For many couples the decision to have a baby comes at a time when they are ready to take on the challenge of parenthood. That decision unfolds a plan for the future and those includes all of the wonderful images and dreams of bringing a child into this world. However, for 1 in 6 couples conceiving a child may prove to be the biggest challenge of their life.
There are 7.4 million Americans who suffer from the disease of infertility (resolve.org). Adding to that number are people who either have not sought help from a Reproductive Endocrinologist or have not realized that their fertility may be affected.
Not many of us plan to have difficulty having children. In fact, we are more worried about preventing pregnancy until a certain point in life. Most women believe that when they are ready, they will be able to get pregnant without much effort at all. In the majority of cases this proves to be true. What we do not think about are the men and women who try for several years to conceive a child or carry a baby to full term.
Infertility is a multi faceted problem that affects a person’s life on many different levels. “Experiencing infertility affects all relationships in one’s life including how one feels about themselves,” states Dr. Rosalind Hayes, MD a reproductive endocrinologist and gynecologist from Rochester Fertility Care.
Not only do people faced with infertility have to ponder whether or not they will ever become parents. They are forced to endure many of the social effects of infertility such as feeling left out from their peer group, isolated, and fielding constant questions about when they are going to have a family. Every pregnancy announcement and baby shower is a constant reminder of the pain they are feeling. Not being able to have a child is a devastating loss on many levels. Many people have a picture of what their future children will look like, how many children they would like to have, and plans of when they hope to become parents. All of these dreams can be crushed by the perils of infertility. Losing the ability to plan one’s family leaves people feeling powerless, frustrated, angry, and sad.
Sheldon D. Malett, Ph.D counsels those going through the life crisis of infertility. He explains,” Infertility can threaten one’s identity . For example, if a woman has always wanted to be a mom, her core identity is at risk due to infertility. It is not unusual for a man to say that his pain is that he is unable to relieve his wife’s pain- one of the responsibilities that many men believe is part of their role as husband.”
Dr. Malett also explains that infertility can threaten one’s feelings of self-worth. It is quite common for men and women to feel ashamed if they are unable to conceive a child.
Because infertility is still considered a private subject and somewhat taboo in our society, there are many misconceptions about the severity of a diagnosis of infertility. Many people dismiss the grief and loss experienced when trying to conceive without success. Often time infertile couples have to hear insensitive advice and remarks when they reveal their difficulty having a child. Even though infertility is a medical condition, the perception is that one is in complete control over their fertility. It is difficult for an infertile person to clearly identify why their circumstances are so egregious when speaking with someone who has no personal experience with the struggle.
According to Melissa Ford, author of “Navigating the Land of IF” and the blog, Stirrup Queens infertility has the potential to separate people as much as it also has the potential to bring those experiencing it together. “Other parents are getting to experience in the here and now what someone experiencing infertility is working so hard to reach. It would be like the entire school making the cheerleading squad except you and having to walk down the hallway on game day with all those skirts and pom-poms as a visual reminder. Of course your friends would talk about the latest cheers they've learned--it's understandable because it's something they all share together. But their talk, their outfits, their new schedule and plans all reflect what you also worked hard to achieve, and for whatever reason, didn't make the squad. Only with infertility, game day is every day.”
If you or someone you know needs help conceiving.
Infertility is defined as trying to conceive for one year (if under the age of 35 for women) without success. For women 35 and over it is six months. If after consulting with your doctor it established that you need to take the next step and consult with a fertility specialist, there are crucial steps to keep in mind. Fertility specialists for women are called Reproductive Endocrinologists. They are trained as gynecologists and obstetricians with 2-3 years of additional training in infertility and women's hormone disorders. There are many OB/GYN's who limit their practice to infertility to provide care for women with infertility diagnosis. For men there are urologists who have additional training for fertility and spend their time caring for men with infertility. Many of them are members of the Society of Male Reproduction and Urology (SMRU).
Finding an Infertility Specialist:
Check the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the professional society for medical professionals who specialize in the care of individuals with fertility problems. You can also contact patient support and advocacy groups such as RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association or The American Fertility Association to find a list of fertility professionals in your area. Do your research and try to find opinions from past patients of a particular specialist. You can get help from various chat rooms devoted to infertility.
National Infertility Awareness Week is April 24- May1, 2010.