A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that she and her fiancé were wondering about what types of things they need to consider (medically speaking) as they get ready to plan a family. As we chatted about all of the different medical concerns that are part of the world of infertility, it got me thinking about the things that I wish I had known before my infertility journey began. Things that, perhaps, could have helped me to waste less time in my search for a resolution. If you are under 35 years of age, a doctor will not generally see you for infertility until you have tried to conceive for at least one year. If you are over 35 years of age, you may be seen for infertility after 6 months of trying. But when you want a baby, and month after month yields only negative results, six months to a year can feel like an eternity! Our first official year of trying was, for me, a living hell! I kept feeling like there was something more I could do to help our situation, yet I could not get any official medical advice because we had not been trying long enough!
But there are some things you can do during – or even before – your first year of trying to conceive (TTC) that will help speed up the process when you are ready to grow your family. Although I am not a doctor or medical expert, I do want to share some things that I have learned along the way that could help anyone who fears the potential inability to conceive. Please remember that these are my thoughts and experiences, each infertility journey is different, and you always need to consult with your doctor before making serious decisions about your health. Here are five of the things that I wish I had known, before we began trying to conceive.
I wish I had known that hormonal birth control can actually harm future fertility.
My friend and I discussed the sad hilarity of the fact that when you are in high school, your sex-ed class scares you into believing that you can get pregnant at any time! The result is that there are millions of women who think it is easier to get pregnant than it actually is, causing them to use forms of birth control that could actually (temporarily or permanently) prevent them from becoming pregnant in the future!
The truth is that you can only get pregnant in the days leading up to and the day of or right after ovulation. Ovulation happens when your ovary releases an egg into your fallopian tubes. The egg only lives between 12 and 24 hours. Your partner’s sperm, on the other hand, can live between 3 and 5 days! Therefore, the best time for conception is 5 days before ovulation, the day of ovulation, and the day right after ovulation. Knowing this would have helped me, because I would have just kept track of my cycles – instead of using harmful birth control pills that may have contributed to my problems with infertility!
I wish I had known how to track my cycles.
If you know how to read your body, then you may suspect infertility long before you are at the point where you want to try for children. It is helpful to learn what the different types of vaginal discharge indicate. If your menstrual cycles are too short (21 days or less from the start of one period to the start of another), this may suggest hormonal deficiencies or luteal phase defect. If there are more than 35 days from the start of one period to the start of another period, this may indicate that you do not ovulate, or that you ovulate irregularly. Keeping track of whether you spot or bleed between periods, and of whether your periods are heavy, painful, or irregular can help also. In my case, my short (24 day) menstrual cycles were indicating a progesterone deficiency – something I probably could have taken care of long before trying to grow our family. By using information gained through discharge observations, awareness of menstruation, and through charting your basal body temperatures – you can become familiar with your body’s patterns and find potential concerns to resolve before you begin trying to conceive. And by having an awareness of any potential concerns, you are better able to advocate for yourself when you are finally able to see a doctor.
I wish I had known how many different aspects of your life can be related to infertility.
There are some obvious factors of infertility – like past sexual trauma, sexually transmitted infections, or past abortion – but there are some more subtle factors as well. Do you clean your cat’s litter-box? Do you eat a lot of soy products? What kinds of products do you use to clean your home? These subtle factors will not affect everyone who is trying to conceive, but these are things that a person who is TTC should be aware of.
I wish I had known (earlier) about a good infertility support group.
It wasn’t until three and a half years into our infertility journey that I found any sort of support and/or infertility resources. I am so grateful for my group of gals who are a wealth of information and have really helped me to make good medical and life-habit decisions. Having a support group also helps you to sort through all of the various aspects of infertility – the emotions, the medical testing, the insurance questions, the “let’s try this and see if it works” diet, exercise, and intercourse ideas. There will be so much symptom-spotting and bodily changes that you go through as you try different medicines and treatment plans. There are so many questions that you will have about different diagnostic procedures and surgeries – and you can glean from the experience and wisdom that the women in a support group will be able to give you! If you are facing infertility – don’t do it alone! The knowledge you gain in a support group may actually help you to get pregnant faster!
I wish I had known how expensive infertility-related tests and treatments would be!
If you think you may be facing infertility, now is a good time to check with your insurance to find out what they do (and more likely what they don’t) cover. Since infertility is not considered to be “life-threatening,” insurance companies do not always cover infertility related costs. In addition, we live in a culture where pregnancy is seen as a “disease” or something to be avoided – as opposed to being the natural state of a healthy, sexually active woman. Insurance companies, for the mots part, have taken on the attitude that pregnancy is to be avoided (notice that most insurance will cover birth control, but not the costs of helping you achieve a pregnancy). Search for an insurance plan that will help cover your infertility costs, save money like crazy, and/or live in one of the fifteen states where at least partial insurance for infertility is mandated! In my experience, though, even in a state where infertility coverage is mandated, all of your expenses still may not be covered!
Here is a list of some of the tests you may need for an infertility diagnosis:
- Hysterosalpingogram (HSG) / Hysteroscopy (to check for tubal blockages or uterine deformities).
- Pelvic/Transvaginal Ultrasounds.
- Bloodwork to test hormonal levels.
- Postcoital testing (to test how seminal and cervical fluids react to one another).
- Laparoscopy/Endometrial Biopsy (to diagnose, remove, and test endometriosis/endometrial lining).
- Semen Analysis.
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone tests.
- Anti-Mullerian Hormone Levels test (to check egg quality).
Not all women will undergo each test, and this is by no means an exhaustive list of the different types of testing available. In the meantime, while you wait to begin TTC – learn to pay attention to your body, eat well, exercise regularly, drink enough water, and avoid toxins to be in the best shape for the beginning of your TTC journey!
Baby dust to you!
If you struggle with infertility, what are some things you wish you’d known beforehand?