Today marks the start of National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW). It’s important for women to know the chance of infertility is higher or lower depending on your age. Generally, 35 years old is the magic number.
As an obstetrics and gynecology physician, I’ve studied a lot about infertility and the factors involved with it over the years. At the end of the day there are so many things we don’t know about the pregnancy process.
We do know that women over age 35 have a 10 percent to 12 percent higher risk of infertility than women under age 35. There are risk factors, other than age, that can cause infertility. If you smoke, it can change the way the ovarian tubes carry the egg, which is a huge part of the pregnancy process.
Being overweight can also inhibit a woman’s ability to ovulate. It’s important to talk to your male partner about family history and if he had any surgeries or complications as a child.
If you are under 35 years old, we recommend letting you try to get pregnant for at least one year. Ninety percent of the time, couples will get pregnant within a year. If you are over 35 years old, there is a greater risk of infertility. After approximately six months with no success getting pregnant, we move to the evaluation stage.
Evaluation is the beginning in a timeline of treatment we follow. In vitro fertilization is almost always the last step in the process. On a very basic level, you have to have an egg and a sperm come together. For men, a semen analysis is done, and we make sure she is ovulating. After that, we check the ovarian tubes and might do an ultrasound to check for uterine abnormalities.
I got married at age 35 and knew my husband and I might be at risk for infertility. We were still hopeful it would be easy to get pregnant. It turns out getting pregnant was not going to be easy. We tried for about six months without success and decided to get an evaluation. The tests showed nothing abnormal – for both of us. Then it was on to Charleston to see an infertility specialist to get another evaluation. Still, tests showed nothing abnormal.
It was frustrating at times to see my patients pregnant and others who weren’t even trying but were pregnant. I felt like I was trying so hard naturally. As an OB/GYN, I like to think I know about this process. From the beginning, my husband and I were very open about the challenge of us getting pregnant. Being open helped us to get support from family, friends and my patients. More than four years into our journey, it was time to try in vitro fertilization (IVF).
For many people, IVF has a stigma, but it shouldn’t. IVF is much more regulated now than it used to be. Most of the time only one embryo is used, while they used to transfer several at a time. The risk of twins and multiple gestations has really decreased because of improved technology and outcomes with just one embryo.
It was a very long journey to get to the point of IVF. We were successful with the first round of IVF treatment, and I gave birth to our first child, Stanton. By this point I was 39, so six months after that, we did a second round of IVF and nine months later I had my daughter, Meredith.It was a very long journey to get to the point of IVF, but once we made the decision to do it, we were very happy.
It made me a much better doctor, because I know what these patients are going through. I understood how difficult the process can be and also how it can be so successful.
I feel like I can really give my patients hope where sometimes other doctors can’t, because I’ve experienced it firsthand. It makes it easier to talk specifics about it, because I’ve been through it myself. I’m able to have a much more personal discussion with my patients. Not everything will go as planned in the process, but there are plenty of options.
I tell my patients to remember the goal. The goal is to have a child, however we can get there. Don’t ever lose sight of the goal. Getting pregnant can be a huge ordeal when dealing with infertility. There are so many things to help you become a mom, so don’t give up hope.
Dr. Emily Stonerock is a board-certified OB/GYN and is a member of the medical staff at MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center. She is accepting new patients. For more information, call 843-665-9581 or visit MUSChealth.org/florence.