For thousands of years of human history, fertility was a mythical undertaking imbued with cultural meaning and religious significance. Few understood that the ability to get pregnant is a medical issue, not a judgment from God or another entity. Although we know better today, we still haven't moved much beyond those original conception myths. Much remains to be understood, and lack of access to quality biology education means that many people simply do not understand how their bodies work, how pregnancies happen, or which factors affect the likelihood of getting and staying pregnant.
It's time for these myths about conception to expire, because they prevent good and well-intentioned people from seeking the fertility help they need.
Myth: Age won't affect fertility for healthy people.
We live in an era where age is increasingly becoming just a number. Seventy-year-olds run marathons. Sixty-year-olds look like forty-year-olds once did. Age doesn't have to limit your life. But it can limit your fertility. Good health will not prevent women from running out of eggs, sperm from accruing mutations, or menopause from beginning. This is a natural part of being human. We understand that it takes longer and longer to establish the sort of successful life most people want before having a baby, but the hard truth is that you need to consider your age when making family planning decisions.
Myth: You shouldn't seek treatment if you cannot afford costly procedures such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).
We've all heard horror stories about couples who mortgage their homes to get pregnant. And indeed, sometimes high costs are the unpleasant reality of fertility medicine. More typically, there is a specific, treatable cause. Something as simple as a blood test could diagnose your issues, and a pill or minor medical procedure might fix it. Don't give up the fight before you even know what is wrong. IVF is the most extreme treatment for fertility issues, not the most common, so explore your options before writing fertility treatments off as too expensive.
Myth: Young people don't need to worry about fertility issues.
While it's true that fertility issues tend to increase with advancing age, age is just one component of fertility. A number of medical conditions, exposure to lifestyle issues that cause genetic mutations, hormonal imbalances, and a range of other factors can cause fertility issues. Don't rely on your young age as your sole hope for long-lasting fertility. If you can't get pregnant after a year, it's time to find out what's wrong.
Myth: Fertility issues usually mean there is a problem with the woman.
For centuries, women have been blamed for fertility issues. Even in the Bible, women who couldn't get pregnant were shunned and shamed. Tribal cultures across time and space have argued that women who can't get pregnant are being punished. Though science might instruct us otherwise, much of that stigma persists today. Women's reproductive systems remain a mystery to many couples, so many mistakenly assume that problems getting pregnant must be a problem with the woman.
There's a steep price to pay for this: a woman might be subjected to numerous invasive procedures, endless waiting, and lots of guilt, only to find out that the problem was with her partner. When a couple cannot get pregnant, both partners need to be tested. Doing so can save you time, money, and lots of heartache.
Myth: Treatment can always fix infertility.
About 90% of couples who experience infertility will eventually get pregnant. Reproductive medicine is constantly advancing, and there is plenty of hope. But this does not mean that all who try to have a biological child will succeed. Some people have issues that simply cannot be fixed. In other cases, the cause of the infertility is never discovered. The mistaken belief that anyone can get pregnant stigmatizes people with infertility by convincing them that, if they're not conceiving a child, it's because they are not trying hard enough.
Myth: If you relax, your fertility issues will disappear.
Couples struggling with infertility are often told to just relax, as if their anxiety about becoming parents has somehow rendered them infertile. Most people who try to make a baby experience some anxiety. If relaxation were the key to fertility issues, everyone would be infertile.
In very rare cases, extreme anxiety disorders and autoimmune conditions that cause anxiety may undermine fertility. Otherwise, the key to getting pregnant is not relaxing. Indeed, an approach that is too laid back can actually undermine your long-term goals. If you're not pregnant after a year, it's time to seek help—not relax and hope for the best.
Myth: Healthy people don't have fertility problems.
We live in perhaps one of the most health-obsessed eras in human history. It's true that weight loss, a healthy diet, and giving up bad habits such as smoking can improve fertility. But even the healthiest people have fertility problems, and a healthy lifestyle alone will not fix these issues. Fertility problems do not mean that you've failed to live a healthy life; they mean that you need help.
Myth: If you struggle to create a pregnancy, you must be doing something wrong.
It's true that timing matters, and that certain positions during intercourse can improve your chances of pregnancy. But once you've mastered the basics of how babies are made, pregnancy should happen naturally. If it doesn't, it doesn't mean you're “doing it” wrong. It means it's time to get some help.
Myth: People who already have children cannot be infertile.
Infertility issues are so common in people who already have children that this phenomenon has a name: secondary infertility. Secondary infertility has many of the same causes as other kinds of infertility. Additionally, the very act of having a baby may interfere with fertility, particularly if you had a complicated delivery, suffered a uterine infection, or experienced another serious medical issue. Just as is the case with people trying for their first baby, people who cannot get pregnant with a second or third child need help.
Myth: In vitro fertilization (IVF) always leads to multiples—twins, triplets, etc.
In most cases, doctors implant multiple embryos in an IVF session, for one simple reason: when multiple embryos are implanted, the odds of at least one successfully becoming a pregnancy are greatly increased. IVF is a delicate process that requires a skillful doctor, a healthy body, and plenty of luck. Even then, only about a quarter of IVF procedures produce even a single pregnancy. Although IVF does slightly increase the odds of having multiples because multiple embryos are implanted, multiple births are still relatively rare. About 10% of IVF cycles end in twins or triplets.