Did you know that infertility is more common for men and women than many people think? Research shows that it is a disease with psychological symptoms equal to that of a terminal illness. In other words, individuals who are facing infertility struggle in similar magnitudes to those who are facing a life-threatening condition. As such, men and women dealing with infertility often become depressed and anxious. In this article, I want to debunk six common myths about infertility in order to support the individuals and families who are currently or who have undergone fertility treatments.
Myth 1: If you just relax, you’ll get pregnant
Stress can affect infertility, but research has shown that stress, which often appears as anxiety, is not a sole cause of infertility.
In fact, most research has shown that depression, not anxiety, significantly impacts infertility such that depression can cause infertility and infertility can cause depression. The relationship is bidirectional.
Even so, infertility is a disease that involves physiological and psychological factors. Psychological and physiological interventions are often necessary for successful treatment.
Myth 2: If you struggled with infertility with baby #1, you will struggle with infertility with baby #2
In truth, there is no way to know what your pregnancy experience will be the second or third time around. Many times, women’s bodies change after their first pregnancy. Many women report that they had to do fertility treatments for their first pregnancy but then they were able to become pregnant naturally the second time around.
That being said, many women also report that they were able to conceive baby #1 either naturally or with fertility treatments and then are not able to conceive again. This is called secondary infertility and is much more common than people think.
In the end, the answer is that we just do not know because bodies do change.
If there is no physical change in hormone levels or reproductive organs, though, then the reason for secondary infertility very well may be psychological, which is something that reproductive endocrinologists do not mention often. Addressing psychological factors is an essential component of fertility treatments.
Myth 3: Infertility is rare
Most people spend their adolescence and young 20’s trying not to get pregnant. Then, when they decide it is time to get pregnant, they may or may not be able to. This experience can be extremely traumatic for many individuals and couples.
Here are some facts:
Infertility is defined as the inability to produce a pregnancy that results in a live birth after one year of trying.
Infertility affects 6.1 m women or 10% of the reproductive age population
In healthy couples, there is only a 15-20% chance of getting pregnant each month
Myth 4: Infertility is a female problem
Many people think that infertility is more often due to a female problem than a male problem.
Here are some facts:
30% of infertility is due to a female factor
30% of infertility is due to a male factor
40% of infertility results from problems in both partners that is considered “unexplained”
Because infertility can be caused by both male and female factors, it is critical that your reproductive endocrinologist complete comprehensive testing on both you and your partner before treatment begins.
Myth 5: You’ve waited too long to have kids
Fertility does decrease with age, but many people in their 20’s face infertility as well. Infertility is a condition than can occur for a number of reasons and is not necessarily age dependent.
Myth 6: Infertility is genetic
Infertility does have physiological causes related to reproductive organs and hormones in both men and women. These realities can be due to biological or environmental factors or both.
It is difficult to know whether or not causal factors of infertility e.g. low sperm count, poor egg quality, endometriosis, etc. are entirely genetic. Interestingly, one’s parents may or may not have had the same biological problem. Research has shown that these causal factors are better predictors of infertility than the experience of one’s family members.
As such, the answer really is, it depends. However, if your parent did struggle with infertility, you should let your doctor know as part of your medical history.
As you can see, infertility is a serious condition that has both physiological and psychological components. So often infertility is dealt with behind closed doors. You are not alone if you are trying to conceive and having difficulty! If you or a loved one is undergoing fertility treatments and has unanswered questions, fears or an overwhelming level of anxiety or depression, I recommend reaching out to a professional who has expertise and experience working with individuals and couples struggling with infertility.
Rebecca Glavin, MBA, MSW, LCSWA is a therapist in Charlotte who specializes in working with women with infertility, body image and self-esteem concerns as well as eating disorders. Rebecca also works with women who struggle with infertility, women who have miscarried, and women who have terminated a pregnancy. Rebecca lives in the Cotswold area with her husband and two daughters. To learn more about Rebecca, visit her website http://www.rebeccaglavin.com, or find her profile and information on the Psychology Today website here. You can watch her segment on Infertility Myths on the Charlotte Today Show here.