What is infertility really?

Talk about a loaded question, but one I’ve been mulling after seeing a few bloggers who did not get pregnant within 2 months of being married complaining of infertility.

Medically infertility is defined as:

Infertility means not getting pregnant after a year of regular, unprotected sex. The man, the woman, or both, may have a fertility problem. In women over 35 years old, infertility means not getting pregnant after six months of regular, unprotected sex. 

Infertility doesn’t always mean a person is sterile — unable ever to have a child. Up to 15% of all couples are infertile, but only 1% to 2% are sterile. Half of couples who seek help can eventually have a child, either on their own or with medical help. (courtesy of webmd.com)

Now, I understand that for couples trying to conceive using NFP (STM, Creighton or Marquette) and charting and abstaining, particularly when the woman had begun charting before marriage and intercourse, there is a feeling of “we’re doing everything right, why isn’t this happening” when a period shows up a few months in a row, but sometimes, even with NFP, it takes time. And a year is a pretty decent window to keep perspective through.

I went through the unique experience of not being able to use STM or Creighton because my indicators were radically inconsistent. That left me with Marquette, but after a while I felt as though using NFP to conceive (vs to prevent) created more stress and did lessen the chances of me getting pregnant. It also turned out I had an anatomical anomaly that prevented me from getting pregnant and/or causing pregnancy loss that no amount of charting or mucus observation or even ovulation tests could correct.

All that being said, should a woman or man claim they are suffering from infertility if they are only trying 2 or 3 months without success? It’s a delicate question. Medically, no, it’s not accurate to claim they are suffering from infertility. They may be frustrated and disappointed, but even non-pro-life doctors are loathe to diagnose infertility that early on. Typically that only happens if another issue crops up requiring investigation and testing that reveal the infertility issue (as happened in my case after trying for a year). Many of the women I’ve read who were upset after a few months of trying also mentioned something else: people asking/expecting them to be pregnant right away.

And that’s the rub, quite often. For a couple that wants children, not getting pregnant “the first time” often makes them feel as though something must be wrong, especially when family and friends ask “are you pregnant yet?” or “are you waiting to have kids?” Also frustrating can be when other family members, particularly siblings, did get pregnant in the first month of marriage and a couple did not. For the first issue, I would say for sure that we (as family and friends) need to back off. We shouldn’t be assuming that every couple is a) ready for parenthood right out of the gate and b) that it has to happen immediately. This puts pressure on an already disappointing situation in many cases and even guilt in the case of parents who just aren’t pregnant yet or those who may be trying to prevent for licit reasons. In the second case, often this is pressure a couple will put on themselves. My only advice is to try and enjoy each other and your love for each other and not worry about comparing yourself to others (easier said than done, I know). If, in the second case, another family member (say a parent) mentions that “your sister got pregnant on her honeymoon” I would again say respect for the couple involved should preclude making these kinds of statements. None of us is entitled to our children or grandchildren.

I understand we want to talk about NFP, about it’s benefits, but I thing for couples trying to conceive and not being successful right away, it can cause undue stress and even pain. And as a couple approaches the one year mark, I can tell you from experience, there is looming dread that something is seriously wrong and having people ask you which method you’re using to try to conceive is not a very sensitive or helpful question. I realize many are just trying to help, but for the couple at the center of this drama, it often points to another defect they need to correct. And this is where I sometimes feel caution for people in cases like my own. A friend had the exact same diagnosis as I did but her pro-life doctor never ordered an ultrasound or MRI which would have immediately identified the problem. Instead she endured 2 more years of charting and creams etc. Only after they moved for her husband’s job and she took an appointment with the first doctor she could get in with was it even suggested that possibly there was something anatomically amiss and this was discovered. Two months after her surgery (when they were cleared to stop abstaining) she got pregnant. Even if you are confident with your provider, don’t be afraid to ask if you’ve been doing something for a year or more with no results to ask, “is there something else we’re not seeing here?”

Infertility is no one’s fault and it’s not a punishment for bad behavior although it could be related to previous bad decisions (ie abortion, artificial contraception). Sometimes, even with NFP and NaPro, it can be unexplained. But we should be careful in assuming infertility in couples not attempting to conceive less than a year. Even if you’ve charted endlessly, God gets a vote and His vote may be not this month! So take heart, keep praying and trying and if you reach that one year mark, don’t feel bad asking questions. And if you are the family of one of these couples, try not ask if they are pregnant or why they aren’t pregnant yet. Try to simply follow their lead in supporting them.