Infertility Options


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You have been trying to conceive a child for some time, typically 2-3 years, and have gone to see a specialist about what’s going on. After a series of tests, you find out that either you or your partner are infertile. What now? The first and possibly most important point to be made is that you have options, many of them in fact, and if you are still committed to having a child of your own then modern medicine can help you out through assisted reproduction therapies (ARTs). This article lists the main options available to you, so take heart in that these methods have been helping couples for years, and have only gotten better.

Finding out you are infertile

It’s important not to jump any conclusions if you have been trying to conceive and haven’t had any luck. Many couples, particularly older ones above the age of 35, can spend up to 2 or even 3 years having regular sexual intercourse before being able to conceive. If you have been trying for some time and are concerned, then consulting a fertility specialist or your doctor is the first step. There’s a good chance that a small adjustment in your behaviour or timing is what you need, but if you do find out that you are infertile or subfertile, then fret not because there is a lot of support available for you, and many ways by which you can still get pregnant.

Finding out you are infertile can be an extremely trying experience, and you can be confident that your doctor is sensitive to that fact. Fertility clinics in particular are practiced in helping people through this difficult time, and they can give you hope through the many options now available to couples across the country who have successfully used fertility treatments to get pregnant.

What are my options?

The first and most apparent options are adoption and foster care, however if you and your partner are looking to conceive a child of your own, there are a number of medical means by which you can conceive using your own genetic material. Each of these methods takes a different approach and works as a solution to a different type of infertility.

In vitro fertilisation (IVF)

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is an extremely popular and well known method of assisted conception, and it is one that now has an established record of many years’ worth of successful treatments. Simply put, IVF involves taking egg cells from Mum and sperm cells from Dad, and giving them an opportunity to interact and fertilise in vitro, which means that they are placed within a glass container called a petri dish. After a successful fertilisation and a couple of other stages, the new embryo (a term for a baby at its very earliest stage as a few cells) is introduced into the mother’s womb, where it can successfully implant itself. From this point onwards pregnancy continues within Mum as it should, under close observation by a team of specialists in the field.

ICSI (Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection)

ICSI (Intra-cytosolic sperm injection) is another option which is often used in the field of fertility treatment, and is used in the event of problems with sperm cells. These issues can range from a low sperm count to issues with motility and shape. ICSI is in fact often used on top of IVF if there has been a low fertilisation rate during IVF attempts. The procedure is, in principle, fairly simple, and involves sperm being directly injected into an egg cell to fertilise it.

Intrauterine insemination (IUI)

IUI (intrauterine insemination) is essentially a filtering process that splits fast moving from their slow moving counterparts. These more motile sperm have a much better chance of successfully fertilising an egg cell, and so are placed into the womb around the point in the cycle where an egg is released for fertilisation (ovulation).

IUI tends to be used where there is no discernable cause for infertility, despite a number of different tests, or where there are issues with ovulation, impotence, or premature ejaculation. It is also a popular choice for anyone looking to get pregnant through donated sperm in the absence of a male partner, whether for a single parent or same sex couple.

Gamete Intra-Fallopian Transfer (GIFT)

GIFT involves the placement of healthy sperm and eggs into a fallopian tube, allowing fertilisation to take place within the body as it naturally would but with some added help. The sperm and eggs are both selected for their traits, meaning that the most motile and best shaped sperm are placed alongside the healthiest egg to give a couple the best chance for conception and hence fertilisation. GIFT is generally used if the couple are opposed to IVF for any reason or IVF has failed in the past. GIFT is one of many fertility options available, but is one that has some stigma attached as it is thought by some to be ineffective.

In vitro maturation (IVM)

Not to be confused with IVF, IVM takes a different tack to its similarly named sister procedure. In IVM eggs are actually collected whilst immature, and then grown and matured in lab conditions before fertilisation. During IVF on the other hand, egg cells are collected once mature. This technique tends to be used if there is a risk of reacting to fertility drugs for example, of if male infertility is the only problem a couple has in conceiving.

Surrogacy

Using a surrogate basically means that another woman outside the couple bears and births a child on behalf of that couple. For women who have recurrent miscarriages or who have any defect in their womb, this option can provide a means by which a couple can a child with their genes. It can also be an option for couples who have tried other means like IVF and have not had any success. Surrogacy does, however remain a topic of much debate, both legal and ethical.

Fertility drugs

Fertility drugs are often used to regulate the female cycle and make it more likely that a couple will be able to conceive. They aren’t used for men particularly often, but can be effective in some cases. Again it is your doctor who is best able to decide whether or not drug treatments might work.

Surgery

Physical problems in the structures of your reproductive system can be the cause of infertility, and in these instances surgery can help fix the problem and allow for normal conception. Examples include reversing sterilisations.

The list above gives a brief overview of the main fertility treatments and assisted conception methods that are used today. More information on these is readily available from your GP or specialist, and also from the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) website. The HFEA is the nation’s authority on all things surgical


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