Busting the Biggest Myths About Infertility

In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, we’re joining the conversation about infertility and doing our part to refute myths that cause women and couples unnecessary worry and concern. At the Stanford Medicine Fertility and Reproductive Health center, we provide innovative solutions for all kinds of infertility—some very simple, others highly complex—to empower every person who wants to build a family to make their dream a reality.

Meet our resident myth buster, Lusine Aghajanova, MD, a member of our large team of experienced infertility specialists, including embryologists, reproductive endocrinologists, obstetricians, reproductive surgeons, clinical nurses, and technicians. She has dedicated her career to bringing hope to families who want to have children. Here are some common myths about infertility, followed by her adept answers.

Q: I’m so stressed out at work, and I’m trying to get pregnant. Should I quit my job?

There is no evidence that stress is related to infertility. Studies have looked at stress for this connection and haven’t found it. Unless your job is causing very severe stress—to the level that it’s affecting your regular cycle—keep working and find healthy ways to manage your stress. 

Q: I exercise, eat well, look young, and I’m healthy. That means my eggs are also staying young and healthy, right?

A lot of women believe if they look and feel great, there shouldn’t be a problem getting pregnant when they’re older. Unfortunately, eggs do not respect a healthy lifestyle. Age is the biggest factor influencing female fertility. Meaningful decline in the quality of eggs starts around age 35, when approximately half of a female’s eggs are normal and half are not. It is the quality of egg that determines the quality of the embryo. That’s why we recommend women avoid postponing their efforts to start a family, if possible. If you must, or want to because of your career, consider freezing your eggs or embryos, something that’s now an option for the general population. If you are a female who is 35 or 36 years old, and you have tried without luck for six months, seek help from a fertility specialist. If you are 40 or older, see a specialist straightaway.

Q: Why is it so hard for me to get pregnant and so easy for everybody else?

When you want to conceive, it seems like everybody around you becomes pregnant easily. It’s normal to feel that way. The truth is, one in eight couples (10%–15%) experiences infertility. You are not alone. Remember, you never really know a person’s story. Maybe they tried for a year or longer before getting pregnant. Don’t lose faith. If you are younger than 35 and you’ve had unprotected, well-timed intercourse for 12 months and you haven’t conceived, consider seeing a specialist. If you are over 35, see above for when you should seek professional advice.

Q: In vitro fertilization (IVF) is the only option for infertility, right?

At our Fertility and Reproductive Health Center at Stanford Children’s Health, we provide a comprehensive evaluation and a tailored, personalized approach to discovering why a couple isn’t conceiving. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as having intercourse in a way that best promotes pregnancy, readjusting hormones, stopping smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, or increasing your vitamin D intake. We first identify what we can fix easily, and if that doesn’t help, we offer more involved treatments, including intrauterine inseminations and in vitro fertilization, as well as several other leading-edge options, such as testing for abnormalities of the uterus, providing reproductive genetic counseling, treating male factor infertility, and considering surgical sperm extraction. We also offer reproductive surgery, including using specialized, progressive surgical equipment to treat in a highly accurate and less invasive way. When needed, we partner with maternal-fetal medicine specialists, and other experts at Stanford Children’s Health and Stanford Health Care, to care for women with high-risk pregnancies. We work with patients who need “third-party reproduction,” such as use of donor eggs or sperm, or gestational carriers. Our comprehensive array of fertility treatments at Stanford Children’s Health include the most progressive solutions, innovations, and technologies, along with a multidisciplinary approach to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Q: For the LGBTQ community and single people, is adopting often the only solution?

There are several exciting options for LGBTQ couples and individuals who want a child. Depending on your situation, we consider using both a donor sperm and a donor egg, or providing intrauterine insemination (IUI) of donor sperm for female couples, including a reciprocal IVF, if desired, where one woman provides the egg and the other woman carries the pregnancy. Another option for male couples who both want to participate is providing sperm from both men and using a gestational carrier (surrogate), which we can help facilitate. We also offer sperm cryopreservation and testicular tissue preservation for trans women, and egg banking (oocyte cryopreservation), embryo banking, and ovarian tissue banking for trans men.

Q: Am I less of a woman because I can’t conceive?

This is the biggest myth of all, the idea that if you are a woman who can’t get pregnant, you are not fulfilling your role as a woman. Infertility is not something to ever feel ashamed about. Talk to others, read stories of other women who have experienced infertility, and also know that it isn’t just a female issue. About 30% of all cases of infertility are female generated, another 30% are male, and other times it’s both. Some women conceive but experience recurrent pregnancy loss. Regardless, infertility can usually be overcome, and a path to having a child can be found if this is your and your partner’s desire.

We’re happy to have a conversation with you about your infertility concerns or to answer common questions. Don’t hesitate to call us at (844) 662-2999 or email us at fertility@stanfordchildrens.org.

As a large, academic medical system, we were the first program in the nation to preserve fertility for cancer patients by freezing their unfertilized eggs before cancer treatment, to provide an option to become pregnant afterward. We were also the first in the world to report live birth after genetic testing of a frozen embryo (fertilized egg). We pioneered extended embryo culture (to blastocyst-stage embryo), which is now standard practice. We offer one-of-a-kind, novel treatments, such as using platelet-rich plasma to enhance implantation of an embryo. We currently have several active clinical trials. One evaluates how endometriosis, a condition where the tissue of the uterus overgrows, affects the outcome of in vitro fertilization. The bottom line is, if you want to have a child, you should be able to have a child—and we are here to empower you to do so.

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