A look at fertility struggles and what today’s couples need to know
One of the hottest topics in the parenting circuit today stem from the challenges some couples face before the baby is born.
Fertility challenges affect 1 in 8 American couples, according to the American Fertility Association (AFA) and is a subject that is gaining more popularity, as more families and even celebrities such as Giuliana Rancic, Khloe Kardashian, Nicole Kidman and Mariah Carey are willing to discuss the challenges and treatments.
Though many think that fertility problems are just for first-time parents, more than one million couples who already have children experience infertility when they want to add to their families, according to the National Survey of Family Growth, and is something that everyone who wants children needs to be aware of.
When it comes to fertility — whether it’s your first child or your fourth — most doctors agree that time is of the essence.
“Women absolutely need to be aware of their biological clock,” said Corey Whelan, program manager for the AFA. “That is the place where most women tend to get blindsided.” Whelan explained that the biological clock for most women tends to take a dip at around age 27 and is significantly reduced after the age of 35. However, in recent years, because women are more successful than ever in the workplace as owners, directors and CEOs, more and more women are putting their careers as priorities in place of starting their own family. When it’s time for the family life to take priority over their careers, they are disappointed to learn that it’s not always easy to get pregnant.
Jenny C of Irvine was one woman who waited. After finishing graduate school at 32, she and her husband began trying to get pregnant and much to her surprise, after a year, she wasn’t pregnant. She sought out a specialist and was told her FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone — the hormone that helps regulate the reproductive processes of the body) level mimicked that of a 90-year-old woman. The normal FSH level for a reproductive woman is between 5 and 10. Since Jenny’s FSH number was at 99, she was turned away from many in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment centers because doctors did not think they would be able to help her with such few eggs.
This news for Jenny was devastating, “It made me feel like I wasn’t a good wife. I was considering divorcing my husband because I felt like I didn’t have anything to offer,” she explained. Jenny was advised to try an egg donor by almost every doctor she saw, but she was unwilling to give up on her dream of creating life. “The doctors didn’t understand that to us, using an egg donor is totally different. They made it seem like it was driving a different brand of car,” explained Jenny. “But for me, I was hoping to see my biological child.”
In a Hail Mary attempt to try getting pregnant with her own eggs before trying an egg donor, she contacted Dr. Frank Yelian M.D., Ph.D, medical director at Live IVF, a fertility center in Irvine, who was the first doctor to agree to try IVF with Jenny. “The FSH is only a number that indicates the eggs that remain in the ovary, but it has no correlation with egg quality,” explained Dr. Yelian. “The FHS level can be high but if you’re young and you have regular periods, you may be able to produce good quality eggs,” he added.
After a few cycles of IVF with Doctor Yelian, Jenny became pregnant with twins. “Jenny has a condition called premature ovarian failure which means her ovarian function is very poor. But, we were able to get two or three eggs and make embryos. She resolved successful delivery of twins.” For Jenny, it was a thrill of a lifetime. “It was surreal. I was overjoyed. It felt like a dream come true,” she said. She now has a boy and a girl twins that are 18-months old, happy and healthy.
Like Jenny and her husband, and in most cases, a couple will be labeled infertile after a year of trying and will seek a fertility specialist at that point. However, Whelan believes in taking a more aggressive approach. “If you are over the age of 30 and you know you don’t have endometriosis, I would wait 6 to 8 months before seeking a fertility specialist. If you’re over the age of 30, I would say 4 to 6 months,” she said. “I know that is much more aggressive than what is typically quoted, but I feel very strongly that the emotional toll from the time you’re waiting is very high.”
Dr. Yelian agrees with Whelan that when it comes to reproduction.”I see too many couples that spent years consulting with their OB-Gyn, family doctor or other things that are not very efficient. They end up seeing their fertility doctor very late,” he explained. He added, “Women need to be knowledgeable, understand their own cause for infertility and seek fertility specialists sooner rather than later.”
IVF and other fertility treatments can be very costly— an average cost for treatment is approximately $12,000 and for egg donors it can be as high as $40,000 — so it’s not always the first thing most couples jump to. For couples trying to get pregnant naturally, one tip that Whelan gives is to use an at-home ovulation predictor kit. “In the early stages, if you use an Ovulation Predictor Kit, you can at least zero in on your most fertile time. That in and of itself can be very helpful to most women. But, if you are over the age of 35 certainly don’t do that for too long.” Though, if a couple has been trying for between 4 months to a year, depending on age and circumstance, it’s a good idea to look into a specialist.
When it comes to choosing a fertility specialist, Whelan believes women should first look for doctors who are board certified as reproductive endocrinologists. She also made mention that women should check out infertility message boards and Facebook pages to ask other women about their experiences. Erin Martin of Hunting Beach who faced first time and secondary fertility challenges before having two sons explained that finding the right doctor as soon as possible is one of the hardest, yet most important decisions for women facing fertility challenges. “The most difficult part was knowing which doctor to use. I think many people waste years at the gynecologist — and that’s the thing, time is of an essence nowadays. Don’t just wait and let the doctors treat you. If you think there’s something wrong you need to research and interview different doctors and see what they have to offer you,” she said. She added, “I think that was the hardest decision because once you do pick a doctor you really have to rely on them to make the best decisions for you.”
Though every woman’s body is different, Whelan says that women should be aware if they have irregular periods or other hormonal issues. She also mentions that a woman’s lifestyle can be a detriment to her fertility status. “If you’re overweight, smoke, or do recreational drugs or drink too much alcohol, all those things can adversely affect your fertility,” explained Whelan. She then elaborated on a common misconception that eating well, exercising and maintaining good overall health will help prolong your fertility status. “There’s no food you can eat that will give you good eggs. Healthy lifestyle helps, but it won’t elongate the biological clock,” noted Whelan.
Fertility challenges can be some of the most painful and frustrating challenges for women and men alike, but those who have been through it successfully believe in staying positive. Martin said, “My biggest advice for people is to keep trying. You have to keep trying and have faith.”