The Heartbreak of Infertility
One of the main driving forces behind human nature is the need to have children. It’s a natural process. While we understand the science behind it, it still really remains a mystery. In fact, it’s so natural a process that most of us don’t even think twice about it.
And yet, one out of every six couples in America struggles with infertility.
What is Infertility?
Infertility is defined as having unprotected sex for more than 12 months, or more than 6 months if you, the mother, are over the age of 35, without results.
There is no known single cause for infertility in either party. Sometimes the issue is with one person or the other, sometimes involving multiple factors. Sometimes both partners have difficulty working together.
1/3 of cases of infertility is due to male issues only
1/3 of cases are due to both male and female issues
1/3 of cases are due to female issues only
What Causes Infertility?
If we look at the male side of the equation, the most common causes of infertility are low sperm count, motility (the ability of the sperm to swim), or the ability to fertilize the egg. There can be several possible contributing factors:
1) Genetics – Undescended testicles, large testicles, infections, or illnesses (eg: mumps, cancer, cystic fibrosis, kidney disease)
2) Lifestyle – Poor nutrition, obesity, use of alcohol, smoking, and drugs
3) Environmental factors – Exposure to pesticides, lead, and other chemicals; repeated exposure to heat, such as in saunas or hot tubs
4) Age – Men over than 40 may be less fertile than those younger than 40.
For women, there are also several possible contributing factors.
1) Endometriosis – Accounts for 35-40 percent of all female fertility problems and affects 5 million women in the U.S. Endometriosis reduces a woman’s ability to get pregnant (fecundity) by up to 36%. The lining of the uterus (endometrium) implants and grows outside the uterus, affecting sperm, egg, ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes.
2) Ovulation difficulty – Resulting from hormonal imbalances (thyroid, estrogen, FSH and LH). Hormones can also affect quality and amount of eggs that are released and if they are released at all. The ovaries may be scarred as a result of surgeries or cysts. This can also affect follicles.
3) Tubal Disease – Affects 25% of infertile couples. It can be a result of infection, abdominal diseases (appendicitis, colitis), surgeries, ectopic pregnancy, congenital abnormalities.
4) Uterine abnormalities – Fibroids and polyps, septate (divided) uterus
5) Lifestyle – Poor diet, lack of adequate exercise, smoking, alcohol, drug use
6) Environmental exposures – Toxins, chemicals, lead, ethylene oxide (a sterilization chemical used on surgical instruments), or pesticides
You can read more about the causes of female infertility from Stanford University.
Coping with Infertility
When a couple is so focused and looking forward to having a baby of their own, the realities of infertility can take a huge toll on a relationship. Depression is very common in both partners in these kinds of situations, and it is perfectly understandable. There is certainly a grieving process that goes along with this news. In the beginning, there is the hope that something can be done. For some, finances dictate that they cannot even attempt the treatments. Others have tried treatment without success. With this particular latter scenario, there may be the added grief that comes with multiple miscarriages and the frustration of the waiting game only to be told “it didn’t take”.
When coping with infertility, remember:
1) It is not your fault. We human beings have a nasty habit of blaming ourselves for things that we really don’t have any control over anyway. We can be frustrated with ourselves, and it’s probably perfectly understandable to angry with our body for not performing like everyone else’s. But do not play the “should” game – I should have done this. I should not have done that. Maybe I should have done this instead. This kind of thinking can be really destructive to a person’s self-esteem. This kind of talk is commonly part of the grieving process, but it is important to learn positive self-talk to counteract it (by yourself, your partner, and support team).
2) Work together with your partner. Notice the phrasing earlier in this article refers to couples being infertile. Even if, physiologically, the infertility issue has to do with one partner, it really is a “couple” issue. Working together means acknowledging that you both may have different feelings towards this. You both need to recognize each other’s feelings and help the other overcome and deal with them.
3) Educate yourself and get connected with other couples who are going through the same thing or who have gone through infertility before you. It is important that you learn as much as possible about why infertility is happening in your particular case and what the treatments are going to entail. This is particularly important in making sure you’re getting the right course of treatment. The more informed you are, the better decision you’ll be able to make regarding your options.
4) Say ‘no’. Don’t be afraid to say no to baby-related events – baptisms, Christenings, showers. Balance the need to support your friend with a little self-preservation.
5) Learn to process “caring” comments. Some people can say things meaning to be supportive and encouraging and helpful, when they really don’t understand. It’s not their fault that they don’t know all the ins and outs and feelings associated with the struggle of infertility. They’re not deliberately trying to be insensitive or insulting. Surround yourself with positive people, but people who will also just let you be yourself and cry if you need to.
6) Have a plan. Obviously, deciding whether or not to enter into fertility treatments is a big decision. Decide ahead of time, once you’ve researched and discussed and learned all you can, how long you’re going to try for, and how much you will pay.
Before I close out this article, I would like to encourage you, if you and your spouse/partner are infertile to read this posting by Lori Kerrigan on Parentingsquad.com. A very poignant article about the emotions that come with being infertile. Sometimes just knowing you’re not the only one can be a great comfort.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for Empowher.com
Infertility. Mayo Clinic. Web. July 19, 2012.
What Causes Female Infertility? Stanford University. Web. July 19, 2012.
Major causes of infertility (chart). Babycentre.co.uk. Web. July 19, 2012.
Infertility fact sheet. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. Web. July 19, 2012.
Therapist’s top ten tips for coping with fertility problems. Babycenter.com. Web. July 19, 2012.
My Name is Lori and I Am Infertile: Surviving Depression Cause by Infertility. Kerrigan, Lori. Web. July 19, 2012.
Infertility in Women. Riley, Julie MS, RD.
Infertility in Men. Riley, Julie MS, RD.
Celiac Disease and Infertility. Fugate, Linda PhD.