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Infertility Tests Every Aspect of a Couple's Life

Infertility Tests for Every Aspect of a Couple's Life

WebMD Feature

Patti Gellman rode a physical and emotional roller coaster for two years trying to get pregnant for the first time. What she and her husband, Alex, thought would be a simple act of love to produce a child turned into a highly medicalized journey of poking, prodding, discomfort and -- perhaps the hardest part -- month after month of heartache when nothing seemed to work. Their turmoil finally paid off in 1993, however, when Gellman delivered healthy twin boys.

"I didn't think anyone would be able to talk me into going through that again, especially since I had two wonderful, healthy sons," says Gellman, who lives in Ambler, Pa. But she had a change of heart last winter and, after going through another couple of rounds of in vitro fertilization, delivered another baby boy five months ago.

As Gellman can attest, the desire to have children can be so strong that infertile couples often will go to great physical, emotional and financial lengths to get pregnant. The good news is that about 80% of these couples will eventually succeed, typically with the help of a reproductive endocrinologist, and the vast majority won't need to undergo the more advanced and costly technologies, like in vitro fertilization. In addition, improvements in lab practices have increased the odds that these more sophisticated methods will work, while at the same time reducing the risk of multiple births.

"The problem is that infertility affects every aspect of a woman's life," says Alice Domar, a health psychologist and director of the Mind/Body Program for Infertility at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School. "It affects their relationship with their husbands because men and women don't respond to infertility in the same way. It affects their sex life because they're told when they can and can't have intercourse. It affects relationships with friends and family because everyone else seems to be getting pregnant effortlessly. It affects jobs because they have to miss tons of time for doctor's appointments and procedures. It can send them into a spiritual crisis. They feel cruddy because they're going through all these invasive tests and procedures which hurt. And it costs a ton of money."

If you're among the estimated 10% of reproductive-age couples who are infertile -- defined as being unable to conceive a child for at least a year without medical assistance -- count your blessings for these advancements in science. But also be prepared to enter a maze filled with uncertainty, disappointment and anxiety. Fortunately, arming yourself with as much information about infertility as you can from the start, forging a support network of women who've been there, and developing a realistic outlook can help, experts say. Here are some thoughts from the trenches -- from veterans and fertility specialists alike -- that might make that journey easier.

Beyond the Cookie Cutter

When Annette Wax of Wheeling, Ill., had trouble conceiving her second baby at 29 and experienced side effects from the first fertility drug she tried, her OB-Gyn sent her to a well-known fertility specialist who also was covered by her health insurance. Yet from the first visit with the doctor, who outlined a regimented course of treatment, she felt like she had been propelled into a cookie-cutter protocol in which her own needs and desires were ignored.

"It was like a factory -- I felt like a nobody among 30 people in the waiting room," recalls Wax. "They told me that if one thing didn't work, they'd try the next and the next. ... I felt like a guinea pig."

Doctors say that feeling comfortable with a program is just as important as its statistics and success rates. "A fertility program needs to give personal attention -- otherwise it'll wreak havoc with you emotionally," cautions Dr. Sherman Silber, medical director of the Fertility Center of St. Louis and author of "How to Get Pregnant With the New Technology." "The doctor probably won't have all that time to provide, but there should be counseling personnel to hold your hand every day."

That's why word of mouth is among the best ways to find a program you'll be comfortable with, advises Dr. Richard Rawlins, director of the IVF/ART Laboratories at Rush Medical Center in Chicago. "Find a support group for infertile couples, like RESOLVE, and talk to those women because they've been through it. Ask them where they were well taken care of and where they had a good doctor-patient interaction." RESOLVE is an infertility support, education and advocacy organization based in Somerville, Mass., with chapters nationwide.