Myth #1 – I’ll get pregnant as soon as I stop taking birth control. The general population has only a 20% chance of conception each month (each time an egg is released or once per menstrual cycle). When a couple is trying for pregnancy, many will be pregnant after 3-6 months and almost 85-90% will be pregnant after a year. That means 10-15% of the population may have a fertility problem. Don’t fret yet though. Though “infertilty” is a phrase commonly used, it’s misleading. If you aren’t getting pregnant at the rate of the general population, you may simply be “subfertile.” It isn’t necessary to try for a full year before seeking help if you’re concerned, you’re over 35 or you have issues like irregular periods, or a history of endometriosis or fibroids. If you are not getting a period at approximately the same time each month then you may not be releasing an egg. If no egg is being released, you also don’t have a 20% chance of pregnancy each month — you have no chance of pregnancy. While many women with irregular periods may release an egg, it may happen only a few times a year and at irregular intervals.
Myth #2 – I will never get pregnant and I’m almost 30. Or, I have plenty of time to have a child and age isn’t a factor. If you are trying for pregnancy you know how emotional it is and sometimes, you may feel hopeless. The good news is, there are very few conditions that completely block your ability to achieve pregnancy (namely, no sperm or blocked tubes). Most other conditions (irregular periods, PCOS, endometriosis, low sperm counts or motility, etc.) may be contributing factors in fertility, but they do not completely prevent you from achieving pregnancy.
Age and its effect on fertility is worth considering. Fertility peaks in your early to mid-20s and slowly declines from there. And despite how you may feel emotionally about a “big” birthday such as 30, 35 or 40, your ovaries don’t simply stop functioning. Just know, if you are attempting pregnancy over the age of 35 then seeing a fertility specialist after 6 months of trying or less is recommended. A fertility specialist can perform a simple test to determine your “ovarian reserve” and give you an idea of how the ovaries are functioning and how they may respond to fertility medications if needed.
Myth #3 – All my friends are pregnant — am I the only one going through this? It’s hard when you are trying for pregnancy to see pregnant women. And it does seem cruel how women trying for pregnancy seem to induce fertility in those around them and are constantly hearing “we weren’t even trying” or “it was such a surprise.” Hang in there and be kind to yourself, and skip a few baby showers if it helps you through it. With 10-15% of the “pregnancy” population struggling with fertility, you are not alone — the emotional up and down of the monthly try with the hope of ovulation and then let down of getting a period is awful.
Seek out avenues to talk about how difficult the process of trying for pregnancy is — talk to close friends or family, explore national resources online like Resolve, ASRM and AFS for advice, or find a support group in your area (Resolve has a local group in Birmingham). There are also local clinicians, therapists and counselors experienced with helping women cope with the stress of fertility.
Dr. Malizia is a reproductive endocrinologist at Alabama Fertility Specialists. She received her medical degree from the University of North Carolina, performed her OB/GYN residency at UAB, and completed a fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center / Harvard Medical School. Much of her clinical training was at Boston IVF, one of the largest in vitro fertilization programs in the United States. The author of over 20 publications, Dr. Malizia’s research on in vitro fertilization outcomes was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the nation’s premier medical journal. Dr. Malizia spends a lot of time with hopeful couples and in observance of National Infertility month, we’ll be presenting a 3-part series with her on the myths, science and hope involved with trying to conceive. Find Part 2 here and find Part 3 here.