“If I hear one more ‘my friend got pregnant after five years of trying,’ or get emailed another article about the next crazy herbal treatment that can increase fertility, I’ll lose my mind,” says Linda Rice, a Massachusetts-based certified nurse and midwife who experienced fertility issues for 3 years before having a son.
Sound familiar? If you’ve experienced infertility, you’ve probably also received lots of unsolicited advice on how to conceive.
You’re not alone. Infertility is actually pretty common. About 1 in 8 couples in the United States have trouble getting pregnant. Yet the advice they may hear is often not only unhelpful, it’s sometimes just plain wrong.
To set the record straight, we’ve asked several experts in the field to bust these myths about infertility.
While it’s true relaxing could help with infertility caused by chronic stress, infertility isn’t purely a psychological issue.
“I think if you polled all infertility patients, the number one thing we’d all be sick of hearing is, ‘Just relax and you’ll get pregnant.’ Most people still don’t see infertility as a medical condition. I’ve never heard anyone tell someone, ‘Just relax and your arthritis will go away,’ says Rice.
Infertility is indeed a medical condition. Your physical, reproductive health can’t be fixed by positive thinking, a refreshing vacation, or a new mindset.
This myth generally only considers what happens between the sheets, but there’s a lot more to fertility than the actual sex part. Saying couples need to try harder can be demoralizing and, ultimately, not productive.
There are things we simply can’t control and fertility falls into that category.
“Around 50 percent of couples who undergo infertility treatment will experience a successful pregnancy, but some infertility problems respond with a lower success rate,” says Dr. Suheil Muasher, an infertility specialist in Durham, North Carolina.
He adds, “This myth can be especially disheartening for couples who feel like they’re giving up if they find themselves unable to handle the physical, financial, or psychological toll of continued fertility treatments.”
Effort doesn’t always directly translate to success. Couples shouldn’t have to feel like they’re not already doing their best.
Women are often the target of pregnancy topics, but it takes two to make a baby. Infertility affects men and women equally.
In fact, each sex has their own set of symptoms that may suggest infertility, such as testicle pain or change in period flow.
While it’s true that women’s fertility decreases with age, women aren’t the only ones who experience fertility changes as they get older.
Women experience a significant decline in fertility, sometimes as much as 50 percent, between the ages of 32 and 37, according to Dr. Mark Surrey, a reproductive surgeon and medical director of Southern California Reproductive Center.
“Like female infertility, male infertility rates increase with age,” says Dr. Thomas Price, an infertility specialist at Duke Fertility Center. “After the age of 40, a man is likely to start experiencing decreases in semen volume and motility.”
Even if a couple already has a child or children, they can experience difficulty in getting pregnant later. This is called secondary infertility.
“People think that just because you have one child, you can easily have another. They apply your fertility to all of your pregnancies, and I’ve learned very quickly that it’s totally variable,” says Danica Medeiros, who experienced secondary infertility.
“My husband and I easily had our first child, with no problems at all,” says Medeiros, who had her first daughter at age 27. “We felt that whenever we wanted to start to try for a second child, it would be very easy.”
When Medeiros wanted to expand her family 2 years later, she found they had difficulty getting pregnant. After 5 years of trying, she eventually turned to in vitro fertilization (IVF) and gave birth to their second daughter. A year later, an unplanned pregnancy followed, bringing a third child to the family.
In reality, one of the largest factors of fertility for men and women comes down to health.
“If we try to live a healthy lifestyle, it will really help address infertility issues,” Dr. Diana Ramos, an OB-GYN in California, tells Healthline. “You have to know your body, listen to your body, and try to live healthy before you even start thinking about having a baby.”
Family planning around infertility comes down to personal choices that vary among couples. Every path looks different, and each individual choice is valid.
“Given I was thinking I was never going to have a baby, I was trying to find a new purpose in life,” says J.F. Garrard, who eventually had a surprise baby after 5 years of extensive fertility treatments. “I didn’t want to be defined by the fact that I couldn’t have babies.”
“I’m open to the fact that my family may be created in a way I wasn’t expecting,” adds Andrea Syrtash, who has been navigating infertility since 2012. “Let’s face it, I’m already in a different place with this than I ever dreamed I would be.”