We’ve all heard the story about the accidental conception or the baby they weren’t expecting, but how many couples willingly talk about their troubles with infertility. Infertility is defined as 12 months of regular intercourse without contraception and without conception. Despite common misconceptions, infertility is extremely common and totally normal. Through this article, I hope that we are able to find a sense of understanding and acceptance about the phenomena.
In order for a female to get pregnant, she must release an egg from one of her ovaries in a process known as ovulation. From there, the egg must travel through a fallopian tube and reach the uterus. Next, sperm from a male must find a way to accompany the egg. Finally, the fertilized egg must implant into the uterine wall. With all of these complicated steps, infertility could occur at any point in time and it often does. In fact, according to the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the US alone, approximately 15% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 are infertile. Although not considered a disease by many insurance carriers, this is a problem that plagues millions of couples.
Before talking about the factors that lead to infertility, it is important to mention that infertility is a problem that affects both men and women. Both halves of the couple contribute to the issue for different reasons. For men, infertility is typically caused by problems making sperm, sperm’s ability to fertilize the egg, and problems with the shape or structure of the sperm. Some factors that tend to exacerbate these infertility issues include drugs, alcohol, environmental toxins, and age. One of the main problems with diagnosing male infertility is there are no physical symptoms that would indicate male infertility. In fact, many males never find out that there are any issues with their sperm until they visit a fertility specialist.
On the other hand, female infertility is typically easier to diagnose. One of the primary reasons for female infertility are problems with ovulation. If ovulation does not occur, no egg is released and a baby can not be produced. A sign of problems with ovulation is either lack of a menstrual cycle or irregular menstrual cycles. The causes include age, stress, poor diet, and low or high bmi. Some other less common problems that cause female infertility are blocked fallopian tubes, problems with the uterus, and endometriosis.
Now that we have talked about the causes and symptoms of infertility, let’s talk about solutions. Due to more people speaking out about their struggles with infertility, the field of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) has developed. Some of the most innovative procedures developed through ART are In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT), and Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection. With IVF, ovulation is induced through a high dosage administration of ovulatory hormones. The hormones speed up the growth of immature eggs and an egg is released almost 36 hours later. From there, the egg is procured from the body, put in a gel matrix, and flooded with sperm. After the egg is fertilized, it is surgically implanted into the uterine wall. This procedure is most commonly used for woman whose fallopian tubes are malfunctioning. GIFT is a very similar procedure except the fertilization occurs inside the womb rather than in the lab. GIFT is typically more accepted by certain religious groups and is commonly utilized by patients with unexplained infertility. For Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection, sperm is aspirated from the epididymis and analyzed in a lab. A lab technician searches through the sperm for the most healthy and motile sperm. This sperm is then injected into the female reproductive system. This technique is typically utilized for males with low motility or a low sperm count.
Although these techniques are fairly successful, they are also extremely expensive. Since many insurance carriers don’t see infertility as a real health issue, they often do not cover these procedures. Henceforth, I challenge this generation to approach infertility as you would approach any medical issue. If someone is unable to conceive, offer them comfort and let them know of their options. Make sure that all people who suffer from infertility know that there are solutions and if they truly want to have kids, they can. This is a problem that is continuing to grow. Rather than accepting our fate, we must make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to have a child if they so choose.