Today we are so happy to have Dr. Conway from Utah Fertility Clinic answering common questions about infertility. Dr. Conway is board certified in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility; Obstetrics and Gynecology.
What is Infertility?
Infertility is the inability to conceive after a year with regular intercourse with no contraception.
How long after trying to conceive unsuccessfully should I see a doctor?
Eighty-five percent of couples will conceive within a year. Thus, any couple that’s been trying to conceive for a year should be evaluated to find out if there are any identifiable problems. For women 35 and older, it’s prudent to only wait 6 months before seeking an evaluation, because egg reserve goes down over time and a shorter timeline into treatment can be helpful.
What kind of Doctor should I go to first?
Seeing your Ob/GYN may be a reasonable first step. You need three things: 1) health eggs, 2) healthy sperm, and 3) a normal reproductive tract, for pregnancy to happen. Your workup should include checking for ovulation, a semen analysis, and evaluation of the reproductive tract with an ultrasound and usually a procedure called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) or ‘dye test’ to check for tubal patency. If you feel you are not getting a thorough workup, it is never too early to go straight to a fertility specialist for an efficient workup.
What is the process of treating infertility?
Because a specific diagnosis can be made in about 85% of couples, we treat the underlying problem. If a woman is not ovulating, medications can be given to restore normal monthly ovulation. If the sperm quality or concentration is low, treatments called intrauterine inseminations (IUIs) are performed to wash the sperm and place it through the cervix so it get’s a ‘jump start’ to the top of the uterus, right at the time of ovulation. Seventy five percent of our patients can be treated with these less aggressive options. In vitro fertilization is reserved for couples with more severe male factor, issues involving scarring of the fallopian tubes, or if the less aggressive treatments are not successful. This option is more expensive but for most couples is highly successful.
What things can I do on my own to increase my fertility?
Working on physical and mental health can empower couples to optimize their chance of conceiving with or without treatment. For instance, women that are above or below their ideal weight will have more ovulatory problems and a harder time conceiving. Optimizing body weight with diet and exercise will help you to get pregnant faster. In fact, a moderate amount of weekly exercise has recently been shown to be excellent for fertility, regardless of weight loss. Think of a ‘Mediterranean diet’ when working on nutrition, incorporating more vegetables, protein, and complex carbohydrates. Make it a lifestyle change instead of a ‘crash diet’. Last but not least, add stress-reducing activities into your weekly routine. If that includes exercising with your spouse, even better!
What can I do to offer support if my friend is going through infertility?
If you know someone is struggling with infertility, offer a listening ear and words of support in private. Feel free to ask how they would like to be supported, since every person’s coping with infertility may be different. Make sure to ask them about the many other important aspects of their life, as a reminder that the infertility they are experiencing does not define them as a person. If they cry, seem distant, or even offended, cut them a little slack. The grief experienced over infertility is complex, but a little love and compassion will go a long way.
What are your favorite thing about the families you work with?
It is a privilege to support couples through such an emotional and personal journey. I cannot imagine a more rewarding job than helping couples build their families, and in a way, impact their lives forever. I walked into our procedure room to do an egg-retrieval a few weeks ago and this is what I saw written on the bottom of my patient’s socks:
I love getting to know my patients during their treatment (but not too well, since I want them to conceive quickly!), and my goal is that no matter what the outcome, each patient has the best experience possible.
Top 3 tips to navigating the infertility treatment process
- Remember IVF is not the only option: though it gets the most media attention, most of our patients are able to conceive with less aggressive and less expensive options.
- Be your own advocate: get the answers you need to know what you are up against, so you can make an informed decision about what’s best for you.
- Take care of yourself and your relationship: find stress reduction through a new hobby or diversion. Support each other emotionally, and remember to do activities together other than trips to you fertility doctor, which can sometimes feel like a full-time job!