Experiencing infertility is one of the most trying and heartbreaking experiences that a couple can go through. Approximately 7.3 million people in the United States, which is approximately 12 percent of those who are in their childbearing years, are infertile.
It can be incredibly disheartening to try for a baby, only to be disappointed by a negative pregnancy test or by receiving your period month after month. There is hope. With modern science and advanced medical practices, more couples than ever are able to reach their dreams of being parents through fertility treatments.
Different Options for Couples Struggling with Infertility
In order to better understand the different options you have, it’s important that you learn why you are having difficulty conceiving. Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant for at least one year while having frequent, unprotected sex. Most couples don’t need to visit a doctor until it’s been one year. See your doctor earlier if the following applies to you or your partner.
- You have been trying for six months and are between the ages of 35 and 40
- You are over 40 years old
- Your periods are extremely painful
- Your menstrual cycle is infrequent or irregular
- You have been diagnosed with pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis
- You’ve been treated for cancer
- You’ve had multiple miscarriages
- He has a low sperm count
- He has undergone treatment for cancer
- He has small testicles
- He has scrotal swelling
Approximately one-third of infertility is due to issues with the woman, one-third is due to problems with the man and one-third is due to a combination of factors or there is no known cause.
Some frequent causes of infertility include:
- Ovulation disorder
- Cervical or uterine abnormalities
- Damage to the fallopian tubes
- Early menopause
- Pelvic adhesions
- Problems with sperm delivery
- Problems with sperm function or production
- Overexposure to environmental toxins
Once your doctor has determined the cause of your infertility, you will be able to narrow which treatment options are right for you.}
Types of Fertility Treatments
If you have been trying for a baby for awhile and have decided to try fertility treatment, it’s normal to want the most advanced and expensive technique immediately. Most doctors, however, recommend trying the least invasive (and least expensive) approaches first before going onto more invasive treatments.
Before beginning any type of treatment, talk with your partner about what options you are willing to explore, your budget and your feelings. It’s okay to set limits, such as you are willing to try drugs or surgery but don’t want to do in-vitro fertilization.
If you are having difficulty conceiving due to hormone problems in you or your spouse, fertility drugs can help. Fertility drugs release hormones that will cause ovulation, which will help boost egg production and help your uterus be more receptive to implantation of the embryo.
These drugs are the least expensive option, are typically available in a pill or injection form and have a 40 to 50 percent chance of success. Side effects may include headaches, bloating, hot flashes and nausea. You also have a slightly increased chance of having multiple births.
Also known as intrauterine insemination (IUI), sperm from your partner are inserted into your uterus through a thin catheter. Prior to insertion, the sperm are specially prepared by being washed, processed and concentrated. Your doctor may also recommend that you take fertility drugs to increase your chance of embryo implantation.
This method is helpful for men who have slow-moving or poor quality sperm or for women whose bodies are rejecting the sperm due to antibodies made by their immune system. The success rate for IUI is approximately 15 to 20 percent after each monthly cycle and jumps to 60 to 70 percent after six months of treatment. Along with the side effects of the fertility drugs, you also run a higher risk of a multiple birth pregnancy.
If you have endometriosis, blocked fallopian tubes, fibroids, anatomic problems with your reproductive organs or ovarian cysts, surgery may be necessary to correct these problems in order for you to conceive. Most surgeries can be done via hysteroscopy or laparoscopy, which involves a minor incision and surgery formed with a thin tube. Some surgeries, however, are more extensive and will require a larger incision in your abdomen. Surgery carries the risk of infection, pain, require recovery time and is more expensive than other options.
Assisted Reproductive Technology
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) are highly advanced procedures that help couples with low sperm count, blocked fallopian tubes and other issues to conceive. In-vitro fertilization (IVF) is the most commonly used type of ART. In this treatment, eggs are extracted and then fertilized with the sperm in a lab. The fertilized embryos are then implanted into the uterus.
The treatments are costly, take time (there are multiple steps involved), are physically demanding and carry a high risk of multiple births. However, they have helped millions of couples who thought they couldn’t have a baby become pregnant. For women under the age of 35, the success rate is approximately 41 percent; for women ages 35 to 37, the success rate is 32 percent; and for women 38 to 40, the success rate is approximately 23 percent.
Donor Egg or Sperm
If using your eggs or your partner’s sperm isn’t a possibility, you can turn to donor eggs or sperm in order to conceive a child. This treatment requires implantation either through artificial insemination or IVF and carries similar risks and success rates.
Some states require that insurance companies cover the costs of fertility treatments but many don’t. Talk with your insurance company and your doctor to discover what the best treatment options are for you.
Infertility problems and fertility treatments can take their toll on a couple both physically and emotionally. Make sure to take time for you and for your partner, continually communicate and stay hopeful.