“One in eight women and one in ten men have experienced infertility, yet nearly half of them have not sought medical help.”
The study, recently published in Human Reproduction, one of the world’s leading reproductive medicine journals, looked at a sample of 15,000 women and men. It went on to say that the reasons people didn’t seek help included not understanding or acknowledging that a problem exists, fear of being labeled infertile, the costs and burden of treatment, or not wanting to get pregnant.
Infertility is clearly a prevalent issue, but how many of us are thinking about it? To find out, we shared the study’s findings and asked women in their twenties to respond with their initial reactions. More than half were surprised and worried by these results. About a third were not surprised. And some already know they are experiencing infertility. Just about everyone shared that they like the idea of fertility becoming a more acceptable conversation topic, something we can all support each other in. Here’s what they had to say.
Most aren’t trying to get pregnant but are still worried about infertility.
"I'm not sexually active and I'm not in the process of trying to get pregnant; however infertility is always in the back of my mind. My greatest hope is to have kids and the fear of that never coming to fruition is heartbreaking already. Infertility has been a big issue for a few of my aunts and family friends and the struggle of not conceiving is hard on relationships. Therefore, I always think in my own relationships. Would they still marry me and love me if I couldn't bear a child?"
"I don't want children, but there has been a fear of infertility since I was young. I had ovarian cysts since I was 2, paired with constant UTIs in elementary school to high school, and eating disorders for 10 years. They all left my chances of conceiving pretty low. That fear of infertility probably plays a large role in my willingness to be child-free, but I wouldn't say it was the pivotal, defining moment in that decision. I am not planning on any fertility tests or checkups, partly because I'm not trying to get pregnant, but also because I don't want the official label of ‘infertile,’ which seems contrary. But there's a real difference between not having kids because it's my choice and not being able to have kids."
"I am 26 and single, yet my fertility is something that worries me. I've seen the statistics on how much fertility drops after 30 and 35, and in a time when women are pushing back the ages at which they get married and start families, those are scary numbers. Further, I've never had regular hormones or periods, so it has long since been in the back of my mind that my body might struggle with getting pregnant someday. I remind myself of the ‘someday’ part all the time and try to put it out of my worries, but as someone who cares deeply about having a family in the future, it's hard to not have anxiety about the topic."
There is hope in infertility.
"I have several friends who have or are currently struggling with infertility, almost mainly caused by PCOS. At first I didn't think about it much, but once I was diagnosed with it, it helped to know that I wasn't alone and that there were other women who understand how hopeless and inadequate it can make you feel."
"My husband and I dealt with it for nearly two years. I sought medical treatment for the issue; however, nothing worked. At first, I felt like something was missing because I couldn’t get pregnant. However, I found solace in looking at it fatalistically, and I know that what makes me a woman has nothing to do with my ability or inability to have children. Now, we spend our time focusing on the things we can do rather than the things we can’t."
"After getting married over a year ago and being open to children right away, my husband and I have not yet conceived. This is stressful and sad at times, but what makes me most distressed is the pressure from relatives and others who seem to jump to the conclusion that we must be "broken" and need fixing if we can't conceive as soon as we wish to. The truth is that it takes many couples a long time to conceive, and I think more awareness of that is important. It doesn't always mean something is wrong when couples don't conceive within a few months of trying."
Many wish women struggling with infertility would seek medical help.
"I think infertility is something that, on the whole, women (and men) don't talk about enough. I suspect that, like miscarriages, infertility still carries a stigma, despite it being more common than most might expect."
"When I was younger, I thought I might have premature menopause and that terrified me. Fertility problems can affect so much more than your ability to have children. The insulin resistance of PCOS can, if not kept in check, lead to type 2 diabetes. It's definitely worth it to make sure your body is working correctly."
"Fertility problems—and female health in general—needs to be a topic of open discussion, free of stigmas and shame so that infertile women, as well as infertile men, feel able and at ease to seek help, if desired."
"It is upsetting to me that a woman would not seek help for her infertility. Women should not be made to feel less because of their inability to bear children. Bearing children is a very beautiful gift many woman have been given, but it is not a means to measure the worthiness, wholeness, or perfection of a woman."
Others are motivated to learn more about their own body and fertility.
"I came to realize in college that, although I wasn’t trying to get pregnant, knowing about my fertility could still benefit my bodily and mental health and help me plan for the future. I continue to learn about my fertility in practical ways—charting with apps and being aware of what my body tells me. Learning about my fertility has helped me understand my body so that, if a problem should arise, I can know how to deal with it effectively."
"I certainly think the more educated we are about our bodies, the better. I started seeing a gynecologist when I was in high school and have kept up with appointments ever since. There's nothing to fear about owning knowledge about your own body. Sure, you might sometimes face setbacks, but it's better than living in the dark about your own health. That only creates more problems."
But many feel that the medical community should help women in better understanding her fertility.
"Fertility, or infertility, has never been a topic of discussion between me and my gynecologist. Do I need to be concerned at my age, and should I take precautions? If so, what measures should I take? Is it better to know now or later? I think about these things quite often, surprisingly, as a late-twenties lady. And I never realized I wanted kids until the possibility of not having them presented itself."
"I recently read Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler and was blown away by how little I knew about my own body. It seems that many women who struggle with infertility may not be infertile at all, but they may be misinformed about how ovulation works and what factors can delay ovulation. The medical community seems to be stuck on the 28-day cycle as the norm, but that isn't the case for every woman. If all women knew how to recognize signs of fertility beyond counting days on the calendar, would we have fewer infertility issues?"
"Like the study shares, infertility is defined as 'unsuccessfully trying to become pregnant for a year or longer.' So if a woman decides to become pregnant, she will obviously stop using birth control, but then what? If she doesn't get pregnant within that year, she has the personal stresses and frustration that come with that, and then her doctor labels her as "infertile" which just adds more emotional and physical stress to the desiring mom-to-be. It's extremely unfortunate, but I also think with the right fertility treatment, patience, and knowing your body better, a lot of the heartache can be avoided."
"What concerns me most is that couples may not know how to track female fertility and possibly solve the root problem. It seems the media would have us think IVF is the only way to go, but that can cause a great deal of heartache as well."
"The figures do surprise me slightly, and mainly they make me angry all over again that we were not taught in a better way about fertility, and about our individual bodies and how to better understand them. We are taught how to fit into a mold, rather than truly trying to help us understand the unique individuality of each human person."
"Since deciding to use non-hormonal birth control, I learned about signs of fertility and observed my inconsistencies cycle to cycle. After learning more about my own fertility and possible issues, I also discovered it is not easy to get medical help. I believe the medical community’s strong opinions on what is effective birth control can become a barrier to women learning about their fertility until they want to conceive. Fertility should be a conversation between spouses and medical providers in which there are multiple options for achieving the reproductive goal; regardless of whether it is to avoid or achieve pregnancy."
Some are now inspired to open up about infertility.
"I am glad it is finally becoming part of larger conversations as many suffering from it need to know that they are not alone."
"One in eight and one in ten are a lot of people experiencing infertility, so why are we so afraid to talk about it? These numbers make me realize that there are probably a lot of people out there who need help (at least emotionally) who aren’t getting it."
"Until my friends started trying and struggling to have a baby, I never really thought about infertility. I thought it was only an issue for a select few, but I started to see in friends' lives how prevalent of an issue it was. As a young married woman whom you could label as having "baby fever," it's definitely something I think about now. I'm glad to be aware that others struggle in this area so that I feel that I have others to sympathize with if it is a problem for me."
"If I am in community of "perfect, happy mothers" who seem to have never struggled with this, knowing that it is a common struggle and where to begin would help me be able to open up to and be supported by my community and not alienate myself."
"Reading the Verily posts on this topic has helped me better understand the spectrum of fertility and given me courage to seek help should my husband and I have difficulty conceiving. I have also started to ponder more deeply how I have connected my identity to my fertility and the implications of that."
Wherever your opinions lie on the spectrum, these reactions indicate we can agree on one thing: it's time we start thinking and talking about infertility more honestly and openly. It's not an easy conversation to have, but it's also way too important to be swept under the rug.
What are your thoughts on the results of this study? Has infertility touched your life or someone you know? Are there things you wish you could tell your friends about how they could support you with your own fertility struggles? Let's open up the conversation by sharing our stories in the comments below.
Photo Credit: Vicki Grafton