5 Myths Debunked & 5 Facts Revealed About Infertility
This week is National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), and as fertility specialists, we want to contribute to raising awareness about this disease by debunking some myths and speaking some facts about infertility. Infertility affects millions of people of reproductive age worldwide — and has an impact on their families and communities.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 48 million couples and 186 million individuals live with infertility globally.
Unfortunately, infertility is still a taboo condition, and usually, infertility patients cope with this disease alone. People are reticent to ask for professional help or tell their family and friends what they are going through, sometimes because they feel embarrassed. Society tends to think that it is somebody’s fault. And very often, they don’t want to be asked uncomfortable questions because they will add a lot of stress to their lives. Instead, they seek guidance and support from the Internet, but sometimes this is not the best place to find trusted information. Not all information that we find on the Internet is provided by specialists on the subject matter and can confuse and even hurt people instead of helping them.
With that, let’s start debunking some myths!
Myth 1: Infertility is a woman’s thing.
There is a sociocultural belief about women being the only responsible party when a couple can’t conceive, and society tends to blame women when that happens. It is not rare to receive couples in a fertility clinic because they can’t conceive, and when they are told they have to do a fertility workup, the man sometimes looks at us, shocked, as if we shouldn’t be asking him such a thing. When a couple is trying to conceive, it is the woman who usually thinks about going for a fertility workup. If you are struggling to conceive, go with your partner for a fertility workup but for the both of you! The infertility equation can be thought of ⅓ women, ⅓ men, and ⅓ both or unknown!
Equally as important and more often forgotten are the LGBTQ+ and single parent by choice communities that are pursuing a family. We believe these individuals have the right to achieve the family of their dreams and pursue parenthood on their terms. Gendering the issue of infertility is not only a myth but a problem.
Myth 2: The woman’s age matters not the man’s age.
Let’s be honest, this myth can be generalized throughout our culture and society. It took specialists many years to raise awareness about freezing eggs to postpone motherhood, and specialists thought men’s age wasn’t as important. However, more research is being conducted to show the direct impact of men’s age on infertility. It has been shown that men over 40 have a decrease in sperm quality, decrease in fertilization rate, and increase in miscarriage rate, among other things.
Myth 3: Conception is a matter of time.
Not always! Between 80–90% of those experiencing infertility will become pregnant after one year of regular, unprotected intercourse. However, many couples spend years trying to conceive without any success and they don’t ask for help because they have been told that conception is a “matter of time”. It is normal that some couples need a few months or even a year, but if after one year of having regular sex they don’t get pregnant, they shouldn’t keep trying without seeking professional guidance.
Myth 4: You should wait one year to consult with a fertility specialist.
This one is related to Myth # 3. Experts recommend visiting a fertility specialist after six months to one year of regular and unprotected intercourse without any positive result. Folks over 35 should consider consulting with a specialist sooner. This recommendation comes from the fact that between 80–90% of healthy couples will become pregnant after one year of trying. After a year, there could be something affecting your fertility so it doesn’t make sense to keep trying without professional guidance.
However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t consult sooner. If you are ready to start seeking a pregnancy, it would be beneficial to schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN, midwife, or your primary care provider for a routine checkup. If you or your partner suffer from a health condition, it may affect fertility.
Myth 5: You will get pregnant when you relax.
This is one of the worst sentences to say to someone experiencing infertility. Of course the experience of infertility can cause feelings of worry, sadness, stress, and frustration. In fact, some studies show that people experiencing infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression as people coping with cancer. Although there is infertility caused by chronic stress, stress is not the cause of infertility in most cases. However, it is helpful to reduce your stress levels when you struggle to conceive for many reasons. One of them is that you will cope with this disease in a better mood and that will be tremendously helpful, especially if you are going through in vitro fertilization (IVF). Another reason is that stress can trigger other health conditions that can cause complications. Managing stress will positively impact your health, including your fertility, but in most cases is not the cause of infertility.
Now that we’ve debunked some myths let’s chat about some infertility facts!
Fact 1: Infertility is a disease.
According to WHO, infertility is a disease of the male or female reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
In 2009, the World Health Organization classified infertility as a disease but it took almost a decade until the American Medical Association followed suit in 2017.
Such a designation may seem like it doesn’t matter or is universally negative, but for those trying to access medical care, it is the difference between having insurance pay for it or not. At least one in eight couples and women of childbearing age that fit that description have difficulty conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term. But as you probably guessed by how specific the definition is, that number does not capture the LGBTQ+ population or single parents who need fertility treatments to build their families, so in reality, it the need is much larger.
Fact 2: Infertility can be primary or secondary.
Primary infertility is when a person has never achieved a pregnancy. Secondary infertility is when at least one prior pregnancy has been achieved. Contrary to popular belief, secondary infertility is just as painful as primary infertility. Having a child does not prevent parents from feeling isolated, frustrated, or depressed for not being able to conceive another child(ren).
Fact 3: Racial disparities exist within the experience of infertility.
Equitable access to fertility care remains a challenge in the United States. Compared to White women, Black women are less likely to visit a doctor to help with getting pregnant and waited twice as long to receive help. Our country has a long and unfortunately continued history of racial and ethnic discrimination. Rebuilding trust and proactively providing access to care needs to be a priority for those who care for those experiencing infertility.
Fact 4: Fertility care is rarely prioritized in national health coverage benefit packages.
To effectively address infertility, health policies need to recognize that infertility is a disease that can often be prevented, thereby mitigating the need for costly and poorly accessible treatments. Government policies can decrease the many inequities to accessing safe and effective fertility care by providing healthcare coverage for the experience of infertility.
Fact 5: Fertility strongly impacts mental health.
The body and mind are inseparable! It is the responsibility of all care providers, across every discipline of study, to recognize and treat individuals as total beings and provide holistic care.
As such, infertility will undoubtedly impact mental health. The crisis of infertility can be a major contributing factor to biological, mental, emotional, and social turmoil. According to Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) research program, anger, depression, anxiety, diminished self-esteem, and social isolation are common consequences of infertility. MGH cites a study that found infertile individuals are more likely to experience major depression and experience clinically significant anxiety than the general population.
At our misguided sociocultural level, it may seem that only women’s mental health is impacted by infertility. But this is also a myth! Both men and women are human beings and are capable of experiencing a sense of loss of identity and pronounced feelings of inferiority.
Please remember, there isn’t anything wrong with you or your partner. Infertility is not your fault and doesn’t mean you are flawed or broken. The reasons for infertility are so broad — from miscarriage to azoospermia to diminished ovarian reserve. The cause of most miscarriages for example is genetic abnormalities that happen randomly during cell division. Diminished ovarian reserve is most commonly a function of age. And azoospermia in men is often caused by physical blockages in the reproductive tract, hormonal or ejaculation problems, or other problems with testicular structure or function and is completely treatable.
This is in no way a complete or exhaustive list of myths or facts about infertility. The science of infertility seems immature compared to the massive potential that we imagine can create or define a family. We remain hopeful and eager to bring awareness and support to this massively under-represented issue.