Is Time On Your Side? When To Seek Help From A Fertility Expert
A year into their marriage, Megan O’Neil and her husband bought their first house, and they soon decided the décor lacked a special something. As O’Neil puts it, “We decided to not try to not have a baby. If it happened, great, but we weren’t going to stress out over it.”
She excitedly shared her plans with a co-worker, who smiled “knowingly” and said, “Yeah, that’s what we thought,’” then went on to relate a tale of years of heartache, ending with her current consult with a fertility specialist. “I nodded politely and thanked her for the heads-up, all the while thinking, that that was her, not me,” recalls O’Neil. “After all, we were a healthy couple. I was young–just 25 at the time–with no history of gynecological problems. Besides, how hard was this getting pregnant thing, really? I mean, come on. You have sex, you get pregnant, end of story.”
As O’Neil soon learned, for some couples this can be the beginning, not the end, of the story.
How Common Are Fertility Issues?
Dr. Angeline N. Beltsos, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at the Fertility Centers of Illinois, notes that about 85% of couples wishing to conceive a baby will do so within six to twelve months. What about that remaining 15%? “There are lots of options available for treatment, and with those, there are good successes,” assures Beltsos. These options range from hormonal treatments, surgery to unblock fallopian tubes, and higher-tech methods including in vitro fertilization, where a woman’s egg is fertilized outside her body and then re-implanted. “The success rates run around 40-50% among all age groups, on average, with every in vitro fertilization attempt,” says Beltsos.
Factors Affecting Fertility
Okay, so the odds are in your favor. When is it time to ask for help? The answer depends upon how long you’ve been trying for a baby, your age, and your health history.
The cutoff age for worrying is about 35. In general, experts like Beltsos advise women younger than this and in good gynecological health to consult a specialist after a year of baby-making attempts, while those closer to 40 should wait only six months.
Beltsos says that age is one of the trickier limitations for women to understand, often through no fault of their own. “The media tells people, ‘There’s the movie star that’s 50 and got pregnant,’ she says. “But those are women who are using donor eggs with in vitro [fertilization]. Unfortunately, it gives this false impression that we can have babies any time we want with our own eggs. We as women are not built that way; we have a reproductive time in our life when we can get pregnant.”
Then there’s health history. At risk are women who have had abdominal surgery or previous infections like chlamydia or pelvic inflammatory disease, due to the risk of blocked fallopian tubes. Women who have experienced multiple miscarriages should also see a fertility specialist when they plan to try for another baby, advises Beltsos.
Anyone with a chronic health condition such as heart disease or diabetes should consider a reproductive health assessment as well. However, Beltsos notes this typically isn’t cause for concern in terms of fertility. “Anyone with medical problems or conditions [should] make sure they’re well-controlled and on medications that are safe for pregnancy.”
Finding the Right Specialist For You
So, let’s say you know your health history, have assessed your risk for infertility, and have been trying to conceive for six to twelve months. What’s your next move? Dr. Beltsos says the first point of contact is often your gynecologist, who can then refer you to a fertility specialist known as a reproductive endocrinologist. Beltsos also suggests contacting the American Infertility Association and Resolve, a national fertility support group, and to try your local hospital for referrals to qualified specialists.
Be sure to check with your health insurance provider before seeking a specialist, to ensure you receive a referral that’s within your insurance company’s network of physicians. O’Neil did this, and received three recommendations for in-network specialists. Keep in mind that not all fertility treatments are covered by all insurance plans, so it’s in your best interest to do your homework before proceeding.
On Becoming an Infomaniac
Beltsos stresses that an informed mother-to-be has the best odds of all, because this will encourage taking action sooner rather than later. “Raising women’s level of consciousness is very important,” says Beltsos. “Women are different than men; we have a clock that ends, and men don’t.” With this information at hand, she adds that people might then “be as aggressive about starting a family as they are about a career if it’s what they want.”
O’Neil enthusiastically affirms the need for women to arm themselves with info. “If you’re just getting started on the path to baby-making, save yourself the time of ‘hit or miss’ conception tactics. Get educated on how your body works.” O’Neil also recommends seeking support and preliminary information online (consult your doctors for the facts if you’re not sure about what you read on the ‘Net). She joined an e-mail infertility support group, where the members validated her feelings and also highly recommended the popular book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Wechsler. O’Neil studied it like a student driven for the honor roll.
“You never think that you’ll have problems conceiving until you do,” says O’Neil, who endured fertility treatments and a failed IVF before unexpectedly conceiving her son two years after giving up hope that she’d ever become a mom. “You don’t search out more information until you go a few months without a second line on the pregnancy test. Then you read. You listen. You learn.”
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