Infertility sometimes seems like one of the last social taboos, especially in an era when every passing year sees a previously unthinkable opening up of ‘private’ topics for discussion. Conversations about money and financial 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 in 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 a common problem nowadays, and it affects many couples. Let’s take a look at some of the real facts of life.
Male factor infertility is increasing dramatically
In 2017, a study published in Human Reproduction Update found that male fertility in the developed world has decreased over the past few decades. Measured primarily by sperm concentration and total sperm count, 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. More recently, these startling findings were reinforced by a 2019 study from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which reported that the England and Wales birth rate had reached a new low. This was later confirmed by our own study at IVI of declining male fertility.
In other words, 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, men affected by low fertility often experience bewilderment, loneliness and possible relationship problems, as well as 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: A 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 for those suffering with infertility.
Patterns of childbirth age for women are changing
In the UK, along with the rest of the western world, the age at which women have their first child is increasing. This is a result of both social and financial factors, amongst others. Consequently, as women get older, the ovarian reserve and the quality of those eggs inevitably decline. Nonetheless, not all female infertility is age related. Other 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 serious 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).
- Endometriosis UK: A charity set up to provide information, support services and a community forum for those affected by endometriosis.
- The British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA): An association which can guide individuals and couples towards an accredited counsellor who will help them to cope with fertility problems.
Secondary infertility: The unacknowledged infertility problem
Primary infertility refers to fertility problems when trying to conceive a first child. It affects around 15% of couples in the UK. However, this is not the only form of infertility. Secondary infertility is the inability to become pregnant after having been pregnant before. It affects one in every 20 couples – roughly 5% of all couples – and it can devastate our confidence and family dreams for the future, as well as cause major heartache. You can read more about this lesser-known problem in our blog article about secondary infertility.
Above all, it is important to remember that everyone experiencing a fertility problem should be able to access help and support if they need it, regardless of whether they have been able to conceive before. While it can be daunting, there is no shame in seeking professional help.
You can also talk about this issue through Psychology Today, which can point to specialist support groups.
Talking to us at IVI
There’s no doubt that talking about infertility can help, as long as you’re speaking to someone who is knowledgeable and sympathetic. Many people suffering with infertility steer clear of opening up to friends, family, and even their partners for fear of an uninformed or insensitive response. At IVI, we’re here to help you tackle all your questions and concerns in detail. Whether you would like to learn about potential treatment options or just need a qualified fertility expert to discuss your situation with, we can provide support. You can also access our in-house counselling service, which is an integral part of all of our treatments at IVI.
You can get in touch with us through our online contact form, or give us a call on 0800 52 00 161.