What You Must Know About Infertility
"This was the first time in my life that I was faced with failure,"
31-year-old Megan said about her inability to get pregnant. "Since I was a
child, I always set lofty goals and worked hard to meet these. When my
doctor said we had 'unexplained infertility,' it was as if my life was in
chaos and out of my control."
Lorri had a successful dental practice and finally married her college
boyfriend at age 34. "I could not believe that I was a successful
pedodontist, dedicating my life to helping young children, yet I could not
have my own baby. After three years of trying to conceive, we finally
turned to in vitro fertilization and now are the parents of twins. But I
will never forget the emotional upheavals and feelings of grief and
anxiety we went through."
When 26-year-old Rob played college basketball, he suffered a groin injury
that resulted in a ruptured testicle. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist
to know that this problem slashes the chances of making a baby. After
undergoing a battery of tests, my urologist said I have a low sperm count.
Yet medical technology is amazing. Our team of doctors used some high-tech
methods to sperm to fertilize my wife's eggs so we could make a healthy
baby. The result? Two active boys, now ages two and four. They are my
Remember how, when you were eight, you dreamed of having a family some
day? For 32-year-old Jennifer, being a mother was her ultimate childhood
My good friends talked about having children but also being teachers or
doctors. Not me. I just wanted to stay at home and take care of babies,
and I wanted a house full! Mark and I waited until our late twenties to
start a family, then tried for over a year to get pregnant with no luck.
You probably know how I felt when my doctor said I was infertile due to
ovulation problems. I wanted to run, to cover my head, so I didn't have to
hear the words. But I couldn't escape this reality.
That was two years ago. Tonight Mark is struggling with a colicky baby who
refuses to honor one o'clock in the morning as quiet time. I am rocking
her twin sister, lying in my arms wide-eyed and grinning. I'm reminded of
the old saw "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it." Of
course, we did more than just wish for a baby, we engineered it. At times,
it has felt like we were birthing a Martian rover rather than a storybook bundle
Many people dream of having a family some day, even before they meet Mr.
or Miss Right. In fact, most of us assume that making a baby the
old-fashioned way is a natural birthright. After all, we are made to be
sexual beings, so anyone can get pregnant, right? Wrong. For an estimated
5 to 8 million infertile couples in the United States, making a baby is
difficult, if not seemingly impossible. Whether from your irregular
menstrual cycles, from his reduced sperm count, or for unknown reasons,
infertility is a fact of life and a vastly growing concern.
"My friends tell me it's all in my head," 37-year-old Allison said. "We've
tried to get pregnant for three years now, and all my friends are either
expecting or pushing strollers. If it is in my head, I need to know what
therapist can help me reverse it--now." Infertility is not in your head. It
is not the result of something you did as a child or rebellious acts as a
teenager. Nonetheless, a chief barrier to overcoming infertility occurs
when well-meaning friends and family members suggest that infertility is
"imagined." You have probably heard the following statements:
¸ Maybe if you weren't so obsessed about getting pregnant, it would just
¸ Since the medicine the doctor gave you didn't work, maybe it's a mental
¸ Just relax! You're so uptight no wonder you cannot get pregnant.
¸ Isn't about time you had one of your own?
¸ Your sisters and cousins had no problem conceiving. I just can't imagine
why you can't have a child.
¸ You can always adopt. Then you will surely get pregnant.
Who's in the Driver's Seat Now?
After trying for months to conceive--with no results--you may start to think
that perhaps the high anxiety you feel is keeping you from getting
pregnant. The first insidious feeling of infertility is the sense of a
loss of control. Up until this point in your life, you have been in the
driver's seat, controlling most of your major life decisions--whether or
not to attend college, whom to marry, when to marry, what to do as your
life's work, and where to live. Now, no matter what you do or how hard you
try, you cannot conceive a child. This may be the first major decision in
your life over which you have no control.
You must know that infertility--no matter which type you encounter (see
Table 1.1)--is not in your head; it is a very real disease of the
reproductive system that impairs one of your body's most basic functions:
the conception or making of a baby.
You Have Great Company
Studies show that 15 and 20 percent of reproductive-age couples in the
United States have difficulty becoming pregnant, and the causes are
multifaceted. Some cases are due to easily identified medical problems or
diseases and success depends on conventional medical treatment, including
drugs and surgery. Other causes include lifestyle problems such as diet,
overuse of alcohol, or use of recreational drugs, requiring a natural,
drug-free, mind/body approach.
Table 1.1 Types of Infertility
Infertile When a successful pregnancy has not occurred after more than
one year of unprotected sex
Primary infertility Infertility without a previous pregnancy
Secondary infertility Infertility with a previous pregnancy
Sterility No chance of conceiving
Fertility Treatments Have Come a Long Way
Although twenty years ago, the diagnosis of infertility was etched in
stone, times have dramatically changed since then. Comprehensive research
indicates about 90 percent of all diagnosed infertility cases can be
linked to definite reasons, and two out of every three infertile couples
who seek medical answers are able to have children. Seeking medical
answers is the first step to increasing your odds of getting pregnant.
Once you understand the causes of infertility--know which treatments are
likely to be effective, and which probably will not work well--you can
begin to manage infertility just as you do other areas of your life.
Treatment may be as simple as proper timing of intercourse with ovulation.
Other, more aggressive therapies might include ovulation drugs (see
Chapter 13) to assisted reproduction, or egg, or sperm donation, as
discussed in Chapter 14. Knowing that the statistics of making a baby may
be changed in your favor can motivate you to dig in and understand what
causes infertility, get to know your own body, make important lifestyle
changes you can control, and experiment until you find the best treatment
Truth or Myth?
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed as infertile, much of the
anxiety and distress may result from a lack of knowledge about this
disease. Not only are there fears about upcoming medical tests or invasive
procedures, but the uncertainty about your future family can be
overwhelming. While a quick fix for infertility may not be possible, using
the large amount of information in this book, you can learn how the
reproductive system functions, along with low- and high-tech solutions to
making a baby.
Before you begin reading the ins and outs of infertility and treatment,
check the following beliefs to determine your Baby-Making IQ (Infertility
BABY-MAKING IQ (INFERTILITY QUOTIENT)
1. Infertility is a woman's problem
2. Everyone else gets pregnant when they choose.
3. If I could just relax or quit my job, I know I'd get pregnant.
4. I think infertility is all in my head.
5. If we try long enough, we're bound to get pregnant someday.
6. Maybe we're not meant to be parents.
7. If we adopt a newborn, it's easier to get pregnant.
8. Infertility is a sign that we're not sexually compatible.
9. My doctor tells me that I'm too thin, but I think if I could lose a bit more weight, it might be easier to get pregnant.
10. Because my doctor said I'm infertile, that means I'm sterile.
11. We're in our late thirties, so it's too late to even consider making a baby.
12. If we delay having children while we develop our careers, the chances of having a baby grow dim.
13. I'm not only infertile, but I'm single, and there's no hope for me to have a baby.
14. We cannot afford infertility treatments, and health insurance companies don't touch this.
15. We need to have sexual intercourse at least once a day to overcome infertility.
Excerpted from Making a Baby by Debra Fulghum Bruce, Ph.D., and Samuel Thatcher, M.D., Ph.D., with Britt Berg, M.S.. Copyright © 2000 by Debra Fulghum Bruce and Samuel Thatcher, M.D., Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.