This fact sheet is from AccessA - Australia's National Infertility Network.
Infertility is one of the most misunderstood parts of our life and health. There are many misconceptions about when you may be experiencing infertility, what it means for your chances to have children, how you should react and what you can do.
So what is it? First, some facts.
A couple is regarded as infertile when they have not conceived after 12 months of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. About 15% of Australian couples of reproductive age have a fertility problem.Find that hard to believe? That’s because most of them don’t talk about it.
Infertility is not just a female problem
In about 40% of infertile couples, the problem is a male factor, in about 40% it is a female one. For the remaining 20%, it is a joint problem or the cause is unknown (which is referred to as idiopathic).
The causes of infertility are many and varied
They include problems with the production of sperm or eggs, with the fallopian tubes or the uterus, endometriosis, frequent miscarriage, as well as hormonal and autoimmune (antibody) disorders in both men and women.
Treatments for infertility are many and varied
Treatments include surgery on the fallopian tubes to fix blockages, hormone treatments for men and women, insemination of the woman with donor sperm or sometimes with her partner’s sperm, IVF and related treatments such as ICSI. Some people try natural treatments, such as herbs, acupuncture and meditation. Some couples will opt to create a family by adoption. Others choose to remain without children.
“Just relaxing” or taking a holiday does not cure infertility
For 80% of couples there is a proven medical cause. “Unexplained” infertility is just that - it means that we’re not yet able to find the cause. There is no evidence to suggest that stress causes infertility. There is plenty of evidence, however, that infertility causes stress.
How long does it “normally” take to become pregnant?
Three out of five couples conceive within six months of trying; one in four takes between six months and a year. For the rest conception takes more than a year, which means that there may be a problem.
Male fertility problems can be caused by abnormalities in sperm numbers, motility or morphology. These may be brought about by such factors such as: Failed vasectomy reversal, Retrograde ejaculation, Blocked ducts, Absence of vas deferens, Mumps, Undescended testes in childhood, Exposure to toxic chemicals, Exposure to excessive heat, Hormonal disorders, Autoimmune (antibody) disorders. However, the causes of many sperm problems remain unknown.
Causes of female fertility problems commonly include: Tubal problems, Endometriosis, Disorders of ovulation, Premature menopause, Polycystic ovarian disease, Frequent miscarriage, Hormonal problems, Uterine fibroids and polyps, Autoimmune (antibody) disorders
Up to 20% of couples will have no explainable cause for their infertility. Medical science is still, unfortunately, imperfect.
So are you possibly experiencing infertility?
If you and your partner have not become pregnant after a year of trying, you may have a fertility problem, and it is worth seeking medical help. If the woman is over 35, it may be a good idea to start checking things out even earlier, after six to nine months. Infertility investigations can sometimes take a long time, even years. If you put off seeking help now, you could be leaving it too late.
What can you do about it?
Make an appointment with your GP, who can refer you to a gynaecologist who specialises in infertility. Make sure that you see an infertility specialist with CREI qualifications - he or she will be more up-to-date with the latest investigations and treatments than other gynaecologists. If you don’t want to see a private doctor, Fertility Clinics exist in a number of large hospitals, and you can call one of these to make an appointment directly.
What should I expect of my feelings?
Couples with fertility problems have different responses to their situations, and different ways of dealing with them. However, here are some common responses. They often feel an extraordinary isolation, being surrounded by friends and family who all seem to have children, or are becoming pregnant. They can feel their life is “out of control”, since the part which they took so much for granted - their ability to have a baby - is now in the hands of doctors and scientists. They often experience pressure from well-meaning friends or family who constantly ask when they are going to start a family. Many choose to keep their fertility problems a secret.
Infertility is a situation of loss which can go on for years, and it can be difficult to deal with constant sadness in their lives. Often the male partner deals with this sadness in a different way to the female partner, and this can be difficult to understand. Men commonly don’t talk as much as women do, and don’t always express their feelings as openly as women.The feelings of both partners, however, can be very intense, and people sometimes say that they think they must be “going mad” until they talk to other infertile people who describe similar feelings, and realise that they are, in fact, very normal.
Joining a support group can help to ease these feelings of isolation and “madness”. You will also have access to information resources. Many people say that reading and educating themselves about their infertility helps them to feel more “in control”. It certainly helps to make better informed decisions. All fertility units have counsellors who are used to helping couples with fertility problems. There are also some infertility counsellors in private practices.
For more information, support and resources on infertility go to the AcessA Website at www.access.org.au