How advanced reproductive technologies are making parents out of Susanna, Diane, Demitra and James.
Susanna and her sister, Diane, struggled with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) ever since they were teenagers. Early on, their doctor told them not to expect they’d ever have children and each sister resigned herself to a life that did not include motherhood. But when Susanna unexpectedly became pregnant, she and Diane were thrilled. Though that surprise pregnancy ended in miscarriage and another spontaneous pregnancy did not happen, Susanna remained optimistic that there was a baby in her future. Ten years later, through the miracle of infertility medicine, Susanna is the mother of twin daughters and the aunt to her sister’s crazy, clumsy, cuter-than-heck boys.
Demitra had breast cancer when she was just 32. While her prognosis was good, her doctor wasn’t convinced she’d be able to conceive a baby after she completed chemotherapy and radiation. She advised Demitra to undergo egg harvesting before treatment and to store those eggs for implantation either in her own uterus or in a surrogate’s sometime in the future. Five years later, with the blessing of a clean bill of health and the help of a surrogate, Demitra is a mother of a healthy little boy.
James discovered that the reason why he and his wife weren’t conceiving a baby was because of a combination of lifestyle factors that left him unable to produce enough healthy sperm. When he quit smoking cigarettes and marijuana, however, and concentrated on exercise and healthy living, his wife was pregnant in less than a year.
What is infertility? For women age 35 and younger, infertility is defined as: The inability to get pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term after a full year of trying with unprotected sex. If she’s older than 35, it’s after six months.
Starting today, the documentary My Future Baby: Breakthroughs in Modern Fertility will be airing on more than 180 PBS stations nationwide. It takes viewers into a Los Angeles fertility clinic where physician John Jain, M.D., and other reproductive medicine experts explain the latest breakthroughs in fertility medicine.
About 7.3 million Americans and 186 million people worldwide are struggling with infertility issues. Some are caused by hormonal imbalances like Susanna and Diane had. Others are the result of undetected infections or treatments for diseases that leave them unable to ovulate, conceive or carry a baby to term. Sometimes it’s caused by a low sperm count or blocked tubes and sometimes, nobody really knows what the problem is. But for millions of American women, infertility is simply the result of waiting too long to become a mother.
Brandon Bankowski, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Oregon Reproductive Medicine in Portland, Ore., says: “Many healthy couples in their late 30s and early 40s figure that since they’ve taken good care of themselves, they can wait until they’re ready to become parents. When they don’t get pregnant however, they realize the reproductive aging process happens the same way to everyone no matter how young they look on the outside. The basic facts of biology are: Women enter their 30s fertile and leave them not fertile.”
A lot of the time, couples’ infertility issues only require a simple fix or a little education. “You’d be surprised how often couples come in saying they’re having trouble getting pregnant and what we discover is that they know how to have sex, just not how to get pregnant. We educate them about how their menstrual cycle works, when they’re ovulating and when to have sex and pretty soon, they’re coming in for prenatal care,” says Desiree Bley, M.D., an OB-GYN at Women’s Health Today in Portland, Ore.
When more than a simple fix is needed though, many are finding hope through the world of high-tech, super advanced reproductive medicine. Techniques vary, depending on what’s causing infertility, but includes a variety of assisted reproductive technologies including in vitro fertilization (IVF), gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT), zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT), embryo cryopreservation, egg or embryo donation, and gestational carriers.
My Future Baby is a must-see documentary film for everyone who thinks they might want a baby in the future or anyone wondering if it’s already too late because for millions of parents and thanks to advanced reproductive medicine, the possibilities are wide open.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
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