With 7.4 million women experiencing infertility — approximately 286,861 in Illinois — infertility is a national issue that affects one in eight couples, regardless of age or race.
For those who long for a child, an infertility diagnosis is devastating, and going through fertility treatment can prove a challenge physically, emotionally, and financially.
In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week on April 19-25, we asked patients what they wish others knew about infertility, and received the following responses. I have also provided medical insight to each below.
1. "Infertility is a medical condition like diabetes, a disease like cancer.”
Infertility is a disease and is medically recognized as such by the World Health Organization, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Infertility is defined as being unable to achieve a pregnancy after one year of trying to conceive if a woman is under 35 years of age, or after six months if a woman is over 35 years of age.
2. “Insurance companies usually don’t cover fertility treatments.”
State law requiring insurance companies to cover fertility treatments, and the quantity and details of that coverage, varies across the country. In Illinois, we have an insurance mandate that requires insurance to cover fertility treatments, but there are mandate exceptions. Religious employers, employers with fewer than 25 employees, and employers who self-insure are not required to provide infertility coverage. The insurance mandate covers up to four egg retrievals with a lifetime max of six egg retrievals. To learn more about coverage in your state, visit the RESOLVE Fertility Scorecard.
3. “It takes a toll on you and all of your relationships.”
One study found that couples were three times more likely to break up after unsuccessful fertility treatment. Research has shown anxiety and depression levels in women with infertility are the same as women with cancer, heart disease and HIV+ status. There is no doubt that infertility treatment can cause a strain in personal health and relationships, and many couples choose to see a fertility counselor for treatment and perspective.
4. “Getting pregnant isn’t always as easy as you think.”
It takes most couples six months to become pregnant. The odds of pregnancy in any given month are roughly 15% for women in their early 30s, then decline to 10 percent after age 35 and 5 percent over age 40.
5. “It’s more common than you realize.”
According to RESOLVE, approximately 1 in 8 couples have difficulty conceiving. In Illinois, 286,861 women in Illinois have experienced “physical difficulty in getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to live birth.”
6. “It’s an emotional roller coaster.”
Going through infertility is stressful and can be very difficult emotionally, and there are studies documenting this fact. A scientific study found that women whose enzyme alpha-amylase levels, a stress-related substance, were in the highest third had more than double the risk of infertility. The good news is that participating in stress reduction techniques can help significantly. In a Harvard Medical School study with women who had fertility problems, 55 percent of women who completed a 10-week course of relaxation training and stress reduction were pregnant within a year, compared to 20 percent of the group who did not take the course.
7. “Infertility affects young couples too.”
While age and diminishing fertility rates are common knowledge, it is important to note that infertility happens to young couples as well. In the latest data provided by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, there were 174,962 cycles in 2013, and 21% (36,958) were couples under the age of 35.
8. “Support from family and friends means a lot.”
Sadly, some patients are unable to share their journey with loved ones due to the religious or personal beliefs of family and friends. To protect themselves and their future children, they stay silent. Having a support network is critical for any patient with infertility. They need someone to take a call and listen after hearing bad news, and someone to offer hope and love when times are tough. There are infertility support groups as well as classes and seminars that can help patients if they do not have the support they need.
9. “PCOS is a silent fertility disease. It can affect skinny or fat women.”
Studies have shown that 70 percent of women diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome have infertility, a health issue that affects as many as five million women in the United States. Infertility, irregular or absent periods and weight gain are three of the most common symptoms of PCOS, but not all women with PCOS are overweight. Through diet and exercise, symptoms of PCOS can be greatly lessened.
10. “It's ok to talk about it. We're not looking for answers, just a shoulder to cry on.”
Many patients always emphasize how alone and isolated they feel while they are going through treatment. They often stay silent to protect themselves from hurtful comments, insensitive statements and harsh judgment. The best thing to do to help someone going through infertility is to listen and ask what you can do to show your support.
What do you wish others knew about infertility? Please let us know in the comments below.
Dr. Nani is board certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI), and has been practicing medicine since 1996. Dr. Nani completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cook County Hospital in Chicago in 1994, followed by a fellowship in REI at Beth Israel Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston. She has presented numerous scientific papers at national meetings and gave the Presidential Plenary Talk at the Society for Gynecologic Investigation. She is passionate about helping couples and individuals achieve their dream of parenthood, and has a specific interest in third party reproduction. Her professional interests also include Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and hysteroscopic surgery.