What is Infertility?

      Nothing brings you more joy and happiness than your expression of love for your spouse and have that turn into a beautiful baby, something that is truly a part of you. I never sincerely comprehended what that meant until something that was supposed to be so natural and painless ended up being something that caused me some of the greatest emotional, heart-breaking pain I have ever felt. If you are reading this, it is because at some point you, or someone you love, has felt the very same way. But how does one fix something when they do not know what is broken?

     After struggling for years trying to get pregnant, I began to adopt the idea that infertility meant I was broken. I had had some anatomy classes in college, and I understood how all the pieces fit together in the reproductive puzzle, but a piece was missing. It was not until I understood what being "infertile" meant. Infertility is not an inconvenience, it is an actual disease affecting the reproductive system of the human body. It impairs the body's ability to perform the basic function of reproduction. Medically speaking, infertility is the inability to naturally conceive, with unprotected, well-timed intercourse within twelve months if you are under the age of 35, six months if you are over 35 (gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "trying to have a baby," doesn't it). It also, to some extent, encompasses those who are not able to sustain a pregnancy and experience recurrent pregnancy loss. Naturally speaking, it means you have tried for a year doing everything you knew how ("not stressing," filling in charts, taking temperatures, peeing on ovulation predictor sticks) without the assistance of a doctor to get pregnant all while trying to keep the "spark" in your marriage flickering. Believe it or not, most healthy couples can take up to one year before conception occurs and this is completely normal.

     According to the National Survey of Family Growth (2002), 7.3 million women and their partners are affected by infertility at some point in their lives; about 12% of the reproductive-age population. Infertility does not just affect women. Men contribute to about one-third of infertility cases, with one-third being the woman and the other being both together or the cause cannot be explained.

     Like every other women, I tried to figure out what I did wrong. I needed to evaluate how I contracted this "disease" and rid my body of it forever. I later learned there are a lot of outside sources that can contribute to infertility, and changing your lifestyle can help, but a majority of the cases, like mine, cannot be corrected by simply changing your diet. Often there are not signs or symptoms to look out for. You can grasp a better understanding of your body by listening to it. Getting regular check-ups may help to detect something early on that time may damage.  With infertility, the sooner the better.  

     The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) sums up the most common types of infertility in men and women. " The most common male infertility factors include azoospermia (no sperm cells are produced) and oligospermia (few sperm cells are produced). Sometimes, sperm cells are malformed or they die before they can reach the egg. In rare cases, infertility in men is caused by a genetic disease such as cystic fibrosis or a chromosomal abnormality. The most common female infertility factor is an ovulation disorder. Other causes of female infertility include blocked fallopian tubes, which can occur when a woman has had pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis (a sometimes painful condition causing adhesions and cysts). Congenital anomalies (birth defects) involving the structure of the uterus and uterine fibroids are associated with repeated miscarriages." 

     Infertility treatment involves several diagnostic tests, for both women and men. Men will complete a semen analysis to determine the sperm count, sperm motility, sperm shape, and quantity. Women have a laundry list of tests to complete. This can include, but not be limited to, a physical examination (pap smear, testing for infection), an ovulation evaluation (Basal Body Temperature, ovulation prediction), hormone testing (i.e. Follicle Stimulating Hormone, Estradiol, Progesterone, Thyroid Stimulating Hormone), ultrasounds, and x-rays (hysterosalpingogram). When trying to have a baby, only getting one attempt in a matter of about thirty days makes it difficult and time consuming. This also prolongs discovering the root cause of infertility since there are only certain days of the woman's cycle these tests can be completed. 

     Once diagnostics are finished you can usually begin treatment. Depending on your results, you can do Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) or In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF). But, to better understand how the treatment works, you need to have a better understanding of how your body, and your partner's body, work.