This article was first published by Fairfax in July 2017.
I stopped taking the pill two months before I married my husband. We’d always talked about having a family and agreed that we wanted to start trying sooner rather than later.
I was 27 and my husband was 31.
Like many women, I assumed the minute I stopped taking the pill I’d fall pregnant. Initially ‘trying’ was fun, both mentally and in practice, and waiting for my period was filled with anticipation – not to mention a whole lot of analysis of every ache and pain.
Days before I was due on, I’d convince myself that my ‘due on’ headaches were worse than normal. I’d tell myself I was feeling a little nauseous and any smell that turned up my nose was another sure sign.
I lost count of the money I spent on pregnancy tests, only to see that repetitive negative line. As the months rolled into two years, I felt deflated and depressed. I felt my body was failing me in the one area it was supposed to succeed.
It was after another negative test that we decided to seek help. The disappointment was becoming too much to bear, and it was clear there was a problem. We needed a resolution and we needed it soon.
As is the norm with all fertility clinics, we initially underwent a series of tests to determine the reason I couldn’t conceive.
Tube blockages, endometriosis and poor sperm count and quality were ruled out. We were categorised as ‘unexplained’ infertility – things just weren’t happening on their own.
We took the doctor’s initial advice and tried insemination. Two rounds of this proved unsuccessful, so we reviewed our plans and proceeded to IVF.
Our first attempt resulted in five viable eggs. One was inseminated and the other four frozen. I was convinced that this would be ‘the one’, and left the clinic with a bounce in my step,
Sadly, it was not to be. This was followed by further heartbreak when the remaining four embryos didn’t survive the thaw. We were back to square one.
Fortunately, the next cycle was successful. On the first attempt I conceived my son, 18 months after starting fertility treatment. I was 31 years old and my husband was 35.
Five years later, my second son was conceived from one of our remaining frozen eggs.
In hindsight, we did leave things too long before we sought help. We were convinced that it would happen, so we should let nature take its course. And we almost felt like we might be viewed as desperate or paranoid if we sought help too soon.
We never considered that time might not be on our side.
Yet, the heartache we went through for so long could have been lessened if we had of sought help sooner. Rather than just worrying unknowingly that something was wrong, we could have got a definitive answer.
We could have educated ourselves earlier on our options and spoken to professionals for advice. In the first instance, it would have relieved our stress. But, more relevantly, it may well have seen our first son born sooner than he was.
Dr David Molloy is the clinical director for Queensland Fertility Group. He says that education about fertility is paramount, and could encourage couples to seek help sooner.
“Fertility issues are very common and about one in eight couples will experience problems getting pregnant in a timely manner,” he says.
“The most common problems are age related infertility and endometriosis. But the newer fertility issues starting to come through relate to ovulation problems, particularly in younger patients because of the obesity epidemic.”
Despite this newer issue in younger age groups, the average age of pregnancy is still 34. For those aged 35 and over, Dr Molloy recommends not waiting too long before seeking help.
“If you’re under 35 you should try for 12 months before seeking help,’ he says. “If you’re over 35, we recommend that you try for six months and then seek advice. Fundamentally, you have 12 chances a year to conceive, but between the ages of 35 and 39 there’s a reduced chance of conceiving, and an even further reduction between 39 to 42. After 42 it’s very hard to conceive, though it’s not impossible.”
Dr Molloy says that getting help sooner rather than later has many benefits.
Initial investigations and testing can provide both answers and reassurance, without committing to expensive or complex treatments. In fact, Dr Molloy notes it could give couples the confidence to keep trying naturally.
However, if like one in 10 couples something substantial is found, fertility treatment can commence sooner. This will save couples experiencing ongoing angst.
“There’s no harm in visiting a fertility specialist, asking lots of questions and undertaking a series of basic tests to determine life supply of eggs and sperm quality,” says Dr Molloy.