Although infertility is common (one in eight couples has trouble starting a family), there are many misconceptions about it. As a follow up to our previous article about infertility myths versus facts from August 2015, I have outlined additional fallacies that my patients – men and women – sometimes have before receiving their diagnosis and receiving treatment.
Myth: I have been pregnant before, so I won’t have a problem with my next pregnancy.
Fact: Secondary infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more biological children who was conceived without assisted reproductive technologies. It is nearly as common as primary infertility: more than 3 million women in the U.S. have secondary infertility problems, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Even women who have easily gotten pregnant in the past may have physical or hormonal changes that contribute to infertility. As we age, our bodies change – even if we don’t feel any older or any different physically. Many factors common with primary infertility also play a part, such as smoking, weight gain and decreased sperm production or diminished ovarian reserve.
Because couples are often resistant to believing that they may need help, secondary infertility can lead to complicated emotions for the individuals and for their marriage. It is important for anyone over 35 years old who has been having unprotected sex for six months or longer to see a fertility specialist.
Myth: My mom didn’t have any trouble, so I won’t have any problems starting a family.
Fact: It is true that family history and genes play a role in a woman’s likelihood to develop infertility. However, that is only one factor. Each patient is an individual and may have a different experience than her mother, grandmother or sisters. Additionally, infertility is a condition that some people do not feel comfortable discussing, even with family. For example, it is possible that a grandmother who had six children also had multiple miscarriages – yet her grandchildren may not know this piece of the story. Women should speak with their OB/GYNs about their plans to have a family.
Myth: There is nothing I can do today about a family that I plan to have in a few years.
Fact: Women who are planning to have a family in the future should pay attention to their fertility today. First, all women should have an annual appointment for a physical exam and routine testing with their OB/GYNs. Second, women should ask for simple blood tests that gauge a patient’s fertility. The most common and most recommended test is the anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) test; AMH levels are indicative of a woman’s ovarian reserve and her long-term fertility. Since AMH is not affected by estrogen and other hormones, it can be tested at any point in the menstrual cycle and even when patients are on birth control pills.
Myth: Men and women diagnosed with cancer should not delay treatment even if it puts their fertility at risk.
Fact: A cancer diagnosis is scary and should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, treatments such as chemotherapy put a patient’s fertility at risk. Many people believe that fertility preservation will take months and therefore is not an option. However, fertility preservation can be done within a day for men (e.g., semen cryopreservation) and within one cycle or less than four weeks for a woman (e.g., oocyte cryopreservation). Once a patient is healthy again, he or she may be thankful for the opportunity to start a family.
This article was written by Dr. Shaun Williams, a fertility specialist with Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut (RMACT). Dr. Williams is a board certified OB/GYN and reproductive endocrinologist who sees fertility patients in Trumbull, Danbury, Stamford and Norwalk. He also leads RMACT’s FertiFamilia team, which is a Spanish-speaking team that includes a nurse, financial advisor and patient navigator.
To contact Dr. Williams, please call 800-865-5431 or go to www.rmact.com; if you prefer to read in Spanish, click the Spanish flag on our website.