If you’re struggling with infertility, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 2.1 million married couples in the United States are dealing with infertility. It can be a frustrating and even painful situation, but the good news is that modern medical techniques have opened up more options than ever before.
A couple is considered infertile if they haven’t conceived after trying for more than a year. This isn’t unusual — it’s estimated that anywhere from 10–20 percent of couples don’t conceive during their first year of trying — but it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’ve been having unprotected sex for a year without a pregnancy. If the woman is over 35 or if either partner has had fertility problems in the past, you may want to see your doctor at the six-month mark, or even sooner.
Infertility can arise from many different factors, and no one is to blame for it — it’s a disease like any other. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, about a third of cases are the result of female infertility, about a third arise from male infertility, and the remaining third arise from unknown causes or a combination of factors.
Male infertility is most often caused by a low sperm count, or by malformations or poor movement of the sperm. Female infertility is most often caused by damage to the fallopian tubes, ovulation disorders, or endometriosis, a condition in which the uterine lining grows outside the uterus.
Both genders can be affected by stress, extreme weight gain or loss, drug use, smoking, sexually transmitted diseases, or exposure to environmental chemicals.
The first thing your doctor will do is talk to you as a couple. Be prepared for a frank discussion, as your doctor will want to eliminate any possible causes for infertility.
Both members of the couple will have a basic physical. Women will usually have an X-ray of the uterus and fallopian tubes, an ovulation analysis, and a laparoscopy, which is an examination of the inside of the abdomen. Men will usually start with an analysis of their semen.
The best thing you can do to prevent infertility is to practice simple good health habits. Eat well, exercise, stay away from tobacco, and keep yourself at a healthy weight—neither too high nor too low. Avoid drugs, including “performance” drugs like anabolic steroids. It’s also a good idea to practice abstinence or safer sex; multiple partners increase your risk for sexually transmitted diseases, which increase your risk of infertility.