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Finding Hope For Childless Couples: Understanding Options For Fertility Treatment

Finding Hope For Childless Couples: Understanding Options For Fertility Treatment

Babies and children are everywhere. And while it is, of course, a massively happy event when friends or family members happily announce they are about to start or grow their family, the painful truth is that pregnancy is not as easily achievable for every couple who wants a family. And many couples can find themselves in a difficult and upsetting situation where they may have to find that having a family will not be possible for them at all.

Today however, the situation is not as bleak as it was some years ago. Now couples facing a struggle to start a family either medically or biologically have options available to them. Remaining childless or having an incomplete family does not always have to be the only option anymore.

This article will take away the mystery and confusion about fertility treatment and help you have the family you’ve always dreamed of having. Each option is different and a clinician will ultimately be the best person to help you select the right path to take. However, it may help you to understand a little more about the options beforehand and what is involved with each.

In vitro fertilization (IVF)

IVF is a process proven by considerable amount of time. It has been almost forty years since the birth of the first baby, Louise Brown in 1978, in a process created by Nobel Prize winner Robert G. Edwards. Often known as “test tube babies”, there are well over five million children born by this process.

The IVF process involves eggs being extracted from the donor and fertilized in the lab with the partner’s sperm before being implanted in the uterus.

Before the process, your doctor will monitor your ovaries and the timing of the egg release, ensuring that your ovaries are producing eggs, and that your hormone levels are normal. It is normal to take fertility drugs during IVF. These are used to stimulate the ovaries into producing eggs, which is crucial to the process because having more than one egg available will increase the chances of becoming pregnant. In the case that the woman cannot produce eggs, it is possible to use a donor to supply eggs to make IVF possible.

The process may cause some discomfort, but generally no pain is felt and the process can be completed quickly. Typically, it will take between four to six weeks to complete a single IVF cycle and it may take two or three attempts before pregnancy occurs. However, after this, it is a normal pregnancy.

Fertility treatment - IVF

    Pros and Cons of IVF

    As with any fertility treatment, there is not a 100% guarantee of success. The success rate is dependent upon age with younger women being more likely to have a successful pregnancy via IVF. The chart below displays the success rate of IVF procedures in women by age.

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    Fertility Treatment - IVF Success Rates
      IVF Success Rates

      As you can see from the graph, the success rate drops off at higher ages. However, IVF can still be an option for older women to become pregnant.

      One of the potential advantages of IVF is it allows screening of donors not only for genetic conditions, but also for the selection of characteristics, including ethnicity and physical attributes.

      The average cost of IVF is $12,000 to $30,000 per cycle and in most cases, up to three cycles are required for a successful pregnancy.

      Fertility drugs

      Women with infertility issues may be suitable to use fertility drugs, which work by causing your body to release reproductive hormones that control the ovulation process. Fertility drugs can be effective with a success rate of about 40–50% in women who ovulate, helping them get pregnant typically within three cycles. They are often used as a first option for women who have fertility issues.

      Fertility Treatment - Drugs

        Fertility drugs should be avoided if the recipient has damaged Fallopian tubes or endometriosis.

        A course of treatment can cost between $10 – $100 per month for pills, or up to $6,000 per month for a course of injections. Generally, it will take between three to six months before either conception occurs or another treatment should be considered.

        Fertility drugs can cause more than one egg to develop in a process called multiple gestation. This can affect 1 in 3 women who are taking the treatment.

        Surgery

        Surgery may be used in cases when there are blocked Fallopian tubes, to remove endometriosis tissue, to treat PCOS, or for other anatomical abnormalities. It can also increase the chances of becoming pregnant using natural conception.

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        The success of any surgical procedure depends on the damage to the Fallopian tubes. There is an estimate that between 21–59% of women who undergo Fallopian tube surgery and 40% who undergo laparoscopic surgery do conceive. In addition to the usual risks associated with surgery, there is a small risk of an ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg implants outside of the womb.

        The cost for surgical procedures varies depending on the surgery required and can be between $2,000 and $10,000.

        Fertility Treatment - Surgery

          Artificial Insemination

          This is a process where sperm is deposited directly into the uterus using a thin catheter in a process called intrauterine insemination (IUI). Artificial insemination is especially used when the couple are unable to have vaginal sex, perhaps due to disability or for same-sex couples.

          For a woman to undergo successful artificial insemination, her Fallopian tubes, which connect the ovaries to the womb, must be open and healthy because this is where the sperm will fertilize the egg and how the embryo moves down into the womb. The Fallopian tubes can be checked using a laparoscopy where a fiber optic camera is inserted through a small cut in the stomach. Alternatively, an X-ray or an ultrasound may be used.

          The success rate for artificial insemination depends on age. There is usually a 10% to 20% chance of conception per cycle. However, this increases to 60-70% with six cycles of treatment. The average cost is $865 per cycle.

          Doctors may recommend fertility drugs in addition to the procedure to ensure a safe pregnancy. As with other fertility treatments, artificial insemination can increase the chance of multiple births.

          Intrafallopian Transfers

          There are two main types of intrafallopian transfers:

          • Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT): the egg and sperm are placed in the Fallopian tubes to allow fertilization to occur naturally.
          • Zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT): multiple eggs are collected from the ovaries and mixed with sperm. During ZIFT, fertilization occurs in a lab and the zygotes (fertilized eggs) are inserted in the Fallopian tubes rather than the uterus, which is the main difference between ZIFT and IVF.

          Intrafallopian transfers can be used in cases when the woman’s Fallopian tubes aren’t blocked or damaged and the man has a low sperm count, or there are problems with the sperm in general. It is also used where there the couple object to IVF, for example, for religious reasons or where previous attempts at IVF have failed to result in pregnancy.

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          It will typically take 4 to 6 weeks to complete one cycle at a cost of between $15,000 and $25,000 per cycle. Again the success rate varies with age, but generally it is around 22%. The process is considered more invasive than IVF as it does require use of a laparoscope inserted through a small cut in the stomach.

          Surrogacy

          Surrogacy is when another woman carries and gives birth to a baby for a couple who otherwise could not have a child. The surrogate becomes pregnant either via IVF using the intended parents’ embryo, or through artificial insemination using either the father’s sperm or a donor’s sperm.

          Surrogacy has one of the highest success rates when there is a healthy egg, sperm, and surrogate. However, it can take about one and a half years to complete the process of matching, IVF, and pregnancy. The cost of the process varies between $130,000 and $200,000.

          The surrogacy process allows for extensive screening where you can select a surrogate that will provide the best match and be the best surrogate to carry your baby.

          In addition to surrogacy being suitable for couples who are unable to safely carry a pregnancy to full term, it can also allow gay couples to have children. In the US, there are specific LGBT surrogacy agencies who can provide advice and assistance through the process.

          How to approach fertility treatment as a couple

          Of course, fertility treatment is more than just a surgical procedure or arrangement for surrogacy. It is vital that the emotions involved with any form of treatment be considered and that the emotional stress not be overlooked for couples involved.

          Amanda and her husband had been trying to conceive for over a year before they were referred for treatment. They found her husband had a low sperm count and so IVF was suggested as a way to have the family they so desired.

          “Finding out was awful and came close to breaking us apart. I could not envision going through the ordeal of treatments and Tony just felt like a failure.” However, Amanda found the medical staff were able to provide the support they needed. “The medical people were very good at telling me all the stages and everything involved. I also found online communities to find out more details.”

          After the initial trepidation, they went ahead with the procedure and she found that approaching it together helped and built a stronger relationship between them. “We got through it and thankfully, we were lucky by having our daughter with our first treatment. We became a great team.”

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          Of course, not everyone can be as lucky as Amanda and Tony were with being successful in the first cycle. It was a truth she learned herself as they tried for a sibling and had two failed cycles. “We hit the rocks again as we both felt like failures. It was pretty tough,” she recalled. Thankfully, their next cycle was a success and they have two beautiful children to show for it.

          Amanda has the following advice for couples facing fertility treatment: “Get as much advice as possible. You need to remember to never play the blame game. It’s no one’s fault you’re going through treatment. It’s no one’s fault if your treatment does not work first time. Remaining positive is the only way to get through it.”

          Preparing for fertility treatment

          Your doctor or specialist can help you find the best fertility treatment for you. However, there are things you can do before you attend your first meeting to ensure they have the clearest information to help you.

          • Keep a detailed chart noting when your periods start and finish. You can use a spreadsheet or one of the many apps to help you record information.
          • Record if/when you are ovulating.
          • If you experience any pain or PMT.
          • Note how often you are having sex with your partner and when this takes place in your cycle. This will give your gynecologist vital clues to your whole cycle, which will help in the choice of the fertility treatment that will be best suited for you.

          Other things you can do to help your fertility include reviewing your diet to give you the best chance of conceiving. Look closely at your alcohol intake and give up smoking, strive to eat healthily with lots of fruit and vegetables, and, if either of you are overweight, see if you can lose a little. Even a 10% weight loss can greatly improve chances of successful conception. Think about possibly going to the gym together. It is a great way to spend time together and it will build up your stamina for when you do have children!

          Children for LGBT couples

          Only in recent years has the option been available for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to raise their own biological children. Scientific research conducted by organizations like the American, Australian and Canadian Psychological Associations consistently show that gay and lesbian parents are as fit and capable as heterosexual parents to raise children and that their children are as psychologically healthy and well-adjusted as those reared by heterosexual parents.

          There is the option of adoption and fostering, as well as surrogacy and IVF for couples.

          The United States supports commercial surrogacy for same-sex couples and in the states where it is supported, there is support for surrogacy contracts and automatically naming the couple as the legal parents of the unborn child.

          In conclusion

          Just because you are struggling to conceive does not mean that you will never have a family of your own one day. As you can see, there are numerous tried and tested options available. Take the time to speak to your specialist.

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          Published on August 15, 2019

          15 Tips for an Overwhelmed Working Mom to Feel Better

          15 Tips for an Overwhelmed Working Mom to Feel Better

          As an overwhelmed working mom, you get a lot of intelligent ideas from magazines, friends and the internet about how to manage work, children, and a household.

          Unfortunately, you may still feel exhausted and insufficient at work and home despite the advice to organize, cook efficiently and pamper yourself .

          How great would it be to wake up tomorrow knowing that you can begin to feel better without all of those overwhelmed feelings?

          The sensation of feeling overwhelmed when you wear a lot of hats: mom, professional, household manager, partner, friend, etc. has its roots in reality. You are absolutely doing a lot of important jobs. But here’s the thing:

          If feeling overwhelmed has become your knee-jerk or chronic reaction, this emotion is now literally a part of you that needs your attention so that you can move forward more confidently.

          If helping yourself sounds too difficult, never fear. These tips come straight from therapy and neuroscience to hack into your nervous system. You will learn deeper ways to calm down and feel more confident about yourself, your life and your choices.

          1. Breathe and Notice What Your Body Feels like Inside and Out

          By using body-centered therapy techniques, you can better understand your overwhelmed feelings and offer accurate and practical help.

          As you’ll learn, when you feel stressed out, your thinking brain is not your best resource. In fact, simply thinking about and bolstering your efforts to “get rid” of overwhelmed feelings might actually make them worse.

          The first step to help when you feel overwhelmed is to simply slow down and breathe. This does not mean that you should suddenly take in huge gulps of air or breathe rapidly. That will send you into panic!

          Breathe normally and naturally. Make your breath comfortably slow, extending the exhale. Count 5 to 10 breaths.

          2. Get a Little Curious

          Ask yourself: How do I know I’m overwhelmed? Close your eyes or soften your gaze if you are able. Imagine shifting your awareness from your outside world and sending it into your body along with your breath.

          You might notice the signals right away. For example: My chest is tight, my heart is beating rapidly and there’s a sense of frustrated energy in my legs and arms. Or you might just hear some words like: I’m freaking out, failing or cannot do it!

          If it’s possible, get a little curious about this sensation. Consider that while it may be a big feeling, you probably have other parts of you that feel differently.

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          3. Offer Some Loving Care to Stressed-Out Parts of You

          Richard Schwartz, developer of Internal Family Systems Therapy defines our personalities as made up of sub-parts that interact within us. This explains why a “part” of you can feel one way and yet, you have another part that feels differently.[1]

          Gently acknowledging the part of you that feels overwhelmed and offering it some support and compassion (as you would a frightened child) can soothe your body and mind. “I’ve got you,” is a great mantra to breathe in when you’re overwhelmed.

          4. Get Smart About Your Wise Nervous System

          You may have heard of the “gut” brain or “body” brain. The science of Polyvagal Theory shows that the entire nervous system impacts how you think and feel – not just your thinking mind.

          In fact, did you know that your wise nervous system generally picks up information from your environment before your brain can interpret it?[2]

          When you feel overwhelmed, just one tiny cue of “danger” felt in your nervous system is often the unconscious trigger that tips you from busy but competent to feeling freaked out and exhausted.

          This cue could be as simple as a song on the radio that feels overly-stimulating, a child’s bad mood (even if it has nothing to do with you) or your spouse forgetting an unimportant errand.

          5. Remind Yourself That a Feeling Can Just Be a Feeling

          When you’re feeling agitated, your physical body is naturally on high alert. Any information or stimulation you receive at these times will feel overwhelming.

          This is not your fault, but it is helpful to understand that usually, when you feel like you’re not good enough, it is not objectively true. Your mind may just be creating a reason for the signals of danger coming from your body.

          Allow your body to feel without making a negative judgement about yourself or your life. This technique will help you break the cycle of feeling overwhelmed, then creating negative thought about the feeling resulting in overwhelming yourself even more.

          6. Learn Your Most Common Unconscious Responses to Stress

          Why is this important? When you feel stressed, you probably respond unconsciously in the same ways throughout your life.

          For some, too much stress will quickly create a numb, hopeless sensation. For others, the thought that life is just “too much” leads to bouts of panic or anger. Still, others might freeze completely, feeling highly anxious but not able to do much at all.

          From a biological perspective, all of these experiences are pretty normal. When you recognize that your body’s reactions are not faulty or foolish, it’s much easier to reassure yourself and move forward confidently.

          7. Exercise the Part of Your Nervous System That Provides Wellbeing and Social Connection

          Did you know that you can actually tone your ventral vagal nerve, the nerve responsible for feelings of safety and social connection?[3]

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          As often as you are able, allow yourself to linger on your favorite memories that invoke feelings of wellbeing, connection to loved ones, times of beauty in nature or your favorite memories of pets or places. Use all of your sense to really feel the experience in your body.

          By doing this, you’re activating and toning your ventral vagus nerve as you might tone your muscles. Make a kind of “body bookmark” of these purely content sensations to which you can return when stressed.

          This practice may feel silly, like an indulgence or even a fantasy. But it is supported by science and is important for you to create a strong and healthy response to stressors.

          8. Give Baby Parts a Break

          No part of you is trying to hurt you. But parts of us do feel extreme feelings and carry burdens from our past.

          For example, if you are feeling overworked in the present, it may activate parts of your personality that felt similarly earlier in life. Deep anger, fear, resentment or sadness provide a signal to you that something from your past could benefit from your attention.

          I know this may sound strange, but the next time you feel very overwhelmed, take a breath and notice if you feel like a child trying to do an adult’s job. If so, spend a moment calmly and compassionately reminding all of your inner child parts that you are indeed grown, capable and doing something appropriate.

          9. Address Critical Messages You Give Yourself

          What do you hear yourself saying to yourself when you feel overwhelmed? You may notice parts of you that sound critical or even cruel.

          Statements like “I’ll never catch up,” “Why do I try,” or “I can’t do anything right,” are very common to hear when you’re under stress. Believe it or not, these inner messages are likely misguided protective parts of your personality.

          These parts are normal and try to help you by “whipping you into shape” so you won’t fail, alerting you about scared feelings inside, or avoiding shock or disappointment by anticipating how others might criticize you.

          If it’s possible, acknowledge these parts as protective. Maybe express a bit of gratitude. Notice how the critical voices inside you, even though they likely mean well, cause exhaustion and even more stress.

          When you acknowledge these messages inside, letting them know they are part of you and you see their positive intention, the critical messages calm.

          10. Take Small Moments to Express Gratitude

          Everyone is talking about gratitude, I know. But there are good reasons for this trend.

          More and more studies about gratitude show valid connections between gratitude and lowered stress and mental health. A 2018 multi-university research study concluded that gratitude not only has direct effects on quality of life, but also has indirect effects through perceived stress and mental health.[4]

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          There are many reasons that gratitude impacts our nervous systems in positive ways, but the best way to discover this impact is to simply try it yourself.

          Take a minute each day to write down one to three things for which you feel grateful. These can be large or small, important or trivial, but they must be true. Make this a habit and watch your stress-relief grow.

          Or you can try some of these 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude.

          11. Play with Time

          In Gay Hendrick’s 2010 book The Big Leap, he talks about the concept of Einstein time vs. Newtonian time.

          Newtonian time is the clock time we all watch all day. Einstein time is more about what you make with your moments, realizing that your perception can slow or speed time up.

          For example, if you are spending time with someone you love and doing something you enjoy, time moves very quickly. Conversely, if you are doing a miserable job in uncomfortable weather, each second can feel like an eternity.

          The next time you feel stressed for time, take a slow breath and remind yourself that you make time. Time belongs to you. Then, enjoy the pace and do what you need to do. With practice, this little tool will become valuable for overcoming the mental pressure of time.

          12. Don’t Be Tricked by Perfection

          When you’re in the thick of raising children and working, sometimes nervous energy presents as perfectionism. In an effort to feel in control, you may make arbitrary but unreasonable goals for yourself that feel like they are necessary or true.

          Make a quick inventory of every job you are expecting of yourself and your family. Now question it all. What is really important and what is just preferable? What jobs can be left to someone else’s discretion, done well-enough by the children or dropped completely?

          Keep any jobs that give you joy and do them joyfully. Let go of jobs that feel like standards or expectations with little or no payoff. Save them for retirement if you like.

          13. Give Yourself Credit for Quality Time with Your Kids

          Think of the time you spend relaxing with and enjoying your children as a $100,000 per hour job. Very small amounts are still incredibly valuable.

          Showing your children that they are important is just as likely to happen in a ten-minute game of catch as in a whole day at the water park. A shared snack time, a book before bed, a half hour away from your phone to allow loving eye contact with your babes adds up to a lifetime of security and wonderful memories.

          Imagine your child someday saying, “Mom worked hard, but she always had time to hug me, to hear about my day, and to offer me guidance. I always knew that I mattered to her.”

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          14. Meditate for One Minute a Day

          Yes, you may do more. But if you can’t afford any more than one minute, go ahead and sit comfortably, breathe and be in your body for this time. It’s such a simple but powerful exercise and the kids can do it too.

          While you meditate, notice your loving heart. What does it need from you today — patience, compassion, creativity, caring, play? Remember to show up for yourself and you will show up for your work and your family as well.

          15. Guard and Celebrate Sleep

          From tinies to teens, there are many unavoidable reasons that kids interrupt your sleep.

          Here’s the thing: Unexpected sleeplessness due to childhood growth or illness is normal and not easy to control. If you are feeling overwhelmed, though, sleep is crucial.

          There are two things you can do to improve your mindset toward sleep so that you set yourself up for confidence rather than collapse.

          One, prioritize and protect your sleep time. If you tend to wait until the kids go to sleep to complete work or finally relax, that’s okay. But don’t let these activities cut into your sleep time.

          Given the choice between another load of laundry, Words With Friends, binge watching Game of Thrones or eight hours of sleep, consistently choose sleep.

          Two, appreciate and express gratitude for any sleep you get. Sometimes, it’s impossible to get seven or eight hours of sleep. However, allow yourself to enjoy any time when you are laying in a comfy space allowing your body to rest and repair.

          When you wake up saying “I didn’t get enough sleep last night,” you put your mind on alert that there is something lacking. This thinking alone can trigger feelings of overwhelm.

          Set your nervous system up for success by appreciating any amount of rest.

          Final Thoughts

          Life as a working mom is not an easy one. Overwhelmed feelings are natural and normal but, they can take over and cause chronic stress and dissatisfaction.

          Allow yourself just a few moments a day to reorganize your thoughts and feelings using the steps above. You’ll soon discover your calm and capable self.

          Take a lesson from your growing children: small changes create big results now and in the future.

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          Featured photo credit: Bruno Nascimento via unsplash.com

          Reference

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