5 Common Myths About Infertility
By Alex Kornswiet
Infertility is hard to understand if you haven’t been through it, and there are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there, ranging from ideas about age to the success rates of treatments. None of these are helpful, and they often cause more pain than intended to the person or couple struggling to conceive.
In this article, I am sharing what I believe to be the top 5 myths about infertility, and the truth about them, from someone who has been there:
1. Fertility Treatments Are Guaranteed
Many people believe that fertility treatments guarantee you’ll end up with a healthy baby, and unfortunately, that is not always true. In reality, there are so many obstacles that those facing infertility have to go through to even have a chance at having a baby.
For one, IVF is not the only fertility treatment that exists. There are a lot of different paths you can take to try to have a child, from oral medications to surgery to intrauterine insemination (IUI), some of which are required by insurance providers before you can start IVF.
When people do begin fertility treatments, many assume it will work the first time. For some, this is the case, but not for the majority. There are so many variables and so much at play. I will use IVF as an example. At the very basic level, IVF includes taking injectable ovarian stimulation medications, having an egg retrieval, combining egg(s) with sperm, creating embryos, and letting these embryos mature until an average of day 5. At this point, the embryos are either frozen or transferred back into the patient’s uterus.
This is an extremely simplified version of IVF, and many patients meet obstacles along the way. For example, not everyone responds well to medications; not everyone has optimal egg quality; not everyone has viable embryos, and not all embryos make it to the blastocyst stage. And all of that takes place before the embryo transfer even occurs. After the transfer, each IVF cycle has an average success rate of about 20-35%.
As a reminder, couples without fertility issues have about a 20% chance of conceiving each month. I mention both statistics because, for me, I see fertility treatments as giving patients with infertility approximately the same chance of having a child in a given cycle as the general population, and that’s being very optimistic.
So, fertility treatments are not guaranteed. They offer a chance at having a child, a chance that people often have to wait a long time for and spend a lot of money on.
2. People Cause Their Own Infertility
This is such a hurtful one. Infertility is never anyone’s fault. Period. I’m not sure if anyone is ever explicitly blamed for their infertility, but it is the way others ask questions or make comments that hurt. Friends or family might ask, “whose fault is it?” but it is way more complicated than that. Sometimes infertility stems from one partner, sometimes from both, and sometimes there are no clear answers. But regardless, it is no one’s fault. So let’s stop asking those questions altogether.
Infertility already brings with it enough feelings of guilt and sadness. The last thing someone struggling to conceive needs is blame from others, intentional or not. So instead of asking questions or offering unsolicited advice, know that this is extremely difficult for them and just be there.
3. Infertility Only Affects Older People
I should start by saying that there is some truth to this misconception. Fertility does decline with age, but that is not even close to the whole story. The rate at which fertility declines, and the timing in which that happens varies greatly from person to person. For me personally, I know firsthand that infertility can affect younger people, too. I was only 26 years old when I was given my first infertility diagnosis, and it had nothing to do with my egg quality. For me, I have a completely blocked fallopian tube, and that was just the beginning of my journey.
There are multiple issues with this myth that infertility only affects older people. For one, women are often blamed for waiting “too long” to try to have children if they have issues when they are over 35 years old. But there are plenty of women in that age group who successfully get pregnant naturally, and lots of younger women who have issues conceiving.
For people who are younger, this misconception also causes others, even doctors, to wrongly assume that their infertility issues should not be taken seriously. When I first noticed something was off, I had many doctors tell me to “just keep trying.” I was told that “it would definitely happen” because I was “so young.” Thankfully, I ignored them and found a provider who listened to my concerns and took me seriously. But unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone.
Infertility does not discriminate, and patients should be taken seriously regardless of their age or diagnosis.
4. Infertility is a Women’s Issue
Historically, infertility has been incorrectly considered a female issue. But in reality, in about 50% of all infertility cases, there is a male factor involved. Some are a combination of issues with both partners, and some are unexplained.
I have spoken to several couples about this, and in a lot of cases, the woman goes for diagnostic testing long before her male partner. There are a variety of reasons for this, but this can lead to a delay in a diagnosis and cause unnecessary pain, waiting, financial responsibility, and more. In addition, there is a lot less support for men going through infertility due to the shame and stigma involved with male factor infertility. Everyone struggling to conceive deserves to be taken seriously and supported, not just women.
5. You Cannot Have A Miscarriage If You Do A Fertility Treatment
This might not be a common misconception, but I truly believed having a miscarriage was less likely when I had already gone through so much to try and become pregnant.
Unfortunately, that didn’t prove to be true in my case, and many people who get pregnant through fertility treatments also experience pregnancy loss. On average, a woman who conceives naturally has about a 15-20% chance of miscarriage. For those who go through IVF, studies have shown that there is approximately a 22% chance of miscarriage.
I do not say this to scare you, but I was completely blindsided by my miscarriages, and I would never wish that on anyone. With that said, I know that even if you are prepared for every single type of outcome, it still hurts no matter what when and if a loss does occur.
Infertility affects 1 in 8 couples in the U.S., and I think myths like this are important to bust in order to normalize the conversation around fertility issues. Overall, everyone navigating a difficult journey to parenthood deserves support, understanding, and respect, and these misconceptions only make that harder. Hopefully, these truths can help others understand infertility a little bit better, and help lessen the unnecessary triggers out there for those who are struggling.
Alex Kornswiet shares her journey through infertility, pregnancy loss, surrogacy, and motherhood on Instagram at @ourbeautifulsurprise. You can find her book, “How to Help Friends and Family Through Infertility” on Amazon.