Have you been trying to conceive for months or years, but still not getting pregnant? Welcome to the club. You’re not alone. When we first decided to extend our family, I had a very fairy tale idea of the whole process of baby making. Thanks to all the colorful, romantic movies, my notion of pregnancy recipe was more like that of an instant noodle. All you needed were few rose petals and scented candles to set the mood right for the action, and voila! You wake up pregnant the following day.
Little did I know there were going to be far too many people involved in the process of getting pregnant than just me and my husband. Prenatal vitamins and a “coitus calendar” would replace innocent roses and candles on the bedside.
When we decided to have a baby, I was 26 years old. According to doctors, it is a relatively young and fertile age, and usually, it’s easier to conceive. But it wasn’t meant to be an easy road for us. Trying month after months only to find one pink line, in the end, was not only disappointing but also frustrating, discouraging, and at times depressing.
After trying naturally for one year with no success, I could feel something was not going right. Something was amiss. All the anxiety and stress of getting disappointed every month also started to take its toll on me. Not only was it draining me emotionally, making me more irritable and exhausted, it also started affecting me physically. My otherwise regular cycle started becoming irregular. That’s when we decided to see the doctor. It turns out we were yet another subject of infertility.
What is infertility?
Simply put, infertility means the inability to reproduce. Suppose you and your partner have frequent unprotected sex for more than one year (6 months for women over 35) and still unable to conceive. In that case, this is referred to as infertility.
Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.-WHO
According to infertility statistics, the problem of infertility has gotten more and more common among couples. Around 12%-15% of couples in the United States deal with infertility. That means 1 in every 8 couples experiences trouble in conceiving.
Why am I not getting pregnant?
As I was in my late 20s, it wasn’t exactly a race against the biological clock. To avoid unnecessary poking and expensive tests, my doctors started with preliminary tests and diagnoses. When that didn’t show any glitch, and after another 5-6 months of trying unsuccessfully, they moved us to the 2nd phase of treatment. This is where it all starts to get more invasive, intrusive, and painful to check ovulation, tubes, and uterus functioning.
That’s when one of the tests revealed what was standing between us and our hope of having a family—my diminishing ovarian reserve. While it is not an uncommon situation in older age groups, getting diagnosed with a much lesser number of eggs at the age of 27 is quite rare but correctable. To understand why you’re not getting pregnant, we need to throw some light on what needs to get done right to ensure a clinical pregnancy.
For a pregnancy to fruitfully establish, all of the following phases or steps need to be successful:
- Ovulation releasing a healthy egg(s) at even intervals, i.e., getting regular menstrual periods,
- Fertilization of the egg with healthy sperm,
- This fertilized egg should successfully cover the journey up to the uterus, via the fallopian tubes,
- And finally, the fertilized egg should successfully implant into the walls of the uterus.
If there is an issue at one or more phases above, it will prevent conception and fall into the category of infertility.
Reasons for infertility
Some of the most common reasons for not getting pregnant can be:
1. Irregular periods/ovulation
If “Aunt Flo” doesn’t stick to her schedule of paying you the visits, this could indicate irregular ovulation (release of the egg from the ovaries). If the eggs are not released at regular intervals, the probability of getting fertilized gets very low, leading to infertility. There can be various reasons for this irregularity, like PCOS/PCOD, thyroid issues, under or overweight, and other hormonal disorders. The doctors would prescribe some tests to diagnose the problem.
2. Diminishing ovarian reserve
Diminishing ovarian reserve means lower numbers or lower quality of eggs left in the ovaries, which also drastically reduces the probability of fertilizing eggs. This condition can be more common in women over 40. Tests for specific hormone levels such as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) in your body can detect this.
3. Blocked fallopian tubes
Any unwanted mass/fibroid growth or a history of pelvic infection, urinary tract infection, or sexually transmitted disease can cause blockage in the tubes. This blockage will prevent the egg from fertilizing or moving to the uterus, causing difficulty conceiving.
When the fertilized egg reaches the uterus, it needs a favorable atmosphere (uterus lining) to successfully implant. If the lining is too weak to impregnate with the fertilized egg or if the lining grows outside the uterus (endometriosis), it reduces the chances of establishing a pregnancy. Severe menstrual cramps are one of the earliest signs of endometriosis.
The probability of a healthy woman getting pregnant in her 20s or early 30s is 25% each menstrual cycle. The number falls to 10% by the age of 40. Not just women, sperm quantity and quality in men diminishes with age. If you’re above 35, it is highly recommended to seek medical guidance when planning to conceive.
While there is no clear proof of how exactly anxiety fuels infertility, doctors across the globe agree that increased stress levels could be a reason couples face difficulty conceiving.
7. Smoking and drinking
It is a proven fact that smoking reduces blood flows in the veins and arteries, leading to reduced sperm quality in men and overall lower fertility in women. Similarly, alcohol consumption or narcotic abuse are big culprits in infertility.
When to seek medical help
According to doctors, if you are under 35 and trying actively (3 times a week or more) but cannot conceive naturally for one year, it’s time to seek consultation. However, if you are above 35 and trying actively, don’t wait for more than 6 months to book your first appointment.
If you have any underlying disease or condition like thyroid disease, polycystic ovary syndrome/disease, or other hormonal disorders, don’t wait for 6 or more months and start your conception plan with prior doctor consultation and guidance.
Tips to improve the chances of conception
While infertility experts are there to help you at every stage of treatment, making certain lifestyle tweaks in your day-to-day routine will increase your chances of getting pregnant. Follow a healthy regime to help prepare your body as a healthy home for a baby to grow when you conceive.
- Regular health checkups: Before you start planning, get a routine medical checkup done for both you and your partner to rule out the underlying medical problems like diabetes, thyroid disease, thalassemia, etc.
- Prenatal vitamins: Folic acid is an excellent supplement to boost fertility. Make sure you ask your doctor to prescribe the right ones for you instead of buying over-the-counter.
- Say bye to cigarettes: Giving up on smoking can go a long way in improving your fertility and overall body performance. Quit tobacco (plus alcohol and drugs) a few months before starting to try to give enough time for the toxins to flush out of your system.
- Yoga, exercise, or meditation: Workout regularly to keep the body and its systems running smoothly and healthy. Exercising also releases the endorphins that help your mind relax and relieves stress. Yoga and meditation also help in balancing the hormones and eventually reduce infertility.
- Balanced lifestyle: Eat healthily, sleep well and make sure to stick to a schedule. Maintaining a healthy body, mind, and lifestyle will help improve your body’s overall fit, increasing the chances of conception.