If you’re having trouble conceiving, it may be difficult to know when you should seek medical attention.
By Lisa A. Lewis
When Hope Meeks and her husband, Owen, a couple from Maryland, started trying to conceive in late 2006, infertility treatment probably never even crossed their minds. After all, they were young and healthy and excited about starting a family. Within a few months, Hope became pregnant, but unfortunately, she had a miscarriage. Although Hope and Owen were extremely sad when they lost the baby, they thought Hope would get pregnant again if they kept trying. But that never happened.
In mid-2008, the couple consulted a fertility clinic for an evaluation and began infertility treatment two months later. After a long journey—and several unsuccessful procedures—Hope and Owen recently welcomed twins into their lives.
“It’s not only important to find the right fertility clinic but also the right doctor,” says Hope. “Our doctor never gave up on us, and he made the experience as pleasant as possible—despite difficult circumstances. He was always willing to explore other options if a particular treatment didn’t work. The entire staff was an amazing support network. Owen and I have a strong relationship, and going through infertility treatment together made us even stronger as a couple. When Owen and I look at these beautiful babies smiling back at us, our hearts melt. Our decision to undergo fertility treatment was the best for us, and there is no doubt in our minds we would do it all over again.”
Like Hope and Owen, many couples have difficulty conceiving. So if you and your partner find yourself in a similar situation, you’re not alone. According to the American Fertility Association, one in eight couples of childbearing age in the United States is diagnosed with infertility, a disease of the reproductive system that prevents conception. A couple is considered infertile if they haven’t conceived after one year of unprotected intercourse.
Female- and Male-Factor Infertility
The perception that infertility is a women’s issue is a common misconception. Infertility can be attributed to female or male factors—or a combination of both. In some cases, infertility can’t be explained, and a specific cause isn’t identified. Infertility is a medical condition, so don’t feel guilty or blame yourself. The inability to conceive isn’t your fault.
Although getting pregnant may seem effortless, conception is an intricate process that depends on many factors, and the conditions must be exactly right. Each month, a woman’s ovary releases an egg (a process called ovulation). The egg travels through the fallopian tube to be fertilized. For pregnancy to occur, a sperm must unite with the egg in the fallopian tube. If fertilized, the egg moves into the uterus and attaches to the uterine lining where it grows for nine months. If there is a problem at any time during this process, infertility can result.
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), factors that may contribute to infertility in females include ovulation disorders, blocked fallopian tubes, which can result from pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis (diseases that affect the reproductive organs), uterine fibroids and hormonal problems. Male infertility is often due to a problem with the sperm, such as low sperm count, abnormal shape or impaired movement. However, other factors can be responsible for infertility in both females and males.
When to Seek Help
If you’re having trouble conceiving, it may be difficult to know when you should seek medical attention. It’s easy to go into a state of denial or take a “wait-and-see” approach rather than admit that you might have a problem. In general, most physicians recommend that women consult their ob/gyn if they’ve been trying to conceive for at least one year and are under 35. Women who are older than 35 should consult their ob/gyn after six months. However, women with a history of painful or irregular menstrual cycles, pelvic pain or previous miscarriages, should see their doctor regardless of how long they’ve been trying to conceive.
If you’re a female who is concerned about your inability to conceive and meets these guidelines, schedule an appointment with your ob/gyn. Your doctor can perform a physical examination to evaluate your overall health. He or she may also be able to determine the cause of your infertility and recommend treatment options. However, if your ob/gyn can’t find a specific cause, he or she may refer you to a reproductive endocrinologist, a physician who specializes in treating infertility in both women and men. If you’re a male who is concerned about infertility, consult a urologist for a physical examination. Or make an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist to be evaluated at the same time as your partner.
“It’s very important for women over 35 to seek medical attention sooner than women under 35 because of their biological clock,” says Jeffrey L. McKeeby, M.D., a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist at Shady Grove Fertility Center who treats patients in the Annapolis, Salisbury and Waldorf offices. “Age plays a vital role in a woman’s ability to conceive and is a biological limitation. So if she wants to get pregnant, she shouldn’t delay treatment for infertility.”