Many couples and individuals pursuing fertility treatments for the first time are terrified of the costs. They've heard stories about families mortgaging their homes for in vitro fertilization (IVF), or about financial constraints meaning that a couple was never able to have a child. Infertility treatments are sometimes expensive, but in many cases, the solution to infertility is relatively simple -- and therefore surprisingly affordable.
The right treatment ultimately depends on the cause of your infertility. That means that you'll need the care of a team that specializes in fertility issues and that knows how to properly diagnose them. You can save time and money by seeking treatment from a fertility specialist precisely for that reason; specialized treatment means that you won't have to spend as much money on diagnostic procedures that don't help and treatments that don't work.
Occasionally, chronic infections interfere with fertility, either by causing the body to attack a developing embryo, or undermining the body's ability to produce hormones related to reproduction. Antibiotic treatment can attack an active infection, reduce the resulting symptoms, and increase your overall odds of getting -- and staying -- pregnant.
Addressing Underlying Disorders
Just as active infections can impede fertility, so too can a range of other medical conditions. Diabetes, for example, may alter hormone levels in your body, while reproductive cancers can make pregnancy a virtual impossibility. If you have an untreated medical condition, treatment begins with addressing that condition. After your condition is cured or in remission, your team will work with you to address any secondary symptoms it has produced, such as pelvic inflammatory disease or erectile dysfunction.
Hormones are your body's way of communicating. They tell the body to produce and release eggs, to sustain a pregnancy, to ejaculate, and to perform just about every other function related to reproduction. Thus any condition that impedes hormone production or alters hormone levels can undermine or eliminate fertility. Sometimes doctors can directly treat the condition that led to the hormonal imbalance. But when the cause is unknown, treatment is dangerous, or you want a prompt solution, it may be better to treat the condition with hormone treatments.
Depending upon the hormonal problem you face, you may need to take pills, injections, or both. Your doctor will likely conduct regular blood tests to assess the effectiveness of treatment and explore how hormones are affecting your overall health.
Donor Sperm or Eggs
When either you or your partner don't produce gametes -- sperm or eggs -- or when those gametes are severely damaged, the fastest route to pregnancy is often through donor sperm or eggs. Same-sex couples inevitably must use donors to achieve a pregnancy, but even heterosexual couples can benefit from donations.
There are a number of benefits to accepting donor gametes. If a reproductive issue completely forecloses the possibility of biological parenthood for one partner, this allows the other partner to still be a biological parent. But even when the reproductive issue is less severe -- such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or low sperm count -- donor gametes can be a faster and less costly route to parenthood, particularly if you are older or have a limited budget.
Artificial insemination circumvents the usual path to pregnancy -- sexual intercourse -- in favor of physician-assisted insemination. For couples working with donor sperm or eggs, artificial insemination is a necessity. But even if you are using your own gametes, there are often benefits to assisted insemination -- particularly if the cause of infertility is unknown, or if you have a history of implantation difficulties.
There are two options for artificial insemination:
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI) occurs when a doctor fertilizes the egg inside of the uterus. This is a less invasive option, and is also less costly.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF) is fertilization that occurs outside of the body. The doctor extracts eggs from the woman and a sperm donation from the man, then allows the two to grow in a test tube. When the embryos develop, the doctor implants them back into the woman's uterus.
To maximize the chances of a successful fertilization the first time, your doctor may advise either you or your partner to take hormones or other medications. This is especially true with IVF, which is more likely to work when there are multiple eggs available.
Some reproductive issues -- particularly structural problems -- can be solved with reproductive surgeries. These procedures don't directly produce a pregnancy, but they can remove barriers to pregnancy. Some examples include:
- Removing a varicocele in the man; varioceles can reduce sperm count and decrease sperm quality.
- Removing endometrial tissue in women with endometriosis.
- Clearing blocked fallopian tubes, since blockages can render a pregnancy completely impossible.
- Removing uterine abnormalities, such as uterine fibroids and polyps.
- Exploratory surgery, which is designed to give the doctor a look at the reproductive organs to better understand the problem.
- Removal of scar tissue due to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and other inflammatory conditions.