If you’re desperate for a baby and struggling to conceive, hearing that fertility is a women’s problem is not only extremely unhelpful – it simply isn’t true. Fertility is complex, and so are the causes of infertility.
One in seven couples may have difficulty conceiving – a staggering 3.5 million people in the UK. There are many causes of infertility among both women and men, and the accepted view is that a third of cases are a result of female infertility, a third due to male infertility and a third due to factors contributed by both partners, although in 25% of couples the cause is never identified.
The American Society for Reproduction Medicine states that:
- Infertility affects men and women equally
- 25% of infertile couples have more than one factor that contributes to their infertility
- In approximately 40% of infertile couples, the male partner is either the sole cause or a contributing cause of infertility.
The important thing to understand when trying for a baby or undergoing fertility treatment, is that identifying the cause of infertility is not about apportioning blame, and it is vital for partners to be supportive of one another no matter where the cause may lie. But it is only by understanding what might be preventing conception that we can begin to address it – and hopefully move you closer to your dream of being parents.
Carole Gilling-Smith, Consultant Gynaecologist and Medical Director at the Agora Gynaecology & Fertility Centre, feels that a key part of her role as a doctor is to make sure her patients understand the biological reasons why they might not be conceiving and also how the different treatments work:
“During my consultations and in the open evening presentations we run, I use slides with clear diagrams and photos taking my patients on a journey of discovery so they can be empowered to make their own decisions about treatment options, guided obviously by the expertise of the clinic. But alongside the science, I feel it is equally important for our patients to have realistic expectations about what the chances of success might be; we are careful to emphasise that fertility treatments should be regarded as a ‘program of care’ not a ‘cycle of treatment’.
For example, if the chances of success following an IVF cycle is 35% for a woman of a given age, then her chances of not conceiving on her first cycle are far higher than of conceiving. But if you look at her chances of conceiving over a program of care which might involve two or even three IVF cycles, then her cumulative chance of conception rises to over 70% and the outlook is much more optimistic. This is the best way to handle the inevitable disappointment if you don’t conceive on your first cycle of treatment.”