, still not always true. “Time can change things for men in that lifestyle changes, potential environmental exposure in a new job, and changes in medical conditions as they have gotten older, can affect sperm form and function,” said Dr. Paul W. Zarutskie from the Family Fertility Center at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women in Houston. Let’s all repeat this mantra again: Stop blaming yourself.
3. “There are lots of treatment options”
Collura says couples begin to realize that options are very limited when they discover their insurance doesn’t always cover things like donor eggs, surrogacy and adoption. As far as we’ve come with fertility treatments, it’s crucial to remember that many procedures simply aren’t available for couples who have to pay for them out of pocket.
4. “All fertility options are going to break the bank”
If you are in a position to pay for treatments, or have top-notch health insurance, the good news is that you aren’t necessarily going to have to shell out the equivalent of a four-year college tuition for every procedure you consider. “The reason that it is assumed that infertility treatments are expensive is because… they are, yet there is also considerable variability,” said Dr. Tonya Wood, a clinical psychologist. “Costs vary based on where you live and exactly what procedures are being done.
Many tests, evaluations and medications can be covered by insurance. Also, there are many financing programs out there — I don’t think that women consider all possible methods or avenues to cover expenses and prematurely assume cost will be prohibitive without exploring financial options.”
Wood says she has even found that some doctors are willing to negotiate costs, especially if you’re paying cash. Many physicians also offer bundle packages, which, she says, create additional flexibility and options for women and couples.
5. “Being fit and healthy should make all the difference”
If you’re over 40 and in tip-top physical shape, you deserve to feel wonderful about your choices and good habits. But Collura warns us not to mistake a healthy heart and lungs with the ability to turn back the biological clock. “Forty-year-old eggs are still 40 years old, regardless of how young you look and feel.”
6. “You will conceive because you’re only 25”
Many women get locked into focusing on their age and telling themselves they should be able to conceive at 25 or 30 because, after all, they aren’t 45, right? “It is more difficult to get pregnant at more advanced ages and there is increased risk for miscarriage or genetic anomalies — but it is also true that if you’re fertile the decrease may not be as dramatic for someone less fertile to begin with,” Wood said “Challenges with infertility exacerbate with age, but if you’re very fertile at 25 or 30, you’re probably still fertile at 40. Age is a factor, but a woman’s overall reproductive health and wellness across her lifespan is the largest factor.”
7. “If you just quit your stressful job and relax, you’d get pregnant”
Not all stress is created equal. “Extremely high levels of stress can affect fertility by altering the brain hormones that regulate egg formation and ovulation; however, the stress levels would have to be high enough to see significant changes in the menstrual cycle,” Zarutskie said. “The kind of stress that might do this would be an extreme exercise program, a crash diet with dramatic weight loss, anorexia or an eating disorder, or stresses that require medications to decrease anxieties or to aid in treating insomnia.”
8. “Your marriage will be destroyed by infertility”
Fertility coach and author Sarah Clark says the opposite often proves to be true. “Infertility is very tough on a marriage,” Clark said. “Although lots of sex in theory may sound like a great idea, conception sex is not fun. It is important for couples to realize that infertility affects all aspects of their life. Many couples don’t reach out for support. Counseling and support groups are good proactive measures to ensure that emotions such as anger, jealousy and sadness are addressed and not suppressed. Many couples grow closer during the process and this helps their relationship to be stronger in the long run. Bottom line: Reach out for support and don’t minimize the feelings you may be experiencing.”
9. “You need to be more patient. You’ll get pregnant when you stop trying to get pregnant”
How frustrating is it to hear this one? And how doesn’t everyone who tells you this understand you can’t jinx pregnancy by trying? Clark agrees and stresses the importance of seeking medical advice if you’ve been trying to conceive for over a year or six months, if you’re 35 or older.
“Consulting with a reproductive endocrinologist is a good place to start,” Clark said. “Although patience is required when you are going through infertility there are many diet and lifestyle factors that can be considered. According to the Harvard’s Nurses Health Study, reducing animal protein, limiting simple carbohydrates such as [cakes, cookies] and reducing caffeine and alcohol can help to improve ovulation. Also moderate exercise and losing even 5-10 percent of body weight can improve ovulation. Since infertility is a disease, getting support and making proactive dietary and lifestyle changes can improve success rates.”
10. “You just need to have more sex”
Infertility isn’t a sexual disorder; it’s a medical condition. Have sex. Lots of sex. But don’t make the mistake of blaming your condition on the fact that you aren’t having sex three times a day or sitting still long enough after sex. Get the help you deserve so you can benefit from real answers about you and your partner’s body and health.