Infertility Tests for Every Aspect of a Couple's Life
Patti Gellman rode a physical and emotional roller coaster for two years
trying to get pregnant for the first time. What she and her husband, Alex,
thought would be a simple act of love to produce a child turned into a highly
medicalized journey of poking, prodding, discomfort and -- perhaps the hardest
part -- month after month of heartache when nothing seemed to work. Their
turmoil finally paid off in 1993, however, when Gellman delivered healthy twin
"I didn't think anyone would be able to talk me into going through that
again, especially since I had two wonderful, healthy sons," says Gellman,
who lives in Ambler, Pa. But she had a change of heart last winter and, after
going through another couple of rounds of in vitro fertilization, delivered
another baby boy five months ago.
Infertility is when you cannot get pregnant after having unprotected, regular sex for six months to one year, depending on your age.
The main symptom of infertility is not getting pregnant. You may not have or notice any other symptoms.
Symptoms can also depend on what is causing the infertility. Many health conditions can make it hard to get pregnant. Sometimes no cause is found.
As Gellman can attest, the desire to have children can be so strong that
infertile couples often will go to great physical, emotional and financial
lengths to get pregnant. The good news is that about 80% of these couples will
eventually succeed, typically with the help of a reproductive endocrinologist,
and the vast majority won't need to undergo the more advanced and costly
technologies, like in vitro fertilization. In addition, improvements in lab
practices have increased the odds that these more sophisticated methods will
work, while at the same time reducing the risk of multiple births.
"The problem is that infertility affects every aspect of a woman's
life," says Alice Domar, a health psychologist and director of the
Mind/Body Program for Infertility at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center,
Harvard Medical School. "It affects their relationship with their husbands
because men and women don't respond to infertility in the same way. It affects
their sex life because they're told when they can and can't have intercourse.
It affects relationships with friends and family because everyone else seems to
be getting pregnant effortlessly. It affects jobs because they have to miss
tons of time for doctor's appointments and procedures. It can send them into a
spiritual crisis. They feel cruddy because they're going through all these
invasive tests and procedures which hurt. And it costs a ton of money."
If you're among the estimated 10% of reproductive-age couples who are
infertile -- defined as being unable to conceive a child for at least a year
without medical assistance -- count your blessings for these advancements in
science. But also be prepared to enter a maze filled with uncertainty,
disappointment and anxiety. Fortunately, arming yourself with as much
information about infertility as you can from the start, forging a support
network of women who've been there, and developing a realistic outlook can
help, experts say. Here are some thoughts from the trenches -- from veterans
and fertility specialists alike -- that might make that journey easier.