This post is part of our ongoing Five Questions With series, in which we interview a pregnancy, postpartum, or baby health and wellness expert on their particular area of focus. Is there an individual or topic you’d like to see featured in “Five Questions With”? Send us an e-mail.
As a part of our efforts this month to bring you information related to infertility and preconception health, we reached out to RESOLVE and asked them a few of our biggest questions. One in eight U.S. couples of childbearing age has trouble conceiving or sustaining a pregnancy, so chances are that you know someone who is having this experience right now.
We asked Rebecca Flick, Vice President, Communications and Programs for RESOLVE to answer five questions, so that we might better understand the essential issues surrounding infertility.
What is infertility and how common is it?
Infertility is a disease that results in the abnormal functioning of the male or female reproductive system. The World Health Organization, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) all recognize infertility as a disease. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse (six months if the woman is over age 35) or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth.
According to the CDC, 7.4 million women in the United States, or 11.9% of women, have received infertility services at some point in their lifetime, and 12% of married women have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy*. Approximately one-third of infertility is attributed to the female partner, one-third attributed to the male partner and one-third is caused by a combination of problems in both partners, or is unexplained (www.asrm.org). As you can see, infertility is much more far-reaching and prevalent than you might typically assume.
What are the most common misconceptions when it comes to infertility?
You can find the most common myths and facts at RESOLVE’s website, but here are a few:
Myth: Infertility is a woman’s problem.
Fact: Infertility is a female problem 35% of the time, a male problem 35% of the time, a combined problem in 20% of cases, and unexplained in 10% of cases. This is why it’s important for BOTH partners to be evaluated during preconception appointments
Myth: If you just relax and take a vacation or stop “trying,” you’ll get pregnant right away.
Fact: Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system. Relaxing may increase your overall quality of life, but the stress you feel are the result of infertility, not the cause of it. Medical techniques have made it easier to diagnose infertility problems, and millions of people require medical treatments to be able to conceive. Only about 5% of couples who don’t seek medical help will spontaneously conceive after a year of infertility.
Myth: My friend adopted a baby and then got pregnant. Maybe that’ll happen to you; plus there’s so many babies out there that need homes.
Fact: This is a painful myth for couples to hear. Studies show that the rate of spontaneous pregnancy after adoption is the same for those who those who do not adopt. Additionally, adoption can be as cost prohibitive as infertility treatments. Also, every couple has a right to grow their family the way that they want to, and each couple comes to these decisions for very personal reasons.
What are options are available if you or a loved one is struggling to build a family?
There are many roads you can take to find a resolution and no two family building journeys are exactly alike.
Some options include: Adoption, Donor (egg, sperm, or embryo), Fertility Medicines, Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), Assisted Reproductive Technology, including In Vitro Fertilization (IVF/ART), Living Childfree, Surrogacy, and Genetic Testing/Screening
Everyone facing infertility deserves access to all family building options. Often access to some options can be hard due to cost, lack of insurance coverage or legislation. Click to learn more about how these factors can impact your decisions.
What can friends/family members/community members do to support someone struggling with infertility?
Don’t try to solve the problem, but show them compassion for how they are feeling. Allow them the space they need from family functions that may celebrate new babies being added to the family. Realize this is a disease with significant impact on their emotional health as well as spirituality, and all too often financially. They may not “look sick” but they are dealing with a disease that is impacting all aspects of their life.
We highlighted several options for actions to take and actions and phrases to avoid in our blog post, “What to Say and What NOT to Say to Couples Facing Infertility,” and you can find more information regarding infertility etiquette on RESOLVE’s website.
What are some of your favorite online resources regarding infertility?
Of course, resolve.org! We have educational information for couples facing infertility and for their support systems. We also have support for helping couples figure out their options for treating infertility, and help with making infertility affordable. We have a list of support groups a professional service directory, as well as events nationwide. If you’re looking to give of your time or money, we have options for that as well!
Related, each year we host National Infertility Awareness Week, and as a part of the events, we host a Bloggers Unite Program to highlight personal stories of infertility. You can read personal stories at infertilityawareness.org.
Another organization I respect is Creating a Family: the National Adoption & Infertility Education Organization, found at creatingafamily.org. They provide resources, education, and online trainings for families and professionals dealing with the issues of adoption and infertility. They attempt to bridge the gap between the academic/research communities and the infertility patient community and the adoptive parent/adoption professional community by publicizing research findings and soliciting participants for future studies in these communities.
A Final Note on Finding Support
According to RESOLVE.org and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, you should seek the care of a specialist if you are unable to achieve pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected intercourse (if the women is under the age of 35), or six months if the women is more than 35 years of age. You should also seek the care of a specialist if you have had more than one miscarriage. For more information, support, and resources, visit RESOLVE.org.
Our Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program is for women in all stages, including preconception. We have many women in the group who are trying to conceive or undergoing fertility treatments. No matter where you are on the journey to motherhood, we exist to bring you information and support you along the way.
*(2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth, CDC)
Photo: Brooke Cagle
Rebecca Flick joined RESOLVE in 2005. Rebecca’s experience as a non-profit professional began in 1998 with the American Occupational Therapy Association and since then she has continued as a strategic communications professional for other non-profits including, the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine and National School Boards Association. She received a BA in Communications from the University of Maryland, College Park and a certificate in Direct Marketing from Virginia Commonwealth University. As VP of Communications and Programs for RESOLVE, Rebecca’s main responsibilities include creating and implementing RESOLVE’s communication plans, signature events (National Infertility Awareness Week and Night of Hope), and online strategies, as well as increasing the infertility community’s engagement in RESOLVE’s volunteer, advocacy and fundraising activities. Rebecca was diagnosed with infertility in 2006. She lives in Leesburg, VA with her husband and 5 year old son.