Maybe you never thought it would affect you or maybe you have known for a long time that you would struggle to have children. However prepared you are for it, infertility is hard on all couples. If like me you come from a family of ‘fertile myrtles’ who only need to look at each other before they fall pregnant or if you’re surrounded by friends who got pregnant first try, you’ll know how much of a shock to the system it is when it doesn’t happen as easily for you.
If you have never had this issue, please don’t stop reading!
Infertility is one of the least talked about subjects in women’s health next to miscarriage and menopause due to a myriad of issues surrounding it; pride, embarrassment, fear, jealousy, unwillingness to admit it is an issue for the couple involved or their family and friends and most of all, how to speak to people with infertility issues.
This is not a guide to infertility (there are some resources at the bottom which will help) but this is a place where we want to start encouraging talk about infertility and understanding how it affects all women, not just the ones who suffer from it but the women who are friends with them and who can help make their lives better by understanding how they are feeling and maybe offer some ideas and things you can try.
Why am I infertile?
Technically you’re not infertile in most countries until you have been having unprotected sex for a year with the intention of getting pregnant and haven’t got pregnant in that time. If you have had a miscarriage in this time and still haven’t conceived you are considered to be ‘sub-fertile’. But we understand why you may want to give yourself this title for now.
If you have been trying for over six months this makes the frustration no less unbearable. It is still very frustrating to feel like everyone else is getting pregnant around you but you’re not. So i’m going to hit you with statistics to see if it will help. Also I can’t answer that. We have all heard the anecdotes from people who tried for 7 years with no suggestions as to why they weren’t getting pregnent only to randomly fall pregnant randomly. There must be a reason, right? But annoyingly so far medicine can only get us so far and most of us will have the label unexplained infertility’ slapped on us.
So what can I do about it?
Let’s work on the idea that every month you have a 5 – 30% chance of getting pregnant. This relies on age of both partners, health, weight and (most importantly) whether you had sex at the right time of the month of course. This is also assuming every cycle you have ovulated and that you’re getting a decent ‘hit’ ratio per ovulation.
According to NHS statistics, 84/100 couples will get pregnant within a year if they are having unprotected sex. This depends on age.
- aged 19-26 – 92% will conceive after one year and 98% after two years
- aged 35-39 – 82% will conceive after one year and 90% after two years
For couples who’ve been trying to conceive for more than 3 years without success, the likelihood of getting pregnant naturally within the next year is 25% or less. Don’t panic too much about age though. Yes, your egg quality may go downhill at 35 or 40 and statistically the older you are the more likely you will find it hard to conceive or that you will be at greater risk of miscarriage or birth defect. Tommy’s have some fantastic information here if you want to read more about this (which of course you do, as you’re a Clever C(nt) right?) and we also have a section on men’s sperm health (which I have naturally named Clever C(ock)s) here.
You might be amazed to know that whereas it used be thought that men could father children’s perfectly fine into their 60s, it turns out that their junk takes a nose dive too from their late 30’s. I don’t know if i’m sad about that or a little bit smug….tick tock boys.
If you’re in the Under 35 age bracket and you’ve been trying for a year go to the GP asap. Take your charts – you know, the charts you have been faithfully following from my information here. If you haven’t read my excellent guid on charts then start now and get charting. What it will do it give some rudimentary information on your cycles. True, you cannot always tell that you are ovulating but you’ll get a bloody good idea if you’re not.
If your cycles are over 34 days or under 24 days, if they are very short bleeds or very heavy bleeds of if you have any major pain at ANY time in your cycle or pain having sex then go to your GP now and ask for a referral to a fertility specialist or for more investigation from their end.
If you have been referred and have a bit of a wait, ask your GP for a thyroid test. Many GPs seem to be particularly recalcitrant about this, but the American Society of Gynaecologists have published advice based on recent studies (backed up by the British Thyroid Foundation which approves TSH levels of no more than 2.5 and no less than 0 for women who are pregnant or TTC. If your thyroid levels are a little high or low a very cheap prescription for Levothyroxine can make a huge difference. Even if they won’t prescribe this for you, you can take the results to your appointments for the fertility clinics which will cut out one test they will want to do and speed things up.
You can also insist that your partner’s sperm is tested first and if you’re at all worried or suspicious, ask for a larger spectrum of testing than the usual count/mobility/motility tests. One friend and her husband tried for 2 years and another 6 months on clomid which caused untold stress for all until they finally re-tested his sperm further to find it carried a mutation which was unable to penetrate the egg. The argument is, had they had this test in the first place they could have moved straight to IVF and skipped a lot of heart ache, time and money.
If you’re struggling please seek help or if you feel you can, speak to a friend. I for one can fully understand what it’s like when you see the pregnancy and birth announcements on facebook, when your friends all call you up SO EXCITED to tell you they have a bubba on the way and when you feel like you’re surrounded by babies and bumps with a flat stomach and an ache inside you.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Since ‘coming out’ about my own infertility and struggles with miscarriage I have had so many friends contact me about their own struggles, and it can be very wearing to feel like the Debbie Downer for other people’s happy news when all you want to do is go into a dark room and have a ruddy good cry as soon as people stop drinking booze on the work nights out and seem to have avoided pate for a suspiciously long time.
Be kind to yourself. I would argue going and having a ruddy good cry is ok. More than ok. It’s normal. You don’t have to, but I am also a firm believer in telling people if you have been trying for a while and are finding it stressful ,and in seeking help if you need it. I wound up paying for counselling when I was TTC as I found it so hard Explain to friends that you’re so happy for them, but you’re very sad for yourself and you need a little space. Give yourself some space. You don’t need to justify the way you feel – it is how you feel. If you don’t feel you can be around pregnant women don’t be a d*ck about it, but just quietly take yourself out of those situations or explain to friends why you can’t make their baby shower or leaving do o simply find other things which mean you are so sorry, here’s a gift and you’ll see them soon.
Yes, it can be hard for others to process your feelings, yes there will always be some people who will be resentful that you couldn’t manage to visit their newborn or see then much when they were pregnant. That is life. Some people just won’t ever ‘get it’. And that’s ok. You work through the emotions you need to work through. They will come around.
If people start offering what they think is helpful advice (anything which is not based on science basically) then shut them down gently or nod and say nothing and ignore them where you can. ‘Relax it’ll happen’, ‘have a holiday, it worked for my sister/cousin/friend’s friend of a friend’ and ‘maybe you just need to stop actually trying’ are all time tested ways to piss off someone who is taking a planned and sensible attitude to trying for children and are in no way helpful. Thank you for pointing out the anecdotal value of a holiday for fertility Janet, now shh. Having managed to achieve 4 pregnancies in 6 months after 11 months of trying before that, my partner and I worked out the only way to get pregnant was to time sex to ovulation. Had we waited for a holiday or had sex when we actually fancied it, I personally think we’d still be trying now.
Forums can be helpful to a point but remember these are people who are not your friends and who you don’t know. Also, when you’re attending 9 million acupuncture, reflexology and exercise for fertility classes it can add an extra layer of stress to have Mama687 bleating on about whether her ovulation stick is positive yet (no Mama687, it is not) and GinaGOoR posting all her obviously positive pregnancy tests (AM I PREGNATE?) after spending the last 2 weeks complaining how long she has been trying when she only decided ti have a baby last month. I mock but actually I found a few lovely friends from all over the world on Babycenter who I still chat to now and again on Facebook. Just remember, simply because someone recommended it on a forum it doesn’t mean it works. Science. Check the science.
I hope that helps. I have a page on some fertility tech which I think is awesome which is always worth trying before you decide to go down the medication route or if you haven’t been trying long enough to visit the doctors.
Good luck and remember, you are not alone.