Modern Families and Fertility
But first, a story…
When my husband and I got married at age twenty-three, we were ambitious, spritely, and giddy to be starting our lives together. We’d used birth control for the three years we were together before our marriage, and I was anxious to start a family. All I’d ever wanted was to be a mom. And with only a year left in graduate school, I assumed it was as good a time as any.
We tried for a few months. I hadn’t lost hope because the internet told me it could take eight to ten months, if not more. But it only took three.
Excitement swelled inside of me. I daydreamed of nurseries, baby clothes, names…I was also thinking of how to share the news. Should I share it on Facebook? Should we have pictures made?
I was just shy of eight weeks along when I felt a twinge of pain on my morning run. It felt like a stabbing menstrual cramp on one side of my abdomen, and it wrapped around my hip, sending radiating pain down my leg. I knew what was happening before I even made it back to the house.
As I sat down in the bathroom, searing pain cut straight through me and that’s how it felt for hours as my body let go of the embryo that would never grow into a slobbery, giggling baby. The emergency room was full of nurses that gave me sorrowful half-smiles before leaving my husband and me to grieve alone. When it came time for the ultrasound, there were no surprises and we left the hospital with zero answers and little hope for our little family.
Three months later, we repeated the process. Three more months later, we did it again.
Finally, a fertility specialist accepted us for a consultation. Unfortunately, he was as useful as a bucket with a hole in the bottom. My concerns were minimized to, “You’re young. Be patient,” and we were sent out the door.
Then came the fertility drugs. I did a round of Clomid and a few rounds of Metformin. We did three procedures of intrauterine insemination (IUI), which failed. By then, we were knocking on IVF’s door.
But, when my husband’s job sent us packing to Alabama, our trek toward pregnancy was interrupted, or so we thought. Within a month of moving, I fell pregnant without drugs or procedure. However, I wasn’t confident my body could stay pregnant. So, despite my concerns being swatted away by the other specialist, I quickly scheduled myself with a new doctor and spilled every minute detail of my fertility struggle to him.
“I’ll put you on progesterone. It can’t hurt. It can only help.”
What? Just like that? The man heard me and listened and thought outside of the box in terms of treatment. For the first time since my first miscarriage, I felt hope. It was careful hope, but hope nonetheless.
For twelve weeks, I utilized progesterone to maintain a crucial balance of hormones in early pregnancy. And when I made it to twelve weeks and one day, I celebrated. Every day after that, I celebrated.
Soon there were kicks and hiccups jiggling my belly. I grew bigger and bigger, relishing every moment in my maternity pants. Each day, it became easier to squelch the fear and anxiety lurking below the service. By the time my daughter was born in October, I had nothing but gratitude and joy in my heart.
Even so, I thought back to the darkest days when no one would listen or take the depression of an infertile twenty-three year old seriously simply because I was twenty-three. It was easier to look at me with my healthy waistline, clear skin, and normal energy level and write me off as an impatient child. Never mind that we were financially stable, responsible adults that wanted nothing more than to start our family.
What’s the takeaway here? You might be wondering… If I hadn’t stuck to my guns and continued to press for answers, I’m not sure I’d have a bright-eyed four-year-old sitting in my living room floor teaching her two little brothers how to dance. I’m not sure I would have had the joy of feeling little feet and knees bang on my ribcage.
If I hadn’t continued pressing, I’m not sure I’d be married right now. Infertility wrecked my emotions and for over a year, I shut out my husband with painful guilt and misplaced blame. Truthfully, I’m lucky he stuck around for as long as he did. It must have been frustrating to try to pull me from rock bottom time and time again, but he did it.
The important thing, dear reader, is to listen to your gut and trust your body. Plan ahead. Picture your future. If it involves children, do not hesitate to be resolute in your journey toward motherhood. There are too many viable options to give up.
This isn’t the year 1960
Women have choices in today’s society. There isn’t as much emphasis on having children and all lifestyles are welcome. Children or not, life goes on. But what happens when a woman yearns to have children, the degree with accolades, and the powerful career? Can women have it all? We try to make it seem as if it’s possible, and in some situations it can be, but it’s often a struggle to balance all of those spinning plates. Our bodies are organic and they expire with peak fertility fading away after our twenties.
You see, biological clocks are fickle things. Even in the midst of a fast-paced career or the drain of graduate school, they still tick-tock along, slow and steady. That is, until you reach your late twenties and it decides to kick into hyperdrive.
For some, it’s easy to push aside and focus. For others, it’s all consuming and a sense of panic overwhelms their lives as the hands of their clock roll on in a constant whir.
“Should I have already been trying?”
“Is it too late for me?”
“Maybe I should freeze my eggs…”
Bearing children is an emotional journey, but not having the ability to complete your biological right is absolute turmoil. One of the most frustrating aspects of the struggle is how much women are encouraged to suffer alone. Whether it be family or society, there’s a constant “shhhh” hanging over women’s heads. In summary, infertility is isolating, angering, and more common than many men and women know.
Definition of Infertility
We all know that infertility means an inability to conceive and sustain pregnancy. However, in the medical community, a crucial part of the definition includes the time frame of one year. So, you can carefully plan conception, monitor menses, and take vitamins and supplements until you’re the image of peak health. But unless it’s been a year of consistent trying, it’s difficult to find a physician that will even hear your case.
Secondary infertility encompasses the struggle to conceive after one successful pregnancy. Maybe you have a four-year-old and have been attempting to conceive a sibling for the last two years with no luck. That’s secondary infertility.
In terms of causes, there are many to choose from. Some women suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome, some have endometriosis, others have irregular cycles, or anatomical features such as twisted tubes, that make conceiving hard, if not impossible. Hormonal imbalances, amenorrhea, and thyroid disorders are also common causes of female infertility.
Perhaps the most pressing cause of infertility that affects all women is age. Once a female reaches the age of thirty, fertility begins to decline. In her mid-thirties, the decline accelerates. This is due to hormonal dips and lowered egg quality. Other factors include smoking, drinking, weight, too much strenuous exercise, and stress in general.
While many think of infertility that affects women, it can also affect males. However, it only affects 9% of men, compared to 11% of women (Chandra, Copen, and Stephen, 2013). Factors that affect male fertility include sperm count, quality, or anatomical blockages. One key difference between men and women is that age doesn’t necessarily affect fertility in the same manner or as quickly as it does for women. However, the freezing of sperm is just as effective at mediating the risk of lower quality in advancing age.
Let’s just preface the subject by saying a loss is a loss, no matter how early it comes along in a pregnancy. If you’re ever confronted with someone that has lost a pregnancy, it is not helpful to say “at least you weren’t that far long” because that woman felt the life within her the moment she saw two lines on a pregnancy test.
Now, unfortunately, miscarriage is more common than society lets on. Approximately one in four women will experience a miscarriage in their lives. It’s shocking for some, especially when they only look into it once it’s happened to them.
Why isn’t it talked about? Well, the short answer is, women have been conditioned not to. They’re taught not to breathe a word about their pregancy for the first twelve weeks, to suffer through morning sickness, and fatique in silence. It’s taboo. It’s hush-hush, unladylike.
Medical professionals are often no better at confronting the trauma of miscarriage either. It’s a cold experience that can lead one to question the morality of physicians. That sentiment tends to be sealed when you ask about the cause or fertility treatments in relation to miscarriage. Most questions are brushed off with a smile, a pat on the back, and “you’ll be all right.” Then, you’re sent home to grieve on your own.
Overall, there’s a reluctance to label miscarriages a problem until you’ve had three in a row and you’ve been trying for over a year. That’s three losses to stab you in the gut until a doctor will even entertain the idea of looking into it. (While there may be some that empathize and understand the urgency in trying, this is basic protocol for most practices.)
“At the age of twenty-three, no one wanted to take my miscarriage seriously, nor did the want to take the two other consecutive losses. I begged doctors to hear me and they wrote me off by saying, ‘don’t worry, you’re still young.’ My husband and I were distraught and we both sought treatment and testing. It took three clinics and a move to another state before I found a physician that humored my questions and requests. I was blessed with a daughter ten months later.” -Breanna Leslie.
Secondary issues (They’re just as important)
Clearly, infertility is a broad issue that can touch almost all facets of your life. Most notably, mental health tends to struggle in the face of infertility. It is associated with periods of depression, anxiety, and even posttraumatic stress disorder. Throw in the hormonal imbalances that may be causing the issue in the first place, and it’s an emotional storm that can drag a woman into the darkest of trenches.
Relationships also bear the brunt of the blow. Inevitably, the bond between the woman and her partner is affected. Whether there is blame passed around, guilt, or resentment, it can cause irreperable damage. It’s important to consider the partner when facing infertility. There is often a period where the cause of the issue is unknown and it is true that sometimes the male’s biology is the cause for not conceiving. The mental health of the man should not be forgotten
just because he is not the one with a womb.
“Infertile females had significantly less stable marital relationships compared to fertile females, which was associated with their socio-demographics and treatment experience” (Tao, Coates, and Maycock, 2012).
In addition to emotional and relational health, finances are greatly impacted by pursuing treatment. One round of IVF can run anywhere from $10,000-$15,000 and insurance companies are not the best at supporting the costs of testing, procedures, or adoption if that is the last option. So, if you are faced with that decision, you’ll be looking at procedures that equal the cost of a downpayment on a house, if not more. Let’s not forget, young couples with student loan debt will struggle choosing between having a family or sending their savings to the government.
Dig yourself from the hole of doubt…
If there is something simple that can help women wrestling with the stress of infertility or the impending doom of an expired biological clock, it’s representation. Whether it’s television, literature, blogs, or social media, it matters. It’s impossible to calculate how many women suffer in silence because they’re too embarrassed, ashamed, or broken to speak up, but one thing is true. Hearing the commonalities they share with other females and learning the options, is crucial to their overall well-being and empowerment to seek answers.
One of the biggest factors in taking control of your fertility health is speaking up. Let your doctor know that you want to be proactive on your journey to conception and successful pregnancy. Don’t let your age or physical health derail your search for answers or education. Just because you’re in great shape does not mean you will magically conceive if you’ve been trying for a year with no luck.
Be prepared to answer questions about your cycle. When you are trying, noticeable dips in hormones (monitored by ovulation tests) can be crucial to understanding the cause of infertility. The more information you can give your doctor, the more willing they’ll be to listen and take you seriously.
Knowing your body and your cycle will also help the doctor pinpoint a reason you haven’t had success. Maybe they test your thyroid or ultrasound your ovaries to check on the structure or presence of cysts, there will undoubtedly be some variety of testing. Keep in mind, testing is a tiny victory and gets you one step closer to conception.
Make your own fertility timeline
Another way to take your health into your own hands, is exploring the option to freeze your eggs. If you are nearing age thirty or past it, it’s worth considering. You have the option to freeze your eggs while they’re still healthy and viable and store them in a medical bank. When you’re ready to try, they’ll be there ready and waiting.
There are multiple reasons for wanting to save your eggs, such as a busy career, school, lack of partner, other health issues, etc. It’s the ultimate “take control” move and let’s you decide how and when to pursue having a child. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends freezing in your twenties or early thirties.
Another facet of taking control involves exploring holistic and osteopathic treatments. Our diets and personal products are full of chemicals. Diets, exercise, and relaxation all go a long way in conjunction with medicine. It’s worth examining what substances are going in and around your body and doing a purge. We’re surrounded by carcinogens and radiation from cell phones and laptops daily. For example, it is not recommended for a male to keep his cell phone in his front pant pocket because cell phone radiation can harm his sperm count and quality. The same is true for laying your computer on your lap.
Additionally, hormone therapies such as progesterone in early pregnancy have been proven to decrease miscarriage for those that suffer from recurrent miscarriages (three or more back to back).
“I saw three M.D. physicians in my home state of West Virginia. I brought up the use of progesterone several times and each time it was swatted away with rolled eyes and a card for another appointment. They treated me with fertility drugs that never worked. Once I saw a D.O., he automatically prescribed progesterone immediately after a positive
pregnancy test. It was the first time my pregnancy didn’t abort before twelve weeks. I repeated the medication with my two subsequent pregnancies and now have three beautiful children.”
One thing is true for all of the suggestions and treatments for fertility, explore your insurance coverage thoroughly. Look at who’s in the network and what they are willing to cover. Fertility treatments are costly and the expenses can rack up quickly. Aside from procedures, most routes require medicine and injections throughout your cycle to ensure success and the number of eggs for harvest or insemination procedures.
Tao, Peng, Rosemary Coates, and Bruce Maycock. “Investigating Marital Relationship in Infertility: a Systematic Review of Quantitative Studies.” Journal of reproduction & infertility. Avicenna Research Institute, April 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3719332/.
“How Common Is Infertility?” Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed December 9, 2020. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/infertility/conditioninfo/common.
Breanna Leslie is a freelance writer/editor with a master’s degree in psychology. I specialize in commercial fiction (YA, paranormal, thriller, horror, and sci-fi), but am also available for blog posts and article writing. I offer editing services and proofreading as well. I offer clean, error-free and plagiarism-free writing with a quick turnaround. I am happy to take on bigger, long-term projects. Communication is key in any creative project, and I am consistent and quick to respond to clients.
Inspired by a video-clip posted by Alisyn Camerota, Breanna and I got together and produced this informative article about fertility health. I hope you enjoy reading it. Thank you.
E&P by EZorrilla.