At a certain point in most women’s lives, we ask ourselves, ‘Am I fertile?’ This question will likely be repeated if you’ve been trying to conceive for a while and still aren’t pregnant. Approximately 85% of couples trying to get pregnant conceive in the first year, leaving 15% of couples to sit outside of that relatively normal conception window.
Infertility is defined as trying to get pregnant with frequent, unprotected sex for at least a year with no success, and is usually diagnosed if a couple has been trying to conceive for one year and haven’t succeeded.
While big celebrations happen to mark pregnancy, gender reveals, births and first birthdays, infertility still very much sits in the shadows. “It was some of the darkest two years of my life”, mother, photographer and We Don’t Have Time for This podcaster Gemma Peanut told Kiindred, “It’s this weird thing where you feel really abandoned by your body, like, you feel let down”, she said.
The good news is that in many of these cases where a couple is struggling to conceive, infertility is treatable; with conventional treatment such as IVF, 85 to 90 per cent of infertile couples are able to get pregnant, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. So, a diagnosis of infertility doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to have a baby.
There are a lot of reasons some women experience fertility problems, and many risk factors to their reproductive health. Here’s a rundown of the key ones.
Reasons you can’t get pregnant
Female infertility symptoms
Blocked fallopian tubes: obstructed or scarred fallopian tubes can prevent sperm from getting to the egg, making it a big cause of infertility. Having a history of pelvic infections, sexually transmitted infections, pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis can raise the risk factor. If you’ve experienced an ectopic pregnancy before, this could also weigh in.
Ovulation disorders: some women have irregular ovulation, often due to polycystic ovary syndrome syndrome (PCOS) or hormonal imbalances. Premature ovarian failure can happen when the ovaries stop functioning normally before the age of 40, meaning they don’t produce typical amounts of estrogen or release eggs efficiently.
Uterine abnormalities: certain conditions can make it really tricky for a fertilised egg to attach to the uterine wall. Things like scar tissue, endometrial polyps or an unusually shaped uterus can affect fertility.
Male infertility symptoms
Sperm disorders: With low sperm count, abnormally shaped sperm, or spermwith low motility (meaning they have trouble reaching the egg), can all give an increased risk of infertility.
Varicoceles: Blocked or swollen veins in the scrotum made it really hard for sperm to thrive, creating a low sperm count.
Poor sperm delivery: male infertility increases with issues like premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction or blockages in the testicles lower the chances that healthy sperm make it to the egg.
6 signs you can’t get pregnant
If you are wondering about your fertility, it’s important to be aware of and pay attention to warning signs of reproductive health. If you notice any of the five symptoms listed below, give your doctor a call. They’ll determine whether you have a condition that affects fertility and will be able to treat the underlying problem.
Unable to impregnate
Trying to get pregnant for at least a year – having frequent unprotected sex – with no success is one of the signs of not being able to have a baby without assistance.
Normally it will take your body a few months to regulate after stopping birth control. But if you don’t get a period after three months, you should see your doctor. The absence of periods is normally an indication that a woman is not ovulating and therefore will have trouble conceiving without assistance. Early intervention with oral medication to stimulate ovulation, such as Clomid, can be successful.
A menstrual cycle that’s too long (35 days or more), too short (less than 21 days), irregular or absent can mean that you’re not ovulating. There might be no other signs or symptoms.
Irregular and missed periods are also signs of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS, which affects 1 in 10 women, is a reproductive hormonal imbalance that affects ovulation. If you are experiencing irregular periods, we recommend you talk to your doctor.
Bleeding between periods
Generally, you should only bleed when you have your period. Intermenstrual bleeding is an infertility warning sign. And infertility symptoms aside, bleeding mid-cycle may also be a sign of something more serious, so we recommend you see your doctor if you are experiencing this symptom.
Very Heavy periods
While many women complain of heavy periods – at least in the first few days of menstruating, very heavy periods may be an early sign of infertility. If your period is so heavy that you have to change your pad, tampon or menstrual underwear every hour for several hours, bleed for more than seven days or pass blood clots, your period is considered very heavy and we recommend you see your doctor to discuss the cause, health implications and what your period might be revealing about you being able to have a baby.
Painful periods, pain throughout your menstrual cycle and discomfort after sex, are all indicators of endometriosis. Although endometriosis is characterised by pelvic pain and infertility, 20–25% of endo patients are asymptomatic. And because it’s a condition that poses a risk to a woman’s egg supply, and therefore a risk factor of female infertility, a faster-paced evaluation and treatment is recommended. If you are experiencing pelvic pain, we recommend that you see your doctor.
If you’re experiencing any of these signs of infertility, you should talk to your doctor. If your doctor does diagnose infertility, they will be able to advise you of your fertility treatment options. Reproductive medicine and support such as stimulating oral medications, injectables, IUI and IVF are available to you. A fertility specialist can provide assistance regarding both female and male fertility (it’s important to address both)
But it’s also important to remember that for reasons beyond logic, many infertile couples will go on to conceive a baby without treatment.