Surrogacy is not typically an intended parent(s) first stop on the path to parenthood. Long before researching types of surrogacy or budgeting for IVF, many intended parent(s) have already traversed the well-worn path of infertility.
Despite the prevalence of infertility, there is still a hesitancy to discuss this common-lived experience. In Canada, roughly 1 in 6 couples experience infertility. This number has doubled since the 1980’s. The natural follow-up to that fact is the “Why?”; what has changed in our global environment to so drastically increase infertility rates? Unsurprisingly, the answer is not as straightforward as one might hope. Many scientists point to the increase in more sedentary lifestyles over the past several decades. Researchers also point to environmental factors such as increased air pollutants and chemicals in consumer products. It may be several more decades before any theory is proved conclusively, but all camps seem to agree that infertility is trending up.
Infertility affects both men and women. In terms of percentages, infertility cases are spread as follows:
Looking at causes, there is a significant amount of common ground between men and women. Physical fitness, for example, can be a factor in fertility health and impacts both genders. Work stress, financial pressure, hectic schedules - these are all shared experiences that can interfere with maintaining physical health. This is not to say everyone struggling with infertility should sign up for a triathlon. Reacting in extremes is unsustainable and too often has a negative impact on the big picture. A healthier approach might be as simple as purchasing a fitness watch tracker and committing to a daily step goal.
On the flip side, there are infertility causes unique to men and to women. An awareness of these gender-specific causes helps with both a personal perspective and an appreciation of a partner or loved one’s point of view. Support groups geared toward women or men specifically can also serve as resources for fertility education and emotional stability. Even with an ultra-supportive partner, a woman in her late 30’s facing the dramatic drop in fertility success rates after her 35th birthday, may want to connect with other women in similar positions. Successful conception rates go from 91% of women at age 30 to 77% of women by age 35, dropping further to 53% of women by the age of 40.**
Likewise, there are infertility issues that are specific to men only. Low sperm count is one of the most common infertility issues and can trigger a host of emotional and mental stressors on men with this diagnosis. Feelings of inadequacy and failure are seen frequently in men upon receiving the news that their sperm health is impacting a couple’s ability to conceive. Opening up to loved ones can dissipate these negative feelings, but stepping outside of one’s bubble in the form of a fertility-specific support group can be a scary, but ultimately worthwhile step.
For the 10% of individuals or couples facing the “no explanation”, speaking with a professional who specializes in infertility issues can help guide a path to closure and acceptance. Seeking this help is often the most difficult first step, but there is an entire field of professionals devoted to fertility education and support. Fertility Matters (FMC) is a Canadian organization that provides an extensive catalogue of resources for infertility issues and fertility advice. From connecting with a support group to finding an individual counsellor, FMC has a large network at their disposal. Learn more here.
Navigating through infertility can be a deeply emotional experience, but it does not have to be a lonely one. Through support groups, open communication with loved ones, and a healthy awareness of the commonality of infertility, intended parent(s) can share their infertility experience without allowing it to define them.