This week is National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) in the USA! The time when all infertiles raise their voices so that we are heard… Because we are many. 1 in 8 couples in the States will be diagnosed with infertility. 1 in 8 couples will be forced to stare down their dreams and reinvent how they will become a family.
This year the NIAW theme is “Listen Up”. In recent years infertility has become much less taboo and more and more people are choosing to share their alternate family building journies. This is awesome but there has been a part missing from this conversation. People still see infertility as being “other”… as in something that happens to someone else. Not normal. Ok, so Jon Legend and Crissy Teigen had to do IVF to have their daughter… but like, that won’t affect me.
Well, “listen up” people, because it just might!
Infertility does not discriminate based on age, sex, religion, or socio-economic status. It is an equal opportunity disease. It can knock you out at the knees with little warning, or it can be a slow rumble that gains steam as you age. So let’s spend some time talking about the facts here today. The fact is that it is just as likely to be you as it was me who is diagnosed with infertility. Here’s why you need to “Listen Up”.
- Weight, health, and lifestyle affect fertility. What you’re doing right now could have serious implications for the future. Smoking, heavy drinking, and drug use have been shown to negatively affect the quality of sperm in men and egg quality in women. Being over a BMI of 30 in both men and women reduces fertility by disrupting hormone production. Contracting STI’s also can negatively affect your fertility even after receiving treatment to cure the infection itself, through scar tissue and inflammation. So even before you are actively wanting a family it is best to wrap your junk, eat well, workout regularly, and not abuse drugs and alcohol. I know, I know, what a kill joy!
- Everything you were taught in Health Class was wrong. Ok… not everything. But it isn’t as easy to fall pregnant as you were lead to believe! How do your reproductive organs work in order to reproduce? Well, sperm must meet egg, which means that only sex that occurs pretty close to ovulation (3 days prior to 1 day after being optimal) can lead to a baby. Really that isn’t a lot of time! Couples who are trying to conceive and timing intercourse appropriate only have a 25% chance of falling pregnant every month. How does the human race even exist?! I just don’t know, but that’s the real live stat. There is some evidence to suggest that sperm can hang around for up to a week and fertilize and egg. But it’s still a pretty small window! And that’s only if everything is in perfect working order.
- Sometimes it’s obvious that you will struggle to conceive. Born without a uterus? That’s something you’ll know about pretty young… But usually, it’s totally invisible until you’ve been trying to conceive with no luck. Just because you have regular periods, just because you get erections and ejaculate just fine, does not mean that everything is in fact fine! Your ejaculate can appear normal but in reality, contain no sperm. Your periods can come like clockwork but you might have difficult to penetrate eggs. Your cycles might not be as regular as you thought, you might have too much testosterone, you might have a urethra that allows sperm to backwash into your bladder instead of out the tip. There are so many things, you guys. Please do not assume that just because things seem normal that they are. Please do not naively perceive that infertility cannot happen to you.
- The stats for infertility are sobering. 15% of couples in the States will struggle to conceive for a year or longer. That is the clinical definition of infertility. Unprotected sex for a year or more with no (live) baby. About 30 % of those cases are attributed to male factor, 30% to female factor, 15% to a combination, and 25 % remain unexplained. 1 in 8 couples will come up against a diagnosis of infertility in their quest to become parents. How many friends do you know? It is likely to affect some of them. It is just as like that it will affect you.
Now, knowing all this, how do you put this knowledge to good use- How do you “listen up” in an active, take-charge kind of way?
- Do your routine medicals, yearly. Making sure you take your own health seriously is important. Get regular paps, STI screening, check your balls and breasts for lumps, get your hormone levels checked. Make sure you are being diligent. This can show any early warning signs for things like infertility which are better known early so you don’t waste precious time.
- Women be an active observer in your body’s fertility cycles. Track your cycles even if you aren’t trying to conceive. It will help you to be familiar with your body and let you know all sorts of things. Like when to plan a trip and avoid getting your period on it. Like why you always have slippery vaginal mucus around the same time each month (gross!), ovulation! It will help your doctor out later if you know what the hell you’re talking about when pinpointing any possible trouble spots.
- Know your family history. This one could have helped me a lot. Turns out like the last 3 generations of women on my mom’s side have gone through early menopause, like before they were 40. Also, endometriosis, which has a strong genetic component runs on that side as well. Things that would have been helpful to alert my Dr. about but I didn’t know. No one was really talking openly about these things to me before I received my diagnosis. But it’s pretty straightforward to find out. Ring up your parents and ask if anyone in the family has had a hard time getting pregnant… or any other women’s type problems. It can make getting the appropriate diagnosis go from the difficulty of finding a needle in a haystack to a more targeted search and rescue mission. Saving valuable time and energy.
- Be good to your body. As mentioned above there are lifestyle factors that can impact your fertility. Be good to yourself so those kinds of easily avoidable pitfalls don’t harm your chances. This one is so easy to control. So do it.
Well, there you have it. That’s it for another NIAW, peeps. Hopefully, this year’s theme helped you to think about the way infertility may more specifically apply to your life. I pray that when you are ready to start your family that everything goes easily. I hope you become one of those people I hate, by just tripping on a dick and falling pregnant. But by going into family planning with your eyes wide open you’ll know that you have your bases covered. Even if things go sideways, you will be better equipped to deal. Even if things are text-book, you will understand more and be better able to relate to those around you who do find themselves struggling. So thank you! For “listening up”, for being rad human beings able to look ahead to possibilities you aren’t personally dealing with. That’s the main goal of NIAW isn’t it? To reach people where they are and hopefully leave them a little more informed about infertility as a disease? Guess we can check that one off the list together. Bravo, us!