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Sink Or Swim

Everything You Need To Know About Infertility, And What To Do About It

After spending your teenage years and most of your 20s praying that you wouldn’t slip one past the goalie, it can be a shock if you and your partner are actually trying to make a new human and it’s just not happening. Dealing with the possibility of infertility is certainly a big issue for any couple but there are a lot of steps you and your partner can take to find out if there are in fact any problems, what to do if there is one, and, if nothing can be done, what alternative paths exist.

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If you and your partner are having trouble conceiving, or if you know any wannabe parents having difficulties and just want to learn how not to stick your foot in your mouth when you talk to them about it, here’s what you need to know.

What Is It?

According to the CDC, the general definition of “infertility” is not being able to conceive after at least one year of unprotected sex. So if you’re not at your paper anniversary of your first contraceptive-free trip to Pound Town yet, try to be patient and keep trying. It’s pretty fun, after all. Also: stop calling it “Pound Town.” Your wife hates that.

Is It Your Fault?

Were your briefs too tight? Did your college buddy nut-tap you one too many times? Did you spend too many minutes in front of the microwave waiting for those jalapeno poppers to crisp up? Probably not. While a myriad of studies hint at causes for infertility, It’s likely just biology, man. Birth is referred to as a miracle because there are a million different ways that things can go south before the baby even exists. Here’s a refresher on the steps, since it’s been a long time since you took sex-ed:

  • The women has to ovulate
  • Your sperm has to join with her egg to fertilize it
  • The fertilized egg has to race through the fallopian tube to the uterus
  • The egg has to attach, or implant, inside of said uterus

Infertility can mean an issue with any one of those things. That might make it sound like Project: Make A Baby is mostly on the woman, but the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth found that 7.5 percent of men younger than age 45 have gone to a fertility doctor at some point. Of those, 18 percent were diagnosed with an infertility issue such as low sperm count or an issue with the veins in the testicles.

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To determine if you’re infertile, a specialist will analyze your little guys for concentration, motility (how well they move through through the fallopian tube), and shape. Abnormalities can be influenced by various medical factors like diabetes or chemo treatment, but also by your lifestyle. If you’re a smoker, heavy drinker or steroid user, it might be affecting your junk’s ability to produce healthy swimmers.

And don’t be alarmed if there is an issue that brings you to a fertility specialist: According to Dr. Larry Lipshultz, a male reproductive medicine and surgery specialist at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine, “76 percent of men who sought treatment for fertility problems had a potentially correctable condition.” What’s more, “among the men who underwent treatment, 32 percent fathered a child without any other medical help, and another 43 percent showed improvement in the number or quality of their sperm.”

What About Your Wife?

It very well could be an issue that has to do with your significant other. But if you find out you’re not the one with an issue, first of all, don’t gloat. Second of all: Don’t gloat. You’re in this together, remember?

Specialists will perform a variety of tests to determine ovarian function (whether or not ovulation is happening properly), tubal patency (whether the fallopian tubes are blocked or swollen), and if there are any abnormal physical characteristics of the uterus.

If your wife doesn’t regularly get her period, or she’s over 35 and you’ve been trying to conceive for at least 6 months, then you should consider seeing a specialist sooner than later. Other factors that can affect a woman’s fertility include smoking, drinking, excessive weight gain or loss, extreme physical or emotional stress, pelvic inflammatory disease, and previous miscarriages.

What Are Your Options?

Depending on the factors contributing to the infertility, your doctor might recommend medication, surgery, intra-uterine insemination (aka artificial insemination, where specially prepared sperm are inserted into the uterus), or Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) (any procedures that involve handling eggs and sperm outside of the body, combining them in a lab, and then either returning the fertilized egg to the woman’s body or a surrogate’s). It’s possible that you’ll need to try a combination of these treatments, and you should also know that ART can get pretty costly (because you can’t get a generic version of this kind of art at IKEA), and the woman’s age is a critical factor in success rates.

If the woman can’t produce eggs or her eggs are unhealthy, then you can consider a surrogate, who carries the pregnancy with the man’s sperm and her own egg. For women who have healthy ovaries but an abnormal uterus, there’s gestational pregnancy, where a surrogate carries the woman’s own egg fertilized by her partner’s sperm. Because sharing is caring, and also babymaking.

The Bottom Line

Trying to figure out and treat fertility issues can be as frustrating and emotionally challenging experience. But you’re definitely not alone: 10-15 percent of U.S. couples are infertile. And you have a variety of medical options, as well as the prospect of adoption. One way or another, you’ll be able to get yourselves a baby.