By Fertility Advocate Jennifer Jay Palumbo
If you’ve been trying to conceive for a while and not getting pregnant, you may be asking yourself, “Am I infertile?” The word “infertility” can be daunting, but we hope to help clarify why infertility isn’t as black and white as you may think and why you are more than the medical condition of infertility.
And the reality is you are more than your reproductive organs!
Before You Ask, “Am I Infertile?”, Let’s Define Infertility
According to Resolve: The National Infertility Association, “Infertility, is a disease characterized by the failure to establish a clinical pregnancy after 12 months of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse or due to an impairment of a person’s capacity to reproduce either as an individual or with his/her partner.” This means if the female partner is under the age of 35, and the couple has been actively trying to conceive for at least one year; or if the female partner is over the age of 35 and the couple has been actively trying to conceive for at least six months without success, they should seek the help of a fertility specialist known as a reproductive endocrinologist.
If you look carefully at that paragraph above and reread it, you’ll notice the word “disease.” This should be an encouraging answer to the question, “Am I infertile?” because infertility is a medical issue like any other. However, you’ll also note that there is no medical intervention in the above definition yet. With testing, diagnosis, and treatment, there is still hope. In addition, explanations for why you are not getting pregnant may be uncovered, and options for treatment could exist.
Asking a Fertility Specialist, “Am I Infertile?”
Suppose you fit into the criteria outlined in Resolve’s definition of infertility above and have been quietly wondering, “Am I infertile?”. In that case, your best first step is to make an appointment to get a fertility work-up with a specialist. A reproductive endocrinologist can run blood work to check your hormones and perform a transvaginal sonogram to check your ovaries and uterus. They would also look into any relevant family history (if your mother or sisters have any fertility issues), your own health history (if you have regular periods, smoke, etc.), and review your family goals. The blood work, hormone levels, and consultation will give the doctor a sense of how many eggs you have in your ovarian reserve and a general idea of your reproductive health and ovulation function.
If they find any concerns such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, or endometriosis, they will offer a treatment plan. It’s possible that with a diagnosis and proper treatment, you will not need any additional fertility assistance.
If they don’t find any issues, they may recommend having your male partner come in for a semen analysis if one hasn’t been done already. They will also review his family and health history and will most likely perform blood work.
What If Infertility Treatment is Recommended?
While this may sound strange, if your doctor recommends trying assisted reproductive technology to help you have family, they believe that there is a protocol that can bring you one step closer to becoming a parent. It’s also a comfort to know that should your doctor find any fertility concerns; you have many different options available to you, such as:
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI): This is when a catheter is used to “bypass” the cervix and insert sperm into a woman’s uterus when she is ovulating.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF): When IVF is performed, a woman’s eggs are extracted and combined with your partner (or donor’s sperm) in a laboratory. The resulting embryos are then transferred to the woman’s uterus.
- Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGT-M, formerly called PGD): This includes conditions like cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), or sickle cell, to name a few. PGT-M can test an embryo for such conditions, increasing your chance of having a baby born free of a genetic disease.
- Donor egg or embryo: If you’re unable to conceive with your own eggs or if you’re a same-sex male couple, you can have IVF treatment using eggs donated by a woman. The donor egg is combined with your partner’s sperm, and the resulting embryo is transferred to the intended mother or gestational surrogates’ uterus. This procedure can also be done with a donated embryo or donated sperm.
On the surface, “Am I infertile?” can be a scary question to ask oneself, but it can also be the first step to getting answers as to why you’re not getting pregnant. What’s important to remember is that infertility shouldn’t define who you are and the outcome of your ‘trying to conceive journey.’
Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll know that even if you have a medical concern that impacts your fertility, it doesn’t mean you won’t have a family. You have your doctor, options, and reproductive technology to support you!