What comes across as an excited and well-intentioned question to make conversation, “When will you start trying for a baby?” is, for some couples, a dreaded question and one they’ll do anything to avoid. Fertility struggles are more commonplace than many people realize. However, it has long been a taboo topic of conversation. Shame, confusion, and frustration keep couples from talking about it—with friends and family, with doctors, and sometimes with each other. Infertility affects one in eight couples. This means there is a good chance you know a family member or friend who is affected by fertility issues.
A recent survey conducted by CCRM Fertility, a global pioneer in fertility science, research, and treatment, reveals that 45.6% of Dallas residents said they are either “not well informed” or “clueless” when it comes to their fertility health. This could be a possible reason why fertility isn’t widely discussed—it’s not always widely understood.
Dr. Dorette Noorhasan, a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and co-founder of CCRM Dallas-Fort Worth, says education is the first step when seeking medical help for infertility treatment. Understanding your own specific set of circumstances and discussing treatment options with a fertility specialist will eliminate some of the intimidating unknowns.
“It is important to be proactive and become educated on your fertility health, so you are not missing your window to conceive, which can be different for everyone,” she says. “Throughout adolescence and adulthood, we’re continuously taught to not get pregnant, and we learn about various forms of contraception to ensure we don’t. Then, when people are ready to have a baby, they’re not equipped with basic information about ovulation, when they’re most fertile, or even the biological clock associated with female fertility.”
Another interesting statistic from the survey reveals that almost a quarter of respondents (23.2%) aren’t comfortable discussing their fertility health, especially when they don’t know how to adequately explain the reasons for their fertility struggles, if any. This often causes them to avoid the topic altogether, especially with family and friends (more than 62% of respondents said they feel least comfortable talking about fertility with their friends and family). While loved ones may ask well-intended questions, they aren’t always welcome inquiries. “It is difficult to deal with infertility by itself, but then having to listen to others give their input, particularly if they have never struggled with infertility themselves, makes dealing with it immensely more difficult and can prevent patients from sharing their journey with their loved ones,” Dr. Noorhasan says.
As a fertility specialist and a woman who went through five rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) herself, Dr. Noorhasan not only has a medical interest in fertility treatment, but also a personal one. She can truly relate to her patients and is passionate about sharing her own story to help others. She remembers these questions from well-meaning family members and friends and does everything she can to educate her patients on their treatment so they, too, can have precise, well-informed responses at the ready.
“We need to interpret well-intended comments from friends and family as them trying to show how much they care about us, even if we may initially interpret the comments as insensitive,” she says. “It is only through awareness that patients will realize they are not alone and that their family and friends will realize that infertility is a real problem for many of us.”
For many patients who face infertility, wading through the facts, outcomes, statistics, and treatments is stressful enough. That stress is compounded once they realize the cost of infertility treatments and how time-consuming it can be. CCRM Fertility Dallas Fort-Worth patient, Dierdre Larry, says all too often couples start blaming each other for their fertility issues. To get through it, she cautions against the blame game.
“When you and your partner are experiencing the mental and financial stresses that often come with undergoing fertility treatment, it can be really easy at the time to point your finger and place blame on each other out of frustration,” Larry says. “But at the end of the day, the two of us together were able to create a beautiful baby through science. Keep your eye on the end goal and do not give up because the outcome will always be worth the struggle.”
Dr. Noorhasan says having answers to questions surrounding fertility means there is finally something specific to fix, and the reality is, most women succeed in getting pregnant with fertility treatments. “During a fertility evaluation, our patients undergo comprehensive testing to help determine the source of the infertility,” she says. “Approximately 15% of testing will show both male and female factors as a source of infertility. The remaining causes of infertility are essentially divided equally among males and females. Approximately 20% of the time, the testing shows no problems conceiving. This unexplained infertility can be difficult to hear and accept.”
Dr. Noorhasan has noticed that males often have more trouble discussing fertility issues than their female partners, and many couples often assume infertility is a female issue. However, the survey reported 15% of Dallas residents are currently or have experienced male or both male and female infertility when trying to conceive. This is why education about fertility, as well as generating more awareness about how many people struggle with it for a variety of reasons, is so important. Couples need to understand that infertility can be attributed to a variety of medical reasons for both males and females.
“Male-factor infertility is very real and prevalent,” Dr. Noorhasan says. “This is difficult for men to hear, as they may not be as comfortable discussing their feelings or health with others. Therefore, they’ll bottle up their feelings and then it begins having a negative impact on mental health. Men more widely discussing their infertility will generate awareness on this topic, while simultaneously offering support for other men in similar situations.
Sherry Smith, also a patient of CCRM Fertility Dallas Fort-Worth, says couples who face the journey of becoming parents through fertility treatment should consider counseling to get through the trying moments, as infertility treatment can often result in a rollercoaster of emotions. “Start counseling with a trusted therapist early on and throughout the entirety of the process,” she says. “You won’t believe the kind of communication tools you need up until the moment you finally need them, so addressing these concerns before you begin your journey together can help you overcome one of the most difficult parts of the process.”
For Dallas-Fort Worth patients and beyond, when it comes to fertility and achieving the best outcome, the first—and perhaps most important step is to become educated about your own fertility and to become comfortable speaking about the journey to parenthood with others. To learn more about fertility education and treatment planning, visit www.ccrmivf.com/dallasfortworth/.