Infertility sometimes seems like one of the last bastions of social taboo in an era when every passing year sees a previously unthinkable opening up of ‘private’ topics for discussion. Issues concerning money and earnings, unheard of in previous generations, become easy topics for social chit-chat. On a more personal level, sexuality and gender identity are no longer no-go areas of conversation and problems with mental health are acknowledged as a routine hazard of daily life.
Why is infertility different? On one hand, male infertility has skyrocketed over recent years and yet we keep quiet about it. On the other, social pressures that lead women to delay motherhood for a decade or more compared with their grandmothers goes almost unremarked upon. Likewise, the term ‘secondary infertility’ is not part of our everyday vocabulary and many people barely talk about it.
We share a common assumption that, come the right time and if we want to, we’ll go ahead and have kids. When it doesn’t happen, or when it’s confirmed that you, your partner or both of you have a fertility problem, that assumption takes a knock. Being diagnosed with infertility might come as a potential shock to the system for which we might feel quite unprepared. But the truth is that infertility is nowadays a common problem affecting many couples. Let’s take a look at some of the real facts of life.
Male factor infertility has increased dramatically
A study published in Human Reproduction Update in 2017 found that male fertility in the developed world, measured by sperm concentration and total sperm count, has been decreasing over the past few decades. The overall decline was 52.4% with an annual decline rate of 1.4% per year and the decline shows no signs of levelling off. These startling findings were reinforced by a more recent Office for National Statistics study of 2019 which reported that the England and Wales birth rate had reached a new low (which was further confirmed by our own IVI study of declining male fertility).
Translated into impact on the lives of individuals in the UK, it means simply that more and more men are experiencing fertility problems and needing help. In spite of a brief flurry of media coverage following the publication of these reports, some men affected by low fertility may experience bewilderment, loneliness and possible relationship problems and may also feel unsupported. Fortunately, there exists a wide range of organisations offering a lifeline in the shape of someone to talk to. As always in the UK, your GP is often the best starting point, but these organisations include:
- Men’s Health Forum, a charity supporting men’s health in England, Scotland and Wales.
- HIMFertility campaign, set up to encourage men to talk and share information about their fertility problems, and offering signposts to other sources of support.
- Fertility Network UK, offering a support line, support groups and online information.
Changing patterns of childbirth age for women
In the UK, along with the rest of the western world, the age at which women have their first child is increasing as a result of both social and financial factors. Consequently, as women get older the ovarian reserve and the quality of those eggs inevitably decline. Nonetheless, not all female infertility is age related, and the most common causes include ovulation disorders, blocked or damaged fallopian tubes and endometriosis (a condition in which tissue similar to the uterus lining is found outside the womb). At the same time the difficulty in conceiving might add a major emotional distress for individuals and couples.
For women in the UK, the networks of support and advice relating to fertility problems are better known and more numerous than those for men. A good starting point for information is the fertility information page of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Some of the many support and counselling organisations which give women access to information and a chance to talk to and support each other include:
- The Daisy Network, a charity supporting women with premature ovarian insufficiency (POI).
- The charity Endometriosis UK, set up to provide information, support services and a community forum for those affected by endometriosis.
- The British Infertility Counselling Association which can guide individuals and couples towards an accredited counsellor who will help them to cope with fertility problems.
Secondary infertility is the world’s unacknowledged infertility problem
Primary infertility, refers to women and couples trying for their first child and affects around 15% of couples in the UK. But this is not the only form of infertility. Secondary infertility , which is the inability to become pregnant after having been pregnant before, affects one in 20 couples (5% of couples) and it can also shake our assumptions and cause major heartache. You can read more about this lesser-known problem in our IVI blog article about secondary infertility. Here too you have the opportunity to talk about the issues through Psychology Today, which can point to specialist support groups.
Talking to us at IVI
There’s no doubt that talking about an infertility problem is a help, as long as you’re speaking to someone who is knowledgeable and sympathetic. Many infertility sufferers steer clear of opening up to friends, family and even their partners for fear of an uninformed or insensitive response. If you’d like to talk to us, at IVI we will tackle all your questions and concerns in detail and discuss with you you available treatments and options. You may also like to know that counselling is an integral part of all of our treatments, as it may be beneficial for some to address the emotional side of this problem as well. Get in touch through our online contact form, or give us a call and on 0800 52 00 161.