Infertility is one of the most trying and emotional issues that a couple can confront. It is also one of the most misunderstood. Here, local infertility experts uncover some common misconceptions.
Age Doesn’t Matter If You’re Healthy
“To tell a 40-year-old, ‘You look great so therefore you’ve got great eggs,’ is not actually biologically based,” says Dr. Alan Copperman, a reproductive endocrinologist with Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, which treats patients with infertility. As Dr. Copperman explains, a woman is born with all of her eggs, and the quality of those eggs inevitably decline over time. Women often have the impression that fertility drugs can somehow reverse this aging process, says Dr. John Zhang, director of New Hope Fertility Center in New York, whereas the truth is that fertility drugs cannot improve egg quality. Gina Bartasi, founder and CEO of Fertility Authority, a website dedicated to educating men and women about fertility, encourages young women to take a proactive approach toward their fertility. If you have trouble conceiving after age 35, she recommends seeing a specialist as soon as possible.
The Mind-Body Connection
Dr. Zhang says that mind and body “work together,” and a patient’s mental state should not be ignored when it comes to treating infertility. “It’s also not [the case] that you can just relax and everything will be fine.” Dr. Copperman agrees, stating that “the only thing that [telling a woman to relax] really does is make her feel guilty, like she’s in control, when ultimately getting pregnant or not getting pregnant is related to a healthy egg being fertilized by a healthy sperm and implanting in a normal uterus.
Infertility Is Just A Woman’s Issue
Bartasi says that calling infertility a “women’s issue” is a “huge misconception,” and that the emotional consequences related to infertility can be just as difficult for men. Dr. Copperman emphasizes that while one of the most important things is not to “assign blame” when diagnosing infertility, it is both philosophically and statistically “a couple’s problem.” In other words, almost equally, there is a male and a female contribution to the difficulty in conceiving.
You Are Your Mother’s Daughter
In general, there is no correlation between your mother’s infertility and your own ability to conceive. Dr. Copperman notes that there are exceptions, including families with a history of certain conditions that may affect a woman’s fertility like severe endometriosis, fibroid uteri, and premature menopause. Likewise, says Dr. Copperman, “the converse is not necessarily true;” just because your mother, sisters and aunts had no trouble getting pregnant, does not mean that you will have the same experience.
Second Time’s A Charm
“They say that in mutual funds, past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future results. It’s the same thing in reproduction,” says Dr. Copperman. He notes that secondary infertility—or experiencing problems conceiving a second child, though not a first child— is “an extremely common problem.” Not only does “the body . . . not remember how it got pregnant,” but Copperman says that “in some ways it becomes harder [to get pregnant the second time] because inevitably the woman is a year or two older than when she conceived the first time.”
Fertility Treatments Always Result in Multipleand Premature Births
Multiple births have been in the news a lot lately because of the highly publicized mother of octuplets, Nadya Suleman. Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, director of The Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College, does not consider the story to be an accurate (or helpful) reflection on the state of infertility treatment.”The ultimate desired outcome of fertility treatment is to have a healthy child, and [no physician] would feel that six, seven, or eight babies at a time is good for the health of either the babies or the mother.” Dr. Edith McCarthy, a pediatrician and founder of Care Intensive Pediatrics, which provides medical care to infants and children who required neonatal intensive care at birth, explains that the regulations provided by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology help prevent high-order multiple births. These regulations both limit the number of embryos that can be implanted and require infertility clinics to make certain information publicly available so that “it’s not about the success rate of [the] clinic, but clearly about bringing healthy children into the world.”
If you’re interested in reading more about infertility, consider “Everything Conceivable: How the Science of Assisted Reproduction Is Changing Our World,” by journalist Liza Mundy. In the book, Mundy explores the impact—good and bad—of the infertility industry through in-depth interviews with doctors, families, sperm and egg donors, infertile men and women, and adult children conceived through surrogacy and in vitro fertilization.