With many women opting to start a family later in life, as well as the rise of infertility in our stressed out, urbanised world, fertility preservation is becoming a real option.
e|Care spoke to Bernice Lits and Tanya Rubin, two social workers who have helped women to deal with the often debilitating psychological aspects of infertility for more than 20 years.
The modern world and rising infertility rates
“It’s getting harder to conceive for many women. Part of this is our modern world – the stress, food, the way we live. Peak fertility is between the ages of
21 to 28 and the reality is that nowadays, most women are studying and beginning their careers at this age,” says Lits.
People also put off finding out about their fertility rates because there are many fertility options available, yet like with so many things – even if you do decide to only have children much later – it’s always best to find out about your current fertility now so that you can plan for the future, says Lits. With modern medicine, the way it is utilising options like egg preservation can prevent a whirlwind of heartache, she explains.
Rubin agrees. “We see this so often and it’s devastating. So many women wait to find out their fertility rates only when they decide they want to have children, and while this makes sense, it can often mean that many of the choices they had available a few years before such as egg preservation is now no longer possible and it just makes falling pregnant so much harder. Our bodies can change drastically in as little one year to the next.”
This can be shattering. “Our role as social workers is to help support women through this process which for many can feel like a blessing and a curse. For many of these women who are so used to feeling in control, are in top positions in their firms, and are used to setting goals and achieving them, they now find themselves in this area that they have no control over. The journey to fertility can take years and each new hope lost and found can take its toll on their families, partners, marriages and finances – some even mortgage their homes.”
Wijnland Fertility Clinic’s psychologist, Lizanne van Waart says “Infertility is a disease, like cancer, and although it isn’t life-threatening, it can take an enormous toll on people’s emotional and physical wellbeing. One in two marriages don’t survive infertility.”
While there is no guarantee that finding out your fertility rates will ensure that you are fertile – it can help give you a plan of action for later.
Here are some of the myths about fertility to watch out for:
If you are still having your period, everything is functioning well. This is not always the case.
It’s easy to fall pregnant. Stats SA shows that, like our counterparts in other parts of the urban world, infertility is on the rise.
If you are healthy and fit you will fall pregnant, even if you are older. Despite taking great care of yourself, ovaries have a life cycle that follows your chronological age not your appearance. Also, just because you appear healthy on the outside does not necessarily mean that the internal organs are the same.
“It’s always the women’s fault.” A third of infertility cases arise from men.
The facts about conception
“While the prime reproductive age is 21 to 28, age 35 is still considered good in reproductive years. From age 36 is when we would advise women to start checking out their fertility. Go for a proper check-up with your gynaecologist followed by a fertility expert – many people make the mistake of going to their general doctors but they are not specialists in this and this can end up costing you later,” says Lits.
Rubin agrees. “Get informed as soon as possible. Fertility preservation has become a real possibility now in South Africa – freezing your eggs can offer an insurance policy and a back up plan for the future.”
With egg freezing a patient undergoes the same hormone-injection process as in-vitro fertilisation. Following the egg retrieval, they are frozen for a period of time before they are thawed, fertilised and transferred to the uterus as embryos according to USC fertility.
Though this idea sometimes does not sit well with many women for cultural and religious reasons. “Culture and religion plays such a role in the struggle for conception – we need to raise awareness that even if we don’t wish to embrace fertility treatments such as egg preservation or IVF, that infertility is a product of our modern world and not a personal failure.”
“The truth is many of us experience it,” says Rubin. “Janice and myself got into this field because of our own battles to conceive and the ensuing pain that this caused us made us want to help others. The good news is that with scientific advances it is possible to fall pregnant – it may take a very long time and it may be incredibly hard and taxing emotionally but with perseverance success is often the result,” she explains.
The best strategy for late life conception is about having more possibilities, concludes Lits, and that for us comes down to information and preservation.