National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) is here!
Hello everybody! Welcome to the second blog! This week is National Infertility Awareness Week, also known as #NIAW. Pink and blue awareness pins are used to raise awareness for Infertility. I decided that I’m going to list what the ribbon colors are for each cause at the top of the blog since we get a lot of questions about what color awareness pins are attributed to what causes.
Infertility has become more visible in recent years with the help of online support groups and social media platforms. Those currently battling infertility can all virtually get together and discuss their experiences and lend one another support or offer tips. The hashtag #ttc, which stands for trying to conceive, is one of the most popular infertility hashtags. If you, or someone you know is struggling to get pregnant, I would highly recommend a quick search on the social media platform of your choice to find a #ttc community to talk to.
Infertility can be a very isolating and lonely experience for couples, in part due to the stigma surrounding the issue. Many people experience feelings of shame or inadequacy when they are unable to conceive naturally, and as a result, they don’t talk openly about it with other people. While, of course, this is a very personal situation for anyone going through it, there is no need to be embarrassed about the struggle. In fact, infertility is actually pretty common! 1 in every 8 couples experiences infertility. A couple is classified as experiencing infertility if they have been unable to become pregnant after over a year of unprotected sex.
Infertility can be a little tricky to navigate through. It can be caused by reproductive issues in either person, both, or it can be caused by a laundry list of other factors.
Here’s an overview of causes. Since men and women have different anatomy, the causes will be separated by sex:
Things that can cause infertility in men include:
- The sperm itself: under-production of sperm, or limited function of the sperm.
- The delivery of the sperm: sometimes vessels can be blocked or there can be structural abnormalities.
- The environment: overexposure to things like saunas, or Jacuzzi’s, can affect the body’s ability to produce sperm.
- Overuse of harmful substances: overconsumption of things such as alcohol, cigarettes (any consumption of cigarettes is too much), marijuana, and metabolic steroids can seriously influence your ability to produce normal amounts of sperm as well as normal quality sperm.
- Other health problems, and respective treatments: one major example of this is cancer and the resulting impairment of sperm production from chemotherapy or radiation.
Things that can cause infertility in women include (brace yourselves ladies, because it gets a little more complicated for women… no surprise there, because when is it not more complicated being a woman?! Just kidding. But also not.):
- Issues with ovulation: ovulation disorders and hormonal disorders can effect how eggs are released, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, hyperprolactinemia, thyroid disorders.
- Abnormalities of the uterus or cervix: this includes things like structural abnormalities of the cervix or uterus or shape of the uterus. It can also include polyps, benign tumors (meaning non-cancerous abnormal cell growths), or fibroids in the uterus.
- Damaged or blocked fallopian tubes: there is something called salpingitis, which can cause inflammation of the fallopian tubes. Inflammation, when persistent and untreated, can result in damage over long periods of time. Salpingitis can be caused by P.I.D., aka pelvic inflammatory disease, which usually is the result of a sexually transmitted infection (STI), endometriosis, or adhesions.
- Endometriosis: this super sucky (speaking from experience) disease occurs when the lining of the uterus, also known as the endometrium, starts to grow outside of the uterus. The migrating cell growth can cause issues in how the female reproductive organs function. It is most commonly diagnosed when women come in reporting abnormally painful, long, and heavy periods.
- Early menopause, also referred to as primary ovarian insufficiency: this is when the ovaries begin to shut down earlier than in most women, and periods end before age 40. There isn’t a surefire cause of primary ovarian insufficiency, however, there are a few known factors that can raise the likelihood of early menopause. These factors include smoking (generally speaking, smoking leads to every horrible thing that can happen to you. you really shouldn’t smoke. I know that’s kind of a duh statement, but just reiterating the point.), immune system diseases, radiation or chemotherapy, Fragile X syndrome, and some genetic conditions like Turner syndrome.
- Scar tissue: adhesions, or scar tissue, can form from pelvic inflammatory disease, pelvic infections; any time surgery is performed in the area (especially after C-sections. Women who have already had children without experiencing infertility can still deal with it later.), or even from an appendicitis.
- Other health problems, and respective treatments: again, this includes cancer and radiation therapy or chemotherapy. In women, both radiation and chemo can have severe implications on the reproductive system, especially the eggs. Of course, there are also a myriad of other diseases that can contribute to infertility that are not directly located in the reproductive organs, such as celiac disease, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases like lupus.
As I’m sure you may have noticed, some of the risk factors are the same for guys and gals, alike. I know you’re all probably a little overwhelmed by that last listing of causes of infertility, but let me share just one more list of risk factors that apply to both men and women, that aren’t specific to which organs you have.
- First and foremost, there is the issue of age. I think most of us are all aware that as women age, especially after a woman hits her mid 30’s, fertility swiftly declines. But, there is also a lot of evidence to suggest that men may also become less fertile after 40. Risk for the baby’s health also increases as the age of the parents’ increases. That is not to say it means the baby will definitely have health issues. It just means that certain issues become more likely, statistically.
- Surprise, smoking is bad! Smoking anything is bad for infertility, and yes that means pot as well as cigarettes, cigars, or whatever else you’re trying to smoke. This applies to both hopeful parents. It makes miscarriage more likely, and makes fertility treatments less effective. If you’re paying for fertility treatments, you know they don’t come cheap. So don’t throw your money away.
- Alcohol. Technically speaking, alcohol is not recommended for women trying to conceive or women already pregnant. Alcohol consumption has been linked to increased risk of infertility and birth defects. What you may not have heard is that alcohol consumption in men can also increase infertility by lowering sperm count and sperm motility.
- Being overweight and sedentary, or not active, can contribute to infertility in both men and women.
- Being underweight is just as much of an issue as being overweight. Some people are just naturally thin or naturally thick; I am in no way body shaming anybody! If you ask me, people are like French fries… awesome no matter what width they come in. You just have to be aware that if you are on either side of the spectrum, it may be a contributing factor in why conceiving is difficult.
- Exercise. I get it, nobody likes exercise (and if you do… how can I convince myself to like it, too?). Here’s the thing about exercise, it just makes everything work better. That doesn’t sound scientific, because I didn’t read it in a medical journal. In every illness I have encountered thus far in life, every one of the doctors has suggested exercise as a way to improve symptoms. Now, it’s possible that when doctors take the Hippocratic Oath there’s some line in there about agreeing to conspire to torture people by telling them that their health depends on exercise. But, I have a feeling that they all may actually be on to something. Don’t tell them I said that, I will deny it. Back to the point, exercise is good for you. If you’re struggling with infertility and exercise isn't really your thing, it may be time to reassess.
At this point, I feel I should suggest that you take a deep cleansing breath because I know how daunting and overwhelming it is to absorb all of that information. It may seem like you don’t have enough time to figure out which of these many factors is responsible for your struggle, but luckily there are wonderful doctors out there who specialize in helping couples like you become parents. There are lots of treatment options that are available to couples in this day and age. We’ve got IUI (intrauterine insemination), IVF (in vitro fertilization), egg donors, surrogates, sperm donors, just to name a few options. You have all the reason in the world to be hopeful about having children. And I know that many of you out there are trying to keep your expectations low in order to avoid disappointment, which I completely understand, but just keep a little hope tucked away in there, too.
If you are struggling with infertility, or someone you love is, consider one of our custom awareness ribbons. Wearing a custom awareness ribbon can be more empowering than you think. It can also be a silent but powerful gesture of support. Yes, I’d love it if you bought one, but I also really do believe that.
If you would like to purchase one of our custom awareness ribbons for infertility, which is a pink and blue awareness pin, here’s the link:
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