By Chicago Health
With 7.4 million women experiencing infertility—approximately 286,860 in Illinois—infertility is a national issue that affects one in eight couples, regardless of age or race.
For those who long for a child, an infertility diagnosis is devastating, and going through fertility treatment can prove a challenge physically, emotionally and financially.
“We’ve come a long way in building infertility awareness, and people of all ages have never been as empowered with information,” says Jane Nani, MD, of Fertility Centers of Illinois (FCI). “But we still have a long way to go in terms of medical insurance coverage and reduced stigma of infertility.”
FCI treats thousands of patients each year, offering a comprehensive range of fertility treatment options including intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization, donor egg, gestational carrier, and preimplantation genetic diagnosis as well as extensive resources to address financial and emotional needs.
Nani asked patients what they wish others knew about infertility and received the following responses.
- “Infertility is a medical condition like diabetes, a disease like cancer.”
Infertility is a disease and is medically recognized as such by the World Health Organization, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Infertility is defined as being unable to achieve a pregnancy after one year of trying to conceive if a woman is under 35 years of age, or after six months if a woman is over 35 years of age.
- “Insurance companies usually don’t cover fertility treatments.”
State law requiring insurance companies to cover fertility treatments, and the quantity and details of that coverage, varies across the country. Illinois has an insurance mandate that requires insurance to cover fertility treatments, but there are exceptions. Religious employers, employers with fewer than 25 employees and employers who self-insure are not required to provide infertility coverage. The insurance mandate covers up to four egg retrievals with a lifetime max of six egg retrievals.
- “It takes a toll on you and all of your relationships.”
One study found that couples were three times more likely to break up after unsuccessful fertility treatment. Research has shown anxiety and depression levels in women with infertility are the same as women with cancer, heart disease and HIV+ status. There is no doubt that infertility treatment can cause a strain in personal health and relationships, and many couples choose to see a fertility counselor for treatment and perspective.
- “Getting pregnant isn’t always as easy as you think.”
It takes most couples six months to become pregnant. The odds of pregnancy in any given month are roughly 15 percent for women in their early 30s, then decline to 10 percent after age 35 and 5 percent over age 40.
- “It’s more common than you realize.”
According to RESOLVE, the national infertility association, approximately one in eight couples have difficulty conceiving. In Illinois, about 286,860 women in Illinois have experienced “physical difficulty in getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to live birth.”
- “It’s an emotional roller coaster.”
Going through infertility is stressful and can be difficult emotionally; studies document this fact. A scientific study found that women whose enzyme levels of alpha-amylase (a stress-related substance) were in the highest third had more than double the risk of infertility. The good news is that participating in stress-reduction techniques can help significantly. In a Harvard Medical School study with women who had fertility problems, 55 percent of women who completed a 10-week course of relaxation training and stress reduction were pregnant within a year, compared to 20 percent of the group who did not take the course.
- “Infertility affects young couples, too.”
While age and its relationship to diminishing fertility rates are common knowledge, it is important to note that infertility happens to young couples as well. In the latest data provided by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, there were 174,962 in vitro fertilization cycles in 2013, and 21 percent (36,958) were couples under the age of 35.
- “Support from family and friends means a lot.”
Sadly, some patients are unable to share their journey with loved ones due to the religious or personal beliefs of family and friends. To protect themselves and their future children, they stay silent. Having a support network is critical for patients with infertility. They need someone to take a call and listen after hearing bad news, and someone to offer hope and love when times are tough. There are infertility support groups as well as classes and seminars that can help patients if they do not have the support they need.
- “PCOS is a silent fertility disease. It can affect skinny or fat women.”
Studies have shown that 70 percent of women who have difficulty ovulating have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome—a health issue that affects as many as five million women in the United States. Infertility, irregular or absent periods and weight gain are three of the most common symptoms of PCOS, but not all women with PCOS are overweight. Through diet and exercise, symptoms of PCOS can be greatly lessened.
- “It’s OK to talk about it. We’re not looking for answers, just a shoulder to cry on.”
Many patients emphasize how alone and isolated they feel while they are going through treatment. They often stay silent to protect themselves from hurtful comments, insensitive statements and harsh judgment. The best thing to do to help someone going through infertility is to listen and ask what you can do to show your support.