There’s a lot of cultural confusion about infertility. Couples and individuals diagnosed with infertility might have many questions like “What is infertility,” “How bad is it if I’m infertile?” and "Who should I blame?”
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It’s important to remember that infertility is no one’s fault, and the good news is that there are many methods available to you if you and your partner are going through it. So if you’ve received an infertility diagnosis or are trying to conceive, you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to help.
What is infertility?
Infertility sounds like a big, scary word, but its definition isn’t as depressing as you might think. All infertility means is that after having frequent unprotected sex for a calendar year, you haven’t conceived a baby. There’s a common misconception that being infertile is a status you’ll retain forever. This isn’t true—couples can absolutely experience periods of infertility and then conceive.
How common is infertility?
Infertility is also much more common than the public seems to believe—about 20% of couples worldwide are experiencing infertility at any moment. Luckily for those couples, many treatment options are available to you.
What medical options can treat infertility?
Many people feel most comfortable turning to their doctor or service provider for medical solutions to solve infertility. There are multiple forms of conventional medical infertility treatments, which are chosen depending on the root cause of infertility and how severe it is.
Assisted reproductive technology
Assisted reproductive technology, or ART, is an umbrella term for all the different fertility treatments where technology is used to assist the process of conception. There are high-tech ARTs, usually involving a surgical procedure, and low-tech ARTS. The most well-known ART is in vitro fertilization, or IVF, an operation where your eggs are surgically removed, inseminated in a laboratory, and then transferred into a uterus.
Other high-tech ARTs include intravaginal culture, intrafallopian transfer, frozen embryo transfer, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, third-party ARTs, or gestational carriers or surrogates. Your doctor will opt for one of these methods if they think they’re more appropriate given your specific needs (and insurance).
Non-surgical ARTs also exist. One is intrauterine insemination, or IUI, known as the “turkey baster method.” During IUI, doctors insert a cleaned sperm sample into your vagina, meaning fertilization occurs inside the body.
Another non-surgical option is ovarian induction, or OI, where doctors prescribe meds to help ensure that all eggs are in good condition. One of these drug options is clomiphene citrate, a hormone-based pill administered to people with uteruses to induce ovulation. Another is gonadotropin, a shot that can be prescribed to people of all genders—it is a more-aggressive alternative to clomiphene citrate that can help produce follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). It can also help with hormonal imbalances that cause low sperm count. Drug therapies can be used to enhance the effectiveness of other medical treatments.
What alternative options can be used to treat infertility?
Of course, Western medicine doesn’t always have all the answers. There are many more treatments you can use to help boost fertility. Here’s a sampling:
- Herbal medicines
- Chiropractic care
- Nutritional counseling
- Mental health care
- Cycle-tracking and well-timed intercourse
Many of these strategies boil down to self-care—if your mind and body aren’t ready to conceive, getting pregnant can be more difficult.
How effective are different infertility treatment options?
Of course, you need to keep in mind that each infertility treatment option will work differently depending on the factors influencing fertility in each instance. However, IVF is the most effective method, with a successful pregnancy rate that ranges from clinic to clinic but rests somewhere near 1 in 3 cases. Non-surgical procedures for conception result in fewer pregnancies: according to a 2013 study conducted in Germany, IUI resulted in pregnancy in 5–15% of the instances studied. According to the CDC, ARTs account for approximately 1.9% of American births.
Which infertility treatment should I choose?
There is an almost overwhelming number of infertility treatment options. So, how do you choose which route to take on your fertility journey?
Several factors are at play here that influence your decision, chief among them cost, biological ability, and specific infertility constraints.
For example, ARTs are the most effective option for couples experiencing severe infertility. However, they are more invasive than other options and much more expensive, with an average cost of over $12,000 for a single cycle.
Meanwhile, some couples are limited by biological ability — in both partners don’t have a uterus, working with a surrogate would be necessary. Meanwhile, if neither partner has a penis, doing IUI with a donor’s sperm might make the most sense, or IVC if you want to be biologically involved.
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Finally, if your couple has a specific fertility issue, that can lead you to pick one treatment over another. If your eggs are perfectly fine, but your partner’s sperm count is low, then IUI would likely be a good choice for you; if your partner’s sperm swim great, but you’re not producing enough eggs, maybe you should look into drug therapies.
Infertility treatment options: Takeaway
There are no correct answers here: everyone’s fertility — and infertility — journey is entirely individual, and your choices can be right for you and wrong for another person. In addition, trying to conceive is taxing emotionally, physically, and often financially. Luckily, an infertility diagnosis is not a death sentence, and there are options to make combatting infertility fit your preferences and budget.
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (?) FAQs about Infertility: Reproductive Facts.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Reviewed 2019.) What is ART?
- Rezaeiye, R. (2022). Impact of Various Parameters as Predictors of The Success Rate of In Vitro Fertilization.
Schorsch, M. et al. (2013). Success rate of insemination dependent on maternal age? An analysis of 4246 insemination cycles.
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