December 2015

Are You Struggling to Conceive?

Author: Becca Edwards

Pregnancy, or even the thought of becoming pregnant, is one of life’s greatest juxtapositions. In one respect, you—the expectant mother—feel completely empowered. Your body was meant to do this. Your mother, your mother’s mother, and all the women in your family did this. And society, your partner, your vision for your future all say it’s time to do this. You are invigorated with hope.

But you can also feel powerless. Suddenly, your body is not your own. If you conceive easily, you are essentially reintroduced to your body as it takes on new phases and forms. At first, your favorite food is insufferable. Then, both your breasts and your emotions are heightened to the point of overly-sensitive. And then your body goes seemingly rogue—rearranging organs as your belly swells and harvesting a life that moves, kicks and hiccups inside of you.

If you do not conceive readily, your body not only feels like it is not your own, but it feels like it’s failing you. At first, you question, “Did I do something to cause this?” Then, you long for the discomfort of morning sickness, swelling or mood swings. And then, you watch your friends, family and contemporaries as they feel the movement, kicks and hiccups, and you breed not a child, but a disappointment.

If you are a male wanting to be a father and reading this article, please know I have no intention of excluding you from this discussion, because after all, you play a significant role. But it is important to first acknowledge the woman—the mother—the incubator. So much is happening within and around her. Pressures, from instinctual to societal, create a vortex of emotions. We have to put our arms around these women who so desperately want to cradle their own child; and collectively, we need to better understand infertility and impaired fecundity.

Infertility is defined as a lack of pregnancy in 12 months, despite having unprotected sex each month with the same partner. Infertility can be both a male and female issue. A CDC study found that 7.5 percent of all sexually experienced men younger than age 45 reported seeing a fertility doctor during their lifetime—this equals 3.3 to 4.7 million men. Of men who sought help, 18 percent were diagnosed with a male-related infertility problem, including sperm or semen problems (14 percent) and varicocele (6 percent).” (Note: The CDC reported that about 6 percent of married women 15 to 44 years of age in the United States are unable to get pregnant after one year of unprotected sex [due to infertility].)

The CDC also made a distinction between infertility and impaired fecundity, or a condition in which the potential mother experiences physical difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to live birth. According to the CDC, about 12 percent of women 15 to 44 years of age in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term, regardless of marital status [due to impaired fecundity].

Statistics show that infertility, despite common opinion, is not on the rise. This is due in large part to modern science. Treatment for infertility includes medications, assisted reproductive technology, including IVF and intracytoplasmic sperm injection, and surgery in instances of a physical problem. It should be pointed out, though, that couples are increasingly seeking out interventions to have children which leads to the important question: “Why do so many couples struggle with conception?” Let’s begin with age and the story of Shannon Mason Cline.

“I married at 38 and we started right away, not because we were in a rush, but because we wanted to have a child,” Cline said. Her OBGYN at the time expressed concern about Cline’s age and recommended she take Clomid, a non-steroidal fertility medicine. The website drug.com explained, “[Clomid] causes the pituitary gland to release hormones needed to stimulate ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary)” and warned, “Using Clomid for longer than three treatment cycles may increase your risk of developing an ovarian tumor.”

After three months, Cline’s OBGYN told her, “This isn’t going to work. You need to see a fertility doctor.” Cline was stunned but went to see a fertility specialist in Charleston as advised. The fertility specialist was even less optimistic. “It was an older gentleman who did the initial exam before we went to his office,” Cline said. “I remember sitting across from him and him saying, ‘Here’s the situation. You have fibroids and your eggs are old. You only have a one to two percent chance of having a child.’ And then I remember the floor dropping out. My belly was empty. All I could hear was one to two percent. I could have worked with 10 percent, but not one to two. The drive back to Hilton Head was the longest ride ever.”

In retrospect, Cline realizes that, “He wasn’t talking to me, Shannon; he was talking to a number. An age. A list of statistics.” A few months later, Cline went to a party, and everyone was congratulating a woman her same age on her pregnancy. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, how is she pregnant?’ I had to go to a bedroom and compose myself.”

Under the council of her fertility specialist, Cline convinced her husband they needed an egg donor. She recalls filling out the paperwork for a donor who was tall, blonde and likes to read—all attributes you would use to describe Cline—and then waiting. “At that time, I also left a stressful job and returned to what I love: stage managing. Then someone introduced me to acupuncture. With a massage, you feel good for a little bit but with acupuncture I felt good for a week. Just when I started to get worked up again, it was time for another appointment.” After a few months, on her fortieth birthday, Cline learned she was pregnant, naturally, with fraternal twins.

Cline will concede she is not sure what ultimately led her to fulfilling her wish to have children. Was it her career shift? Forbes magazine reports 52.3 percent of Americans are unhappy with their jobs; and in case you haven’t heard, women make up 47 percent of the workforce and 51 percent of the professional and technical occupations. Also, when it comes to the top cortisol (the stress hormone)-inducing factors, work ranks right up there with poor health and relationships. High cortisol levels have been linked to a number health risks including infertility and low levels of progesterone (“the pregnancy hormone”).

According to Dr. Len Lopez, “You need [progesterone] in its right balance if you want be become pregnant and stay pregnant. Progesterone nourishes the uterine lining in preparation of the implanted fertilized egg… [and] continually feeds and nourishes the uterus during pregnancy. Unfortunately, constant stress causes a decrease in your progesterone levels.”

Cline also questions if it was the acupuncture. Dr. Nicole Ware in Savannah, Georgia (who did not treat Cline but has helped several women find a happy ending to their infertility story) provided some insight as to why the ancient Chinese practice is so beneficial.

“Chinese medicine feels that the body is like a garden: Some areas might be too dry or too wet or be deficient or have excess energy. Certain foods and herbs are thought to correct these imbalances,” Ware explained. “I work with the patient through acupuncture and herbs to regulate and strengthen their cycle, reduce stress, increase blood flow to the reproductive organs and suggest lifestyle and diet changes if necessary.”

Ware also cited a 2008 study by Zhang and Udoff acupuncture’s effects on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilization and found a 65 percent increase in conception. However, Ware pointed out, “The difficulty in studying acupuncture is that in a double blind experiment, you don’t want the participants to know if they got acupuncture or not, and that’s hard to do!”

Dr. Heather Cook from Coastal Fertility Specialists in Bluffton also shed some light on this issue. “There are many causes of infertility,” she said. “The most important thing for couples experiencing infertility is to become empowered by gaining knowledge about their specific condition. Couples should not give up hope and should know that most couples experiencing infertility will be able to become pregnant with medical treatment.”

I have to think, too, that talking about this issue more and empowering women struggling to have a baby with success stories like Cline’s will also help. As Cline said, “I always feel for someone who is having trouble getting pregnant, but I think the best advice is to believe and have hope. There’s always something you can do, even if it means adopting. You just have to relax and direct your energy toward a positive outcome.” 

Becca Edwards is a wellness professional, freelance writer and owner of b.e.WELL+b.e.CREATIVE (bewellbecreative.com).

Fertility Treatment Options at Coastal Fertility Specialists:
• Ovulation Induction
• Intrauterine Insemination
• In Vitro Fertilization
• Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis
• Fertility Preservation
• Tubal Anastomoses
• Donor Egg Treatment
• Donor Egg Bank USA
• Semen Analysis

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