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Episode 98 Transcript

Ep 98 Transcript | Debunking Myths: The Truth About Fertility and Conception

Welcome to Fertility Cafe, the home for every conversation exploring alternative family building through IVF, surrogacy, egg sperm, and embryo donation. Our host Eloise Drane, alternates episodes between educational shows, covering specific topics and guest narratives for further insight. For a mastery understanding and confidence in all things alternative family, subscribe to Fertility Cafe.

Hey there, Welcome to Episode 98 of Fertility Cafe! I’m your host, Eloise Drane.

Of the many things you were never taught in school, how to get pregnant is right up there at the top of the list. Remember the sex education classes back in school? Judging by the scaremongering sex education I received (which is admittedly, not recent) you’d think all it took was a slip of a condom or the missing of a pill and — bam! You’re a pregnant teenager in your life as you know it is over. But as many couples trying to start a family have discovered, human reproduction is far more complex, nuanced, and sometimes frustratingly elusive.

In today’s episode, I discussed those myths we learned and how they formed perceptions in our minds that need to be shifted. We’re going to debunk some of those myths we learned and uncover the facts that often get left out of the narrative. It’s time to truly understand fertility, conception, and all the elements that need to align in order for one to conceive.

So, let’s get into it.

Let’s start with the myths. From believing that unprotected sex invariably results in pregnancy, to sex being seen as an immoral act outside of a certain framework, these misconceptions often stemmed from our formative years. Condoms being ineffective, sex being exclusively a man-woman act, fertility and infertility being woman’s issues. All of these contribute to the cloud of misunderstanding surrounding conception.

Have you heard the popular myth that only women have a ‘biological clock’? Among the things most likely never discussed in sex ed is the little-known fact about male infertility. Male infertility is an often-overlooked aspect of traditional sex education and contributes to 20% of all infertility cases. While it’s true that women’s fertility decreases as they age, men’s fertility isn’t constant either. Studies have shown that men sperm quality decreases with age, impacting the chances of conception and an increase in the likelihood of certain genetic issues.

Male infertility encompasses much more than just low sperm count and involves looking into the quality, amount, mobility, and morphology of sperm. Despite popular belief, age is an influential factor when it comes to male fertility, particularly after 50, owing to causes such as lowered sexual activity, inferior sperm quality and quantity, and enhanced DNA harm in sperm.

Currently, the clinical definition of infertility is when a woman under the age of 35 is unable to conceive after a year of unprotected intercourse, or within 6 months if she’s 35 or older. When it comes to the odds of getting pregnant, there’s good news and a dose of reality. About 85% of all couples will achieve pregnancy within a year of trying, which is certainly encouraging. However, it’s important to have realistic expectations and understand the factors that come into play. On average, it takes about 6 months to conceive, but for women under 35, it’s recommended to wait a full year before seeking medical assistance. Although given what I have seen over the years, I will be getting baseline tests that we will review shortly within that 1-year period. Studies show 15% of couples are unable to conceive even after a year of having unprotected sex.

Ovulation can be a wildcard in this process, especially if a woman’s cycles are irregular. Timing is a crucial factor, as a woman is at a peak fertility for only about 1 week out of every month, around the time her ovary releases an egg. Yet, even perfect timing isn’t a guarantee. Achieving pregnancy requires a healthy sperm to fertilize a healthy egg, forming a viable embryo that must travel to and implant in the uterus. Any disruption in this process can prevent pregnancy.

For older women, the situation can be even more challenging. The quality and quantity of their eggs decline, and their monthly cycles first shorten, then lengthen as they approach menopause.

When attempting to conceive, couples often wonder if there are any tips and techniques that can enhance their likelihood of success. From headstands, to timed intercourse, couples often explore all sorts of strategies. Nevertheless, scientists cannot yet definitively state whether or not any of these approaches have any real effect on fertility outcomes. As it is important to focus on facts, we do know that taking prenatal vitamins from the beginning can significantly boost fertility. Although it can be tempting to depend on advice, couples should rely on trustworthy sources and speak to health care experts to get the most out of their fertility journey.

Stress is another factor that may make the journey of becoming pregnant difficult. The daily pressures of work, relationships, and life can take a toll on your overall well-being, including our fertility. Research indicates that anxiety can alter hormone balance and hinder ovulation and menstrual cycles, making it harder to conceive. Developing methods to successfully handle stress, like learning relaxation techniques, or finding assistance, can be advantageous to both our mental well-being and fertility.

Sleep deprivation is another factor that affects fertility. Insufficient sleep can disrupt the hormone balance and impact the reproductive system. Studies demonstrate that women who regularly get less sleep can have issues with their menstrual cycle and ovulation. For men, lack of sleep can result in lower testosterone levels, which in turn impact sperm production.

Weight is another significant aspect to consider for both women and men. Being overweight or underweight can influence fertility. Excessive body weight can disrupt the hormone balance and interfere with ovulation, whereas being underweight can cause absent or irregular periods. For men, obesity can lower testosterone levels, which plays a critical role in sperm production. Lower testosterone levels means that fewer impossibly less healthy sperm.

Our lifestyle choices may also be impacting our fertility. Studies have demonstrated that smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can decrease fertility in both males and females. For men, smoking and drinking can reduce the sperm count and quality, and for women, it can impact hormone levels and impair reproductive function. Also, marijuana use and remaining in hot tubs for a long period of time can negatively influence sperm health.

Certain medications and exposure to toxins can significantly impact fertility in men and women. Medications, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, opioids, and some antibiotics, can interfere with sperm production, function, and delivery in men. Even drugs used for chronic conditions like high blood pressure may have effects.

For women toxins can disrupt hormone regulation, ovulation, and egg health. Environmental factors like heavy metals, radiation, and industrial chemicals can compromise sperm quality and quantity in men, while endocrine-disrupting chemicals from substances like pesticides, tobacco, smoke, alcohol, and plastics can interfere with woman’s hormone systems. However, the impact on fertility isn’t automatic and depends on exposure level, duration, and individual sensitivity.

It’s commonplace to use lubrications during intercourse, however, not all lubricants are conducive to fertility. Many commercial lubricants include elements that can damage sperm motility and diminish their capability to get to the egg. Therefore, if you are attempting to conceive, it’s vital to pick lubricants that support fertility or utilize natural alternatives such as coconut oil or pre-seed lubricant, which are designed to support sperm mobility.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a single test that can predict success with regard to conception. For men, evaluating sperm count and quality is straightforward. Fertility tests for women are more complicated.

Blood tests to determine hormone levels such as AMH (anti mullerian hormone) or FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), which assess the number of eggs left in the ovaries, may be recommended by physicians. Moreover, there are now convenient at-home hormone tests available that can be performed with a finger prick of blood.

It’s important to note that one test result alone does not tell the full story of fertility. The results should be seen in connection with the patient’s full medical history, other fertility assessments like ovulation tests, physical exams (such as ultrasounds and fallopian-tube analysis), to get a complete image of fertility and potential obstacles. The data gained from these tests can assist individuals to make better choices in relation to their family planning, like when to start trying to conceive, or if to consider assisted reproductive technologies like IVF or IUI (intrauterine insemination).

Even though there is no guarantee, the fertility testing can be immensely informative. By getting to know your fertility status, you can have a better understanding of your reproductive health and discover any underlying problems that may affect your fertility, like endometriosis. We know though that fertility tests can be expensive, invasive, and time-consuming, and not all insurance plans provide coverage for these tests. Insurance coverage for fertility tests can differ depending on location, insurance plan, and medical necessity.

Another key step, is learning to recognize the signs of ovulation. Some of these indicators can be difficult to detect, like the increased vaginal discharge and the discomfort felt on either side of the pelvis. It’s therefore essential to be aware of the signals to identify the most fertile days accurately.

It’s also worth noting that up to 30% of heterosexual couples who experience fertility issues are diagnosed with “unexplained infertility” despite all test results showing normal. Testing can be particularly beneficial for individuals with risk factors for infertility, like a history of sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, autoimmune conditions, PCOS, or pelvic inflammatory disease.

Moreover, there are some, me included, who argued that fertility testing, such as AMH and FSH, should be part of the normal medical care for women of reproductive age, much like getting Pap smears. By understanding fertility beforehand, individuals can start the process to parenthood with the knowledge to make wise choices on when and how to attempt to have a baby.

The landscape of family building has undergone a significant transformation, with women and couples choosing to have children at a later age. This cultural and societal shift is worth examining to gain a deeper understanding of the factors contributing to this trend. Over the past three decades, there has been a notable increase in the average age of mothers at the time of giving birth, rising from 24.6 years to 27.2 years.

While it’s important to note that a significant number of births still occur to women in their 20s, which are considered the peak childbearing years, there have been a steady upward shift in the average age within this group since 1970. This shift in the average age of women having a baby can be contributed to various factors. One factor is the decline in the teen birth rate, indicating a shift in societal norms, and a greater emphasis on education and career aspirations for young women. Additionally, there has been a rise in birth rates for women in their 30s and 40s, highlighting a growing trend of delay childbearing.

These statistics are based on data obtained from birth certificates filed in state vital statistic offices and reported to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. They provide a valuable insights into the changing dynamics of family planning and the evolving priorities of individuals and couples.

The decision to delay having children is a personal one and can be influenced by a multitude of factors. Women and couples may choose to focus on establishing their careers, pursuing higher education, or simply wanting to ensure financial stability before starting a family. Advancements in reproductive technologies and increased awareness of fertility options have also played a role in allowing individuals to have more control over their reproductive timelines.

In fertility education must be a part of sex ed classes to break down common misconceptions, raise early awareness, and advance gender equality and reproductive health. Doing so leads to smarter decisions related to fertility and quick response when infertility problems surface. Moreover, it enables a more open discussion, and decreases the shame that goes along with infertility. In the end, understanding more about fertility will enable people to take ownership of their reproductive health, as well as create a more understanding society.

Thank you so much for listening. If you found this episode helpful, please rate Fertility Cafe on your favorite listening platform and share this episode with anyone you think could benefit from hearing it.

Tune in next week for another amazing episode on Fertility Cafe.

Until then, remember, “love has no limits — neither should parenthood.”