We know more than ever about infertility, which can make 'trying' seem harder — and more common — than it actually is.

By Julia Malacoff
Jan 13, 2021 @ 2:05 pm
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The Good News About Your Fertility
Credit: Boris Jovanovic/Getty Images

Thanks to the honesty and bravery of women around the globe, infertility is talked about more openly than ever before. Many of us know someone personally who has dealt with infertility, and celebrities like Gabrielle Union, Anne Hathaway, and Amy Schumer have candidly spoken about their experiences.

Infertility awareness is undoubtedly a good thing, especially for those who are wondering whether their struggle to conceive is normal, or who are feeling shame related to not getting pregnant — particularly since getting pregnant can feel like a competition. At the same time, the spotlight on infertility has made some who have yet to start the process (or who are still early on) wonder and worry: ‘Will I deal with infertility? And if so, what will happen?’

That component of anxiety around conception is real. “I think so many women fear the worst for their own reproduction,” says Tia Jackson-Bey, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist, infertility specialist, and board-certified ob-gyn at RMA of New York. That phenomenon is probably due to a variety of factors, including the seemingly ever-present latest headline claiming “x” is the latest thing to cause infertility (right now, it’s the COVID-19 vaccine, and no, it doesn’t). Counterintuitively, all this talk about infertility makes some women feel less at-ease about their reproductive chances — for some, needlessly so.

Of course, it’s smart to have a plan for what you might do if you see children in your future and you’re concerned about infertility. And yet, fertility experts say that for those who have yet to start the process of “trying” (and even those who have been at it for a while), there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic about your chances of conceiving. These fertility facts might just put your mind at ease.

1. We have more reproductive choices than ever.

“The good news is we have more options today than at any time before,” says Dr. Jackson-Bey. Though the whole idea of having a biological clock is real, she says, women have many family planning options — both to prevent and promote pregnancy — that simply weren’t available to the generations before us.

“The opportunity to prevent pregnancy when not ready and to have a family when desired, whether in a same-sex couple, single, or partnered is incredibly empowering and unique to this time in history,” Jackson-Bey adds. “There are opportunities for fertility preservation via egg freezing and an increasing number of women are making the decision to start families without a partner.”

2. Small changes can make a big difference.

Some people who struggle to get pregnant may be successful after making tweaks to their conception methods. For instance, many couples are getting the timing wrong for intercourse, even if they are using ovulation strips,” explains Jessica Christie, ND, a naturopathic physician and nutritionist who specializes in holistic fertility. “While frustrating, this can be an easy fix once ovulation can be properly determined.” Christie recommends using a combination of basal body temperature and cervical fluid tracking to better understand ovulation timing.

3. Just because your mom dealt with infertility doesn’t mean you will.

If your mom had a difficult time conceiving or went through early menopause (which can affect fertility), it’s understandable to worry you might have the same struggles. But know this: “Having a family history of infertility or early menopause does not mean you will experience the same thing,” says Lucky Sekhon, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist. “A lot of these issues are multifactorial and even if they have a genetic cause, it can be a sporadic mutation that’s not inherited, or it may not be inherited in a way that impacts all children in a family.” If you have concerns about this, it’s a good idea to check in with a fertility specialist about your reproductive plans, but rest assured—you’re not necessarily going to have trouble conceiving just because your mom did.

4. 7 out of 8 couples don’t deal with infertility.

We often focus on the statistic that 1 in 8 couples (or about 12 percent of women ages 15 to 44) will deal with infertility, Dr. Jackson-Bey points out. But for those feeling anxious, flipping the statistics can provide some comfort: Yes, 1 in 8 will be affected, but 7 out of 8 won’t be.

5. If you do need fertility help, it’s more affordable and accessible than ever before.

It’s true that fertility treatment can be extremely pricey and out of reach for some couples and individuals. But there has literally never been a better time to need fertility treatment both in terms of affordability and treatment options, notes Kaylen Silverberg, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Texas Fertility Center. “Our diagnostic tools have improved, pregnancy rates have never been higher, and more employers are covering infertility than ever before, making fertility treatment affordable for the majority of patients.” Some states have gone as far as to say that insurance plans must cover in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments, though what exactly must be covered varies from state to state.

6. In most cases, infertility is considered curable.

Infertility has many potential causes, but there are even more ways to address infertility. “Infertility is actually one of the only medical conditions that is truly curable,” Dr. Silverberg says. “We can’t cure diabetes, high blood pressure, or even the common cold. Yet we know that 80-88 percent of patients who see a true fertility specialist and follow the plan walk out with a baby.”

7. Most people who receive fertility assistance don’t need invasive treatments.

Because IVF is one of the more well-known fertility treatments thanks to media coverage and social media, some women assume they’ll automatically be referred for it when they see a fertility specialist, causing worry about the stress of the treatment itself and how they’ll pay for it. The upshot: “Most people who seek help from a reproductive endocrinologist will conceive using less-invasive treatments such as ovarian stimulation hormones (prescription medicines like Clomid), intrauterine insemination (IUI), or even minor minimally-invasive surgery,” Dr. Silverberg says. “These are less aggressive, low-cost fertility treatments that give people a good chance of success.” Of course, there are some conditions where IVF is needed, but the majority of fertility patients successfully conceive without IVF, according to Dr. Silverberg.

8. Even after a miscarriage, your chances of having a baby are still good.

Miscarriage is incredibly common, with some sources estimating as many as 1 in 3 pregnancies end in miscarriage. “But that's shocking for a lot of people to hear because one, stigma, and two, most miscarriages happen very early on in pregnancy such that you may not have even realized you were pregnant or thought your periods just came later and heavier than usual,” explains Jenn Conti, M.D., an OB-GYN and medical advisor to Modern Fertility. (For the record, miscarriage rates in detected pregnancies are closer to 1 in 5.) “Knowing this is empowering because it's the first step in realizing that miscarriage is not your fault and that chances are, the next pregnancy will work out.”

And that’s a really important message for people with fears about miscarriage. “There is great reason for hope, says Joey Miller, MSW, LCSW, author of REBIRTH: The Journey of Pregnancy After a Loss. “The overwhelming majority of women who experience a pregnancy loss — an estimated 80 percent— will go on to try again and successfully conceive.”

9. Your uterus doesn’t age.

Cool, right? While your ovaries do age and eventually stop releasing eggs, your uterus can carry a baby even after you’ve entered menopause, as long as you receive the necessary hormones to support pregnancy. “We know this from the various women we treat who use donor eggs or come back later in life to use their own eggs/embryos frozen from when they were younger,” Dr. Sekhon says. “The chance of an embryo implanting is not impacted by your age at the time the embryo is transferred.” This is perhaps not the most common scenario, but it’s amazing to know that if carrying a baby is part of your fertility plan, technology has advanced to the point where you can do so even after menopause starts.

10. You have other options, including surrogacy and adoption.

“When someone or a couple is trying to have a child and is running into issues with getting pregnant or is suffering from miscarriages, it is heartbreaking,” notes Victoria Ferrara, Founder and Legal Director of Worldwide Surrogacy. “For many, the desire to have a child is practically primal.” This is one of the top reasons people are afraid of infertility, she adds.

“But infertility, although it brings these difficult feelings and circumstances, is not something in and of itself to be afraid of because there are options to allow people to have children and to create their families,” Ferrara says. Among them: adoption, gestational surrogacy, egg and sperm donation, and foster parenting. “In some cases, the drawback will be the cost, but there are possibilities for loans, insurance, employment-related benefits, and family financial support to be able to follow some of these paths to parenthood,” Ferrara explains. The bottom line? There are more choices than you may even be aware of, and there is hope.