Astrid Loch is working to break down stigma surrounding infertility, Photo: Astrid Loch, Instagram
CANADA — Fertility issues are a rare topic of conversation, despite infertility impacting approximately one in six Canadians, according to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC). April 23 to 29 is Canadian Fertility Awareness Week, aimed at breaking down that stigma, generating awareness and starting conversations about fertility issues.
SOGC defines infertility as a lack of conception after a year of unprotected sexual intercourse for women under 35, and after six months for women over 35. Astrid Loch, former contestant on the 21st season of The Bachelor, is one of those people impacted by infertility.
“All of my best friends kind of had babies around the same time, and I remember when they got pregnant reading a statistic that one in six couples struggle [to conceive]. All five of them had just had kids, and I remember thinking ‘ Oh my goodness, what if I’m that statistic?’ It was something weird in the back of my mind,” Loch explained.
She started trying to get pregnant not long after she turned 30, explaining that she tried to keep a positive mindset. But after six months of trying, Loch began to feel like something was wrong.
“One of the hardest parts for me was that, I feel like as a woman it’s drilled into your head that you’re here to reproduce, start a family, get pregnant. So when that isn’t happening, you start to feel bad about yourself,” Loch said.
“We really felt like we were struggling silently, we didn’t really share with friends and family because we didn’t want the added pressure of people asking what was happening this month, because it was so private,” Loch shared, adding that it’s hard to go through that both individually, and as a couple.
After trying to conceive for a year, Loch and her husband reached out to a clinic for help. She explained that after reaching out to specialists, she experienced two failed Intrauterine insemination (IUIs) and an ectopic pregnancy, before getting pregnant with her son, August, after over a year of fertility treatment.
“The biggest thing I wish people knew is that it’s not just once you decide to do IVF (In vitro fertilization) it automatically means that you’re going to get pregnant. That was the biggest thing I learned,” Loch shared, adding that she wants couples undertaking this journey to know they are in for a long road.
Loch shared that after having her first baby, and with another on the way, she wants to share her experiences to help people who are coping with the same issues.
“Because it’s not something that people should feel ashamed over.”
“When I was going through it and things weren’t working I felt so bad about myself. But realizing that there are so many other people out there that I can relate to is a beautiful thing,” Loch added.
Fertility Specialist Explains Causes of Infertility
We also spoke with Loch’s doctor, Dr. Prati Sharma, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist. Both she and Loch are officers of the board for the Fertility Friends Foundation, a registered charity in Toronto that helps Canadians who are facing obstacles to conceiving.
Sharma explained that there are a variety of causes of infertility. She says about 20 to 25 per cent of cases are due to a reduction in the ovarian reserve, which means a reduction in the number and quality of eggs. Sharma explained that she anticipates that number is rising.
“This is probably a number that is steadily rising because women are approaching reproduction at a later age these days. So they’re pursuing their careers, they’re travelling, they’re taking longer to meet their partner and so they are getting pregnant with their first child at a later age.”
The fertility specialist explained that 25 per cent of fertility problems are caused by what she calls “male factor.”
“The interesting thing about male factor is it’s not something that would be obvious because men don’t have reproductive cycles and menstrual cycles. So male factor often goes undiagnosed until you do a semen analysis.”
Sharmed explained that another 20 to 25 per cent are caused by anatomic issues. This includes blocked fallopian tubes, fibroids in the uterus, and scar tissue in the uterus.
“[This is] anything that disrupts the anatomy and prevents the egg and sperm from meeting or implantation from occurring.”
The rest? Sharma said that the remaining portion of cases of infertility fall into the “unexplained” category.
“There’s this big black box of unexplained. Eighteen to 25 per cent of infertility is unexplained. So that’s after you do all the testing to rule out egg factor, sperm factor, blocked tubes, or hormonal factor, your thyroid, or your prolactin, or PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) or endometriosis, you don’t have any other answers.”
Sharma explained that there is a treatment protocol for unexplained infertility, adding that generally speaking, pursuing treatment can be very successful.
The fertility specialist added that after a year, or six months of trying, depending on their age, people experiencing problems conceiving should consult a fertility doctor to help them determine the cause of the issue.
“Another caveat that I will add is that you don’t have to wait six months if your period is irregular, or you know something is going on. [If] you have a family history of early menopause or you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis, you don’t have to wait,” Sharma said, explaining that you can get a referral from a walk-in clinic or family doctor, or go to a clinic that accepts self-referrals.
Sharma shared that fertility specialists will be able to run tests in order to find out what is causing fertility problems and provide those trying to conceive with resources and treatment to help them on their fertility journey.
The Fertility Friends Foundation works to help with some of the many problems posed by infertility, including providing grants to help with financial and psychological stress, and assisted reproduction expenses. The foundation also provides educational materials and other resources for people trying to conceive.