The myths and science behind 'The Fertility Game' into parenthood

By Candice Madsen  |  Posted Jan 31st, 2013 @ 10:52pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — If you've faced infertility, or know someone who has, you know treatment can seem like a bit of a game.

What many people may not realize is that even a perfectly fertile couple only has a one in six chance of getting pregnant each month, so any type of medical issue can dramatically reduce the probability of a pregnancy.

Two Utah couples forced into the fertility game agreed to share their experiences. Neither the Browns nor the Asendorfs had any reason to think they would have a hard time getting pregnant.

"I am the oldest of seven kids, I came from a big family. I always wanted to have a big family," Kathryn May Brown said.

As a television journalist, Kathryn has researched a lot of topics, but none as thoroughly as infertility — a disease she and her husband have faced for several years.

"It wasn't like a diagnosis (of) ‘you can't have your own children;' it's just the probabilities are lower," explained Kurt Brown, Kathryn's husband.

Kim and Jared Asendorf got married in their early 20s and were eager to start their family.

"I honestly thought I would get pregnant like that," Kim Asendorf said, snapping her fingers.

After a year of trying, Kim knew something was wrong. But like the Browns, she and Jared waited to see a specialist.

Infertility myths, facts and trends

We discussed infertility myths, facts and trends with Dr. Russell Foulk from the Utah Fertility Center and Dr. James Heiner from the Reproductive Care Center. Both doctors are board certified reproductive endocrinologists.

Question 1: Are infertility rates increasing?

Answer: No

Dr. Foulk: The incidents of infertility have been the same since we've been recording it for many decades. The causes are changing. The overall incidents are about 15 percent of all couples, so still that is 7 million couples in the United States. The most common factor now is age. As a woman gets older her infertility rises because she runs out of eggs.

Question 2: Is infertility more common in women?

Answer: No

Dr. Heiner: Male factor problems are equally common to female factor problems, and male factors are the most common factors we see for IVF.

Dr. Foulk: It's about 40 percent female issues, 40 percent male issues and 20 percent combined. In our culture, because it is the woman that carries the baby, we look at a woman and say, 'Why aren't you getting pregnant?' Whereas, half the time it is due to the man.

Question 3: Do most couples wait too long to seek treatment?

Answer: Yes

Dr. Foulk: Most people will delay the time they are first seen by a specialist, and that causes frustration. Of all people that suffer from infertility, only 50 percent will seek care; and of those that seek care, only about half of those will go on and get the care that they need.

Dr. Heiner: It takes most couples six months to get pregnant. We suggest seeking treatment after a year of trying.

Question 4: Can laptops decrease male fertility?

Answer: Yes

Dr. Foulk: Guys who hold laptops on their laps, and the heat that is generated from a laptop, if it is over three hours, it can affect sperm count. So we tell people to put it at the end of their knees or on a desk.

Question 5: Can special diets increase fertility?

Answer: Not usually

Dr. Heiner: Some diets help with ovulatory dysfunction, which a lot of times has to do with insulin resistance. So that can be improved by a low carbohydrate, high protein diet. But diets are not always successful; and really for ovulation, medication has been proven to work as the most reliable way to get improvement with that particular problem. About 3 percent to 5 percent of men have a nutritional deficiency that taking vitamins might help, but that will only help a small percentage.

Dr. Foulk: Every two years I see a new diet. It's like diets for losing weight: there is always a new one that is the fad. It used to be pineapple core and Royal B jelly 10 years ago. As long as you are eating a well-balanced diet that is all your body needs.

"Going to her first gynecologist, they even said, ‘Hey, it's textbook, you're good, you're fertile,'" Jared Brown recalled.

Dr. James Heiner, who founded the first private practice infertility and IVF clinic in Utah, says a couple should try for at least a year to get pregnant naturally, unless they know of a problem beforehand.

"It takes an average of six months for a couple that's fertile to conceive, and we don't really worry about there being a problem until 12 months," Heiner said.

"Our patients, on the average, are probably five years younger than most IVF centers," the doctor added. "They get married younger and they want to have babies younger."

The couples also want information. Thanks to the Internet and social media sites, couples are savvier about procedures that before might have seemed like a mystery.

"I've done my Google searches like nobody's business," Kim Asendorf said.

"Yes she has," her husband agreed, with a chuckle.

"There's a lingo," Kathryn Brown said. "I'm just waiting for the BFP."

In fertility lingo, BFP stands for "big fat positive," obviously referring to a pregnancy test result. BFN, on the other hand, is something these women have seen all to often: a "big fat negative."

A lot of myths about infertility still exist. For example, many think a woman who reduces stress in her life will have a better chance of getting pregnant. Not true, doctors say.

Another myth: Many people believe it's the woman who has the infertility problem.

"In our culture, because it is the woman carrying the baby we look at a woman and say, ‘Why aren't you getting pregnant?' Whereas, half the time it is due to the man," said Dr. Russell Foulk, a leading expert in the treatment of infertility.

In addition, Foulk said only 25 percent of couples with infertility issues seek the care that they need.

"Infertility is a very personal and intimate disease. It's a condition that strikes people's core, particularly because it is so personal between the spouses," he said.

"We've learned a lot from this process, and we would just love to help somebody else," Kathryn Brown said.

She met with doctors at several clinics before deciding to try in vitro fertilization.

"They were all a lit bit different in what protocol they wanted to use, and what are the chances of it working were. Some were a little more optimistic," Kathryn Brown said.

She also pointed out that clinics tout varying success rates.

"You can't always go off of success rates because there are doctor's offices that don't take difficult cases," Kathryn Brown said.

Only three clinics in Utah report IVF success rates to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies (SART). The organization has strict standards for protocol, quality assurance and advertising.

"The average person would just look up (a doctor's) success rates and see that he's inexpensive, and be like, 'Oh, I'm there,' " Kurt Brown said.

Coming Up:
Friday at 10pm:
One of the biggest advancements in fertility treatment is egg freezing. It was considered experimental until just this past October. Coming up Friday night on KSL 5 News at 10, we will take a closer look at the procedure and introduce you to the first baby in Utah born from a frozen egg.

Fear of the cost prevents many couples from seeking treatment.

"The good news about cost in infertility is that the vast majority of people can get pregnant for a very low money and very low procedures," Foulk said. "The vast majority can get treated for less than $2,000."

While fertility treatments have not helped the Browns, they don't regret trying.

"You have to know you've done everything you possibly can," Kathryn Brown said. "But we are also going down the road of adoption, with LDS Family Services, and hoping to adopt a baby."

The fertility game can be filled with many ups and downs, but for most couples the expense, physical and emotional pain is all worth it. Kim and Jared Asendorf just experienced the first ultrasound of Kim's new pregnancy.

"It's just a pure miracle," Kim Asendorf said. "I never thought this day would be here. That's our little baby."

One of the biggest advancements in fertility treatment is egg freezing. It was considered experimental until just this past October. Coming up Friday night on KSL 5 News at 10, we will take a closer look at the procedure and introduce you to the first baby in Utah born from a frozen egg.

Contributing: Lori Prichard

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