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Five infertility myths—and the real truth

Myth #1: Most women don’t have trouble getting pregnant

If you’re struggling to conceive, you’re not unusual. One couple out of eight has fertility issues—but if you keep getting invitations to baby showers, it can seem like you’re somehow failing at the easiest, most natural thing in the world. It doesn’t help that celebrities who give birth at older ages rarely discuss the treatments they may have had along the way. Fortunately, the taboo is easing. With Lena Dunham writing about her hysterectomy and Gabrielle Union speaking openly about the severe form of endometriosis that impacted her fertility and led to her and her NBA star husband having a child through surrogacy, the airbrushed images are being replaced by a more accurate picture. It can be healing to understand that if you’ve had trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy, you’re part of a large community that understands your journey and has walked the same path.

Myth #2: In cases of infertility, it’s usually the woman’s fault

Women are the ones who get pregnant—so if they can’t get pregnant, their bodies must be misfunctioning, right? Well, no. In heterosexual couples, about a third of cases of infertility are caused by an issue on the part of the woman, another third by the man’s problem and the rest by a combination, or by unknown factors. Conditions that can decrease fertility for women include endometriosis, in which the tissue that lines the uterus grows elsewhere in the body, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormone disorder that can interfere with the normal production of eggs. For men, low sperm count can reduce the odds of conception, and so can sperm that’s misshaped or not as mobile as it should be.

Myth #3: Just relax and you’ll get pregnant

Some years ago, a study got a lot of attention for suggesting that the stress associated with getting infertility treatments could actually interfere with getting pregnant. Infertility is unquestionably stressful, as can be procedures to remedy it—and finding healthy ways to cope with and reduce stress will improve your health and your overall quality of life. But the relationship between stress and infertility is complex and not yet fully understood. Science doesn’t support the idea that your psyche is responsible for your ability or inability to conceive, so don’t carry that burden. On the other hand, do recognize that infertility is one of the biggest stressors imaginable and reach out for support, whether that means counseling, venting to a friend or spending time with others who have been through it themselves.

Myth #4: These days, infertility treatment is always successful

Treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF) are much more refined and effective than in years past and are a strong option for individuals who can’t conceive naturally. But for all the advances, success is not a guarantee. The live birth rate per IVF cycle varies with the age of the woman; it’s between about 40% and 43% for women under age 35. However, progress is made every day, and fertility specialists like those at Northwell Health continue to work toward success for every single patient.

Myth #5: My friend had a baby in her 40s, so I can too

Everyone’s fertility is different. A woman’s ovarian reserve—the number of healthy, immature eggs in her ovaries—diminishes with age; still, some women in their 40s may be extremely fertile, while others might have very poor egg production. Genetics play a major role in your ability to get pregnant naturally later in life. And it doesn’t always matter that you’re still getting your monthly period, because that doesn’t necessarily mean that an egg is being released from your ovary. Menstruation does not equal fertility! If biological parenthood is important to you, have a conversation with your doctor about your family planning aspirations. Procedures such as egg freezing may be worth considering to pause your biological clock and protect your reproductive future. 

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