When it comes to infertility, understanding what it is and how to define infertility can help make working through this struggle easier for many hopeful parents.
If you want to learn more about what infertile means and what you can do if you’re facing this challenge, you can reach out and speak with a professional. They can help you get connected with infertility resources and offer any support you may need.
We wrote this article with you in mind to help break down the infertile definition, what it is, and what it isn’t. Keep reading to learn more.
What Does Infertile Mean?
Essentially, infertility is when a female or male cannot conceive due to a problem with the reproductive system of either partner. Infertility affects approximately 1 out of every 6 couples.
There are two types of infertility – primary and secondary.
- Primary infertility is when someone is not able to conceive at all.
- Secondary infertility is when someone has previously conceived but is no longer able to.
The inability to conceive due to infertility can depend a lot on the time frame of trying to conceive, as well as the age of the woman. For women under the age of 35, infertility is considered when they are unable to conceive after 12 months of unprotected sex. However, for women who are 35 or older, that timeframe shortens to 6 months of unprotected sex.
In the United States, about 19 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 years old and have no prior births are unable to conceive after one year of trying. For women with one or more prior births, infertility is less common, with about 6 percent of these women unable to get pregnant after one year of trying and 14 percent having difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term.
What Does Being Infertile Mean for Females?
The most common causes of female infertility include problems with ovulation, damage to fallopian tubes or uterus, or problems with the cervix. Age can also contribute to infertility because, as a woman ages, her fertility naturally tends to decrease.
Ovulation problems may be caused by one or more of the following:
- Hormone imbalance
- Tumor or cyst
- Alcohol or drug use
- Excess weight
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- And more
Damage to the fallopian tubes or uterus can be caused by one or more of the following:
- A previous infection
- Scar tissue or adhesions
- Chronic medical illness
- A birth defect
- And more
Diagnosing Female Infertility
Potential female infertility is assessed as part of a thorough physical exam. The exam will include a medical history regarding potential factors that could contribute to infertility.
Healthcare providers may use any of these tests or exams to evaluate fertility:
- A urine or blood test to check for infections or a hormone problem
- Pelvic exam and breast exam
- Ultrasound to look at the uterus and ovaries
- Sonohystogram, which combines an ultrasound and saline injected into the uterus to look for any problems
- And more
Treating Female Infertility
Infertility in women is most often treated by one or more of the following methods:
- Taking hormones to address a hormone imbalance, endometriosis, or short menstrual cycle
- Taking antibiotics to remove an infection
- Having minor surgery to remove blockage or scar tissues
- Taking medications to stimulate ovulation
- Using supplements to enhance fertility
What Does Being Infertile Mean for Males?
Male infertility factors contribute to approximately 30% of all infertility cases, and male infertility alone accounts for approximately one-fifth of all infertility cases.
Abnormal sperm, inadequate numbers of sperm, and problems with ejaculation are the primary factors for occurrences of male infertility. Sperm abnormalities may be caused by one or more of the following:
- Abnormally developed testicles
- Swollen veins on the scrotum
- Inflammation of the testicles
Reasons for a low sperm count or lack of sperm include one or more of the following:
- A pre-existing genetic condition
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Hormone disorder
- A blockage caused by a previous infection
- Injury to the groin area
- And more
Ejaculation problems may include any of the following:
- Premature ejaculation
- Erection dysfunctions
- Complications from radiation therapy or surgery
- Retrograde ejaculation
Diagnosing Male Infertility
Potential male infertility will be assessed as part of a thorough physical examination, which includes a medical history regarding potential contributing factors. Your healthcare provide may use any of the following tests to assess fertility:
- Physical examination of the penis, scrotum, or prostate
- Semen analysis to determine the number and quality of sperm
- Making a culture of fluid from the penis to check for infections
- A blood test to check for infections or hormone problems
Treating Male Infertility
Conventional methods include any of the following:
- Wearing looser underwear
- Taking antibiotics to fight infection
- Taking medications to help increase sperm production
- Avoiding taking long hot showers, using hot tubs or saunas
- Taking hormones to improve hormone imbalance
Sperm production may also improve by taking clinically proven supplements. Anything that increases the number of healthy sperm increases the chances of conception.
Surrogacy is an Option [Infertility Isn’t the End]
Although infertility is an emotional challenge to work through, it’s not your final answer. For parents who cannot carry a child to term themselves, especially because of infertility, surrogacy could be your answer.
In this family-building method, an embryo is created by the intended parents – from their own sperm and egg or with a donor gamete – and then transferred to the uterus of a surrogate who carries the child to term for them. Surrogacy is the best way to preserve a genetic connection to a child for intended parents who believe that becoming parents is more important than actually being pregnant.
That’s not to say that surrogacy isn’t the best option for intended parents who want to be able to become pregnant but can’t; it just means that it may take those parents longer to work through those emotions before deciding to go the surrogacy path, and that’s OK.
Surrogacy is always an option for those who want a family, and there is never any rush to make this choice. When you’re faced with a struggle as personal and emotional as infertility, it’s important that you take time to process and work through your emotions so that when you decide to go with surrogacy for your family. That way, you’ll feel more open and ready for the process.
Working With a Surrogacy Agency
While you don’t have to work with a surrogacy professional, many couples do to help make the process easier for them. By working with a surrogacy professional, such as a surrogacy agency, they will take care of coordinating every single step for you and will provide the support you need throughout the process.
Surrogacy agencies are usually connected with other surrogacy professionals you’ll need to work with during the process, including a fertility clinic if you haven’t already found one. Working with a surrogacy professional means you won’t have to do the heavy-lifting during a time that’s emotionally-charging, but also rewarding and exciting.
Whether you’re looking for more information about what being infertile means and who you need to talk to, or you’re interested in other family-building opportunities like surrogacy, you can always contact a surrogacy professional. Even if surrogacy isn’t the path you’re ready for just yet, they can offer support and resources you need to work through this time.