Orchid offers advanced genetic testing for couples who want their child to have the best shot of a healthy life. As part of our “Pregnancy and Fertility” series, we talked with fertility nurse Cristina Vidal, RN, and reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Ruben Alvero, MD, on the most common misconceptions they hear from patients about fertility issues.
Myth #1: Difficulty conceiving is mostly the woman’s fault.
Reality: According to Cristina, assigning blame to the woman is “one of the most common misconception of them all.” She often hears, “‘It’s my fault,’ or the couple blaming one another by saying, ‘We’re here because of you.’”
There are many reasons that a couple experiences difficulty conceiving, and there can be both male and female causes of infertility. Cristina tells us that, in her experience in the IVF clinic, for couples experiencing infertility:
- roughly one-third of cases are due to female infertility
- Another third is due to male infertility
- The last third can be both male and female infertility issues or a cause that remains unexplained
Conceiving is a team effort, and there’s no point in placing blame on one team player.
Myth #2: Sperm quality is constant regardless of age.
Reality: “Sperm quality actually declines with age, which means that a couple’s ability to achieve pregnancy will also decline,” Cristina said. A decline in sperm quality may show up as sperm having:
- a lower sperm count
- lower motility, or the sperms’ ability to swim and move properly
- an increase in the number of sperm with abnormal morphology, or the size and shape of individual sperm cells
Sperm count, motility, and morphology all factor into a sperm’s ability to fertilize an egg. At age 40, sperm quality decreases in men and can affect fertility, even when there is normal ejaculation.
As the saying goes, “quality over quantity” — sperm quality goes beyond just being able to ejaculate.
Myth #3: It is harder to get pregnant if you have taken birth control pills.
Reality: There is no evidence that taking birth control pills affects a woman’s ability to become pregnant. Cristina tells us, “The hormones in the pills are very short-acting and leave the body quickly.” Birth control pills work by preventing the eggs from ovulating and making the cervical mucus thicker to keep the sperm away from the eggs. When you stop the medications, you should go back to ovulating normally. In some cases, it can take a few months to ovulate regularly if you recently stopped taking birth control pills for a prolonged period.
Patients undergoing IVF often take birth control pills as part of their medication protocol to regulate their hormonal cycle and better time their IVF treatment. “Many of the protocols that we use include birth control pills to allow the ovaries to rest before stimulation. It also helps ‘reset’ the menses cycle to plan the start of stimulation medications,” Cristina said. Much of the testing to assess fertility is also done while patients are on birth control pills.
Case in point: birth control pills are frequently used by fertility clinics, which specialize in helping patients get pregnant. Most women don’t need to “take a break” from the pill.
Myth #4: If a woman simply relaxes, she will be able to get pregnant.
Reality: “The causes for infertility include issues in both males and females, so telling someone to relax to get pregnant will not overcome the reasons for infertility,” said Cristina. While infertility can be a stressful experience, stress itself is not a cause of infertility.
There is no magic bullet, but some patients find stress-reducing techniques helpful and meaningful to them. These can include acupuncture, aerobic exercise, journaling, listening to music, massage, meditation, support groups, counseling sessions, cognitive behavioral therapy, walking, hiking, and yoga. Having an empathetic support system to share your experience with and creating time for your favorite hobbies may also ease and reduce the stress during your fertility journey.
So this means that you should take your friends’ and families’ advice to “just relax” with a big asterisk and not get into a vicious cycle of stressing over the fact that you’re stressed.
Myth #5: Women will not have difficulty conceiving until age 40 and beyond.
Reality: Fertility varies from person to person, so there is no definite age cutoff for “optimal” fertility or when fertility declines. Cristina tells us that some women go into premature menopause in their 20s, but in general, female fertility declines markedly at age 35.
Cristina recommends that “if you are trying to get pregnant for one year without results– regardless of age– see a fertility specialist. If you are over 35, then it is recommended to see a fertility specialist after six months of not being able to conceive.”