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For many couples trying to conceive, it can be a tough journey, especially when it just isn’t happening naturally – it can be frustrating, stressful and upsetting for both partners.
Dr Sonya Jessup, from Demeter Fertility, has been through the IVF process herself, and suggests asking yourself the five questions below. “If any of these apply to you, seek the advice of a Fertility Specialist,” she advises. “Ask your GP for a referral to see a specialist as a starting point, rather than as a last resort. Delaying too long is one of the main problems that lead to long term infertility.” Read on to give yourself the best chance at having a baby in 2014…
1. Do you want to have a baby or a family?
“Today, a large proportion of the young population don’t feel ready to have and look after a child until well into their 30s or even 40s,” explains Dr Jessup. “So couples are having a baby a lot later in life than they used to. This is having an impact on overall fertility, as fertility declines with age. After years of taking contraception, there is an expectation that falling pregnant will happen quickly, which often is not the case.”
“There are many good reasons for delaying starting a family but the downside is that with increasing age comes decreasing fertility due to a range of reasons but mainly due to the decreasing quality of the eggs. Women over 40 have a 1 in 20 chance of falling pregnant naturally each month, and this declines even further with increasing age. IVF can improve the chances of conceiving each month considerably.”
2. Are you concerned about the time it has taken you to conceive?
“Many couples think that they will conceive naturally within about 3-6 months of trying and are surprised when it doesn’t happen,” explains Dr Jessup. “Anyone who is concerned about a delay in conceiving is encouraged to seek specialist fertility advice promptly. There is no longer a ‘length of time’ that any person or couple should wait for assessment, advice and treatment if it is required. Often just seeking professional advice makes couples feel more positive about the whole experience and gives some clarity around what might be happening.”
“Remember that everyone’s fertility journeys are different, and no two couples are the same,” explains Dr Jessup. “IVF need not be the long and difficult process it was in the past. I advise my patients to lead a completely normal life during an IVF cycle. That means working as usual, coffee in the morning, a glass of wine when catching up with friends and family and the return to a completely normal sex life, where sex is fun again and not just aimed at ‘conceiving’.”
3. Do you already know of a medical reason why you or your partner may have fertility problems?
“Many factors lead to infertility and there is no single cause why some couples have difficulties conceiving,” explains Dr Jessup. “You may be in a second relationship where you have had a tubal ligation in the past or where your partner has previously had a vasectomy. You may have had a severe abdominal infection in the past and been told by the doctors that your tubes are blocked. You or your partner may have had chemotherapy or a medical condition such as cystic fibrosis that means he has no sperm in the ejaculate. You may be in a lesbian relationship. You may just be in your 40s. Basically, there are many and varied reasons so if you know you may have a fertility issue, see a Fertility Specialist as soon as you decide to have a baby.”
“Infertility affects men too. Sperm count and motility decrease as males get older, so their chance of fertility also declines. Studies show that around 1 in 10 men with no previous history of illness or trauma often have a very low sperm count.”
4. Do you suspect there may be a reason based on you and your partners’ past?
If you suspect there may be issues, it’s worth seeking advice early. Dr Jessup explains there can be lots of signs. “You or your partner may have tried unsuccessfully to conceive in a previous relationship, fopr example,” suggests Dr Jessup. “Or you may already have a child with your partner, but know it took many years to conceive that child naturally, even when you were younger. Other issues to consider may be things such as your partner contracting mumps as an adult, or he may have had to have testicular surgery for some reason. Some sports supplements can also affect sperm count. You may have had a significant pelvic infection with chlamydia and been told your fallopian tubes may be damaged as a result. If there are any past factors that you think might present a fertility problem, don’t feel the need to wait a specific length of time before getting the correct advice. The sooner you see a Fertility Specialist, the better!”
5. Are you single and wanting a baby?
“Don’t be shy!” advises Dr Jessup. “I see women every week who are taking up this option. If you are not in a relationship and want to conceive, using donor sperm is a very realistic option. Some women choose this path when they are nearing 40 and still want a child while they can. Other women are younger but are choosing to conceive with donor sperm rather than conceiving with a casual partner then potentially facing the difficulty of co-parenting after separation. Whatever your situation, getting the right information about how to choose sperm, having the ability to speak with a counsellor about the implications of embarking on a pregnancy with donor sperm is the first step. Understanding the time frames and costs takes much of the mystery away and allows you to make sensible informed choices about what is obviously an important decision. Also, if a woman is older, not every egg is normal, and a number of IVF cycles may be needed to find a good quality embryo that grows into a baby. The ability to lead a normal life during this time is just so important.”
Dr Jessup and her husband, Dr David Knight are both fertility experts from Demeter Fertility www.demeterfertility.com in Sydney. The couple managed to conceive using a frozen embryo after three cycles of IVF. Dr Jessup, who has four children from a previous marriage, and Dr Knight who has three older children, said the process was a difficult, emotional rollercoaster but was completely worth it, and gave them both a first-hand experience of what their patients go through. “Although it is a challenge, it is certainly a positive step forward for couples who are struggling with fertility issues.”
Above: Dr Jessup, with baby Sam, who was conceived with the help of IVF.