The subject of infertility is a huge one, and is often overwhelming for couples who are experiencing it. Not only is the media and seemingly the whole world full of happy families and babies, but the reasons why this is happening to them often seem to elude the medical profession.
If you're having problems conceiving, read on.
Are you actually infertile?
Although you may suspect earlier than this, it is generally agreed by doctors that a couple is infertile if they have had regular, unprotected sex for twelve months and still not conceived. According to ACCESS, an Australian organisation for those who are childless, around 15 percent of couples have difficulties conceiving.
Sometimes a couple can get pregnant without any problems, but is unable to carry a baby to full-term. This could be because of hormone or auto-immune responses or because of physical issues such as incompetent cervix.
There are various degrees of "infertility": being sterile means that you are totally unable to have children, while various factors can hamper your ability to have children on a "temporary" basis.
What are the main causes of infertility?
The causes are many and various, on both the female and male sides. Sometimes the man's sperm count is too low; sometimes the fallopian tubes are scarred or blocked from a previous infection or ectopic pregnancy; sometimes there is a hormonal imbalance in one or both partners; sometimes lifestyle factors such as diet, drinking and smoking are at fault; often there's no reason at all (that anyone can tell).
If you are struggling to get pregnant, consult your GP, who may be able to refer you for specific tests or to specialist medicine.
Can infertility be "cured"?
Yes and no. Diagnostic tests will be able to determine if there is any physical reason why you can't have children. Operations, for example, may be able to clear fallopian tubes to such an extent that it is possible to conceive. Then there are all of the lifestyle factors to consider. Clean up your diet, make sure you are getting enough of all the right things, reduce your alcohol intake to a minimal level, stop smoking… Even how tight the male partner's underpants are may have an effect on your ability to conceive!
Some couples have reported good results from traditional Chinese medicine or acupuncture. Other couples may prefer to become parents through the adoption process, or to foster children.
Of course, there is a whole range of fertility treatments that may be offered to couples. Often these are referred to as IVF, or in-vitro fertilisation. In fact, this is just one of the techniques of which infertile couples may be able to take advantage. ninemsn Health will examine these different techniques in subsequent articles.
Some couples, after exploring all of their avenues, decide not to pursue the idea of having children any further and follow other dreams, painful though this process may be.
What are the emotional effects of infertility?
Many couples who wish to have children find their infertility devastating. While on the one hand there is often hope for future treatments, particularly at the beginning of the process, there is often insufferable depression when treatments don't work, when children surround them in society or when friends or family become pregnant, seemingly without effort. Furthermore, couples may feel dehumanised endless rounds of testing, of having sex at the "right time", of taking temperatures, of testing ovulation, of having their reproductive organs examined… all these things and more can affect a couple's ability to cope.
How can I help someone who's infertile?
The main way in which you can help is by being sensitive to other peoples' feelings. Everyone is different, but avoiding flippant jokes or asking when they are going to have a baby is always a start. If you are pregnant or have children, be aware of the fact that a couple may be upset by this and don’t take it personally if they don't want to be around you. Some of the sites below offer further advice.
Where can I find more information on infertility?
Take a look at ACCESS, which has a website at http://www.access.org.au/. They also have useful advice for people whose friends or family members are inexperiencing infertility, and useful things that they can say or do.
More information can be found here: http://www.infertility.net.au/ . This site also includes advice on ways that you may be able to help yourself.