Infertility is defined as not being able to become pregnant (conceive) after one year of trying, or an inability to carry pregnancies to a live birth.
The problem is common and includes people experiencing what is known as "secondary infertility" after having one or more naturally conceived children. Approximately, 1 in 6 couples in New Zealand experience infertility and 1 in 8 require some form of medical assistance to achieve a pregnancy. Of these:
- approximately 35% of infertility is a problem solely of the female
- another 35% is a problem solely with the male
- in about 25% of cases there is a problem found in both male and female
- only about 3.5% of infertility is unexplained once a thorough evaluation of both partners has been conducted.
Over the past 20 years, there have been big advances in treatment for infertile couples:
- New methods of medical treatment can result in successful pregnancies for over 50% of infertile couples.
- Certain treatments, such as the artificial starting of ovulation, respond with an even greater chance of success.
If infertility is a concern for you, look for a doctor with special interest and expertise in the area of infertility. Fertility can be a sensitive topic, so it's important to find someone with whom you feel confident and capable of communicating your questions, concerns and feelings.
Infertility is not merely a physical condition, it is an emotional and social condition as well. It carries with it intense feelings which need careful support from physicians, nurses, counsellors and technicians involved.
Stress: Treatments can take many months to complete and involve tests for both males and females. This period of waiting, investigations and treatments can prove stressful.
Grief: Common feelings such as anger and frustration, loss of control, isolation from friends and family, depression and grief may seem overwhelming to the couple who are denied a child they so earnestly wish to conceive and parent.
Crisis point: At some point during infertility treatment, or investigation, a person may experience this as a state of crisis. This crisis, in turn, may lead to further isolation and despair. This may place strain on relationships as well. They may feel alone and not have anyone to talk to who understands the experience of infertility.
Sharing other people's experiences
Infertility is a crisis of the deepest kind. It is experienced as an on-going grief, a grief in which many couples feel alone and isolated. It threatens every aspect of a person's life - one's sense of self, one's dreams for the future, one's relationship with others. Few crises are as challenging and overwhelming.
In talking about this grief reaction and the crisis that people go through, Sue Saunders, the author of 'Infertility: A guide for New Zealanders,' describes infertility as a series of losses:
'The loss of dreams and hopes; the loss of power and control of your life; the loss of autonomy as medical professionals become more involved in your life; the loss of body image and competent functioning; the loss of perceived status in the eyes of others; the loss of security and stability within life and the important loss of self-esteem. All these losses need to be acknowledged and worked through to resolve the grief that accompanies infertility."
Several couples are quoted in the book, including a male who wrote in his journal:
"For 12 months I have been on an involuntary emotional rollercoaster. My life was picked up and smashed on the ground, what I had expected and taken for granted was thrown away. Forever since, I have been trying to put back together what remains....It has taken me a long time going through my emotions to realise what I can do....Just as the branches on a tree are strengthened by a strong wind, so should life's hard knocks enrich and strengthen our lives. Don't let infertility break you."
The thing he found helpful was to control the stress by yelling, crying, running and gardening. The other things he found useful were getting counselling and meeting others in the same situation.
One of the greatest ways to deal with infertility is to be informed and talk about it. This is not always easy or comfortable. If you are dealing with infertility you might find it helpful to:
- talk to friends and family who are supportive
- see a counsellor to talk through your feelings and options
- talk to someone else who has been through what you are going through and understands.