When I was 13 I was told that I would likely have difficulties trying to conceive.
The information, brought about by my polycystic ovary syndrome, left me numb.
I had my whole life ahead of me, I was young – probably more innocent for my age than I should have been – and suddenly parenthood was in my mind, and the prospect of never being able to carry my own child.
Never, I had then thought, capable of becoming a mother.
The doctor was, of course, entirely right in listing out the many symptoms that I may experience as part of my PCOS, and he had been as compassionate as possible when he got to the topic of fertility – no doubt aware of how scary that information would be to someone who was essentially still a child themselves – but the blow couldn’t be softened.
‘I really am broken’ I had thought.
Fertility (And Its Complications)
Fertility is like oxygen: You never really give it much thought until suddenly there’s a lack of it. Most people assume that, when the time is right, they will simply cease any contraception procedures they have in place and, in time (usually sooner rather than later) conceive.
It’s a straightforward act in theory. A male’s sperm fertilizes a female’s egg and, voila, a baby starts to grow. Cue a shopping spree of adorable clothing, conflicting advice about what food you can and can’t eat from well-meaning family members, and the cooing chorus of a sweetly arranged baby shower.
Typically, this actual fertilization is assumed to come from penis in vagina intercourse and there are various tools that one can use to tract fertile days for an added boost.
But what about queer individuals? What about single ones? Or those, like myself, who have fertility issues?
What happens when someone can’t conceive? And what factors might prevent easy conception, even among those in a heterosexual relationship?
The facts of fertility are simple, the reality much more convoluted.
Difficulties Conceiving (and the Maternal/Paternal Mindfuck)
There are many different factors that might impact someone’s fertility, and there is no shame in any of them. Sometimes our bodies don’t play ball. Sometimes we need glasses, or have long-standing niggles, or find that we’ve caught yet another cold, despite trying our best to avoid the yearly blight.
In most of those instances we are usually forgiving to ourselves – it’s just a matter of being human, after all. But when it comes to fertility issues we are typically harsher. Knowing why you may be struggling to conceive can’t necessarily soften the blow, but going through common conditions that cause fertility problems may, at least remind you that A) These are conditions of the body, not reflections of you as an individual and B) You are not alone.
For females, most infertility issues stem from the following concerns:
-Problems with ovulation (irregular or absent periods).
-Polycystic ovarian syndrome.
-Blocked fallopian tubes (perhaps due to pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, a previous ectopic pregnancy, or surgery).
-Physical problems with the uterus.
-Uterine fibroids (clusters of non-cancerous tissue and muscle on the walls of the uterus).
-Asherman’s syndrome (scar tissue affecting the uterus).
-Endometriosis (Cells in the lining of the womb found elsewhere in the body, blocking key systems for fertility).
-Chlamydia (if left untreated).
For males, infertility is typically linked to:
-Varicocele (large testicles which are overheated and thus have irregular sperm).
-The movement of the sperm (caused by injuries, damage to the reproductive system, or sometimes just sheer bad fortune).
-Lifestyle affects (caused by heavy alcohol use, drugs, smoking, age, medicines, or cancer treatment).
-Cystic fibrosis and congenital bilateral absence of the vas deferens.
There are other conditions that may play a part, but these are the most likely.
Overall, about 10 percent of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and one-third of fertility problems are due to the man. Joint incompatibility can also come in to play.
In the UK one in seven couples (3.5 million people) may have difficulty conceiving.
In all cases, people who struggle to conceive are literally in the millions. Not flawed, but struggling, and not alone at all.
Other Reasons For Conception Difficulties
And, as mentioned above, there may be other reasons that someone struggle to get pregnant, gain access to the child/children they desire, or otherwise gain the parental role they crave.
Queer and trans individuals have found gaining a child particularly difficult, but those in polyamorous relationships may also struggle (or face heavy legal or social vilification).
Single people (willingly or not) can also find having a child very difficult, especially if biological fertility issues are stacked on top of circumstances.
Among these groups, the desire to have a family is likely as strong as in those who are engaged in a heterosexual relationship, but social limitations come in to play, as well as biological ones.
But, thankfully, nowadays there is hope for everyone.
My Personal Hope
The teenage Emmeline who was told she was likely infertile felt that she would never be a mother. That she could never be one.
Little did she know that she would grow in to the sex blogging Emmeline who, firstly, doesn’t even want children right now but, more crucially, has options, hope, and the real chance of having a family.
And this is the same for anyone struggling to get the child/children they want. The options out there are many. I favour adoption, mainly because of my circumstances.
My father was the father that my mother chose for me (and that I accepted myself) after my birth. Not necessarily the one who added the sperm to this Peachy mixture, but emotionally my dad in all regards. As such, I have always considered emotional bonds to be the fundamentals of a strong familial structure, rather than blood.
Plus, with so many children in the world who need a home, I would much rather foster or adopt one in need than risk trying to have my own purely for the sake of a DNA link or the experience of pregnancy (experiences that I understand are important to others but have never held appeal to me).
Yes, I plan to adopt. And, when I do have a child, they will be my child regardless of the absence of conventional conception.
Your Primary Options
And the very fact that I’m considering this should give confidence to anyone in a similar circumstance. We have options.
The options are too extensive (and the experience too personalized) for me to go through them all in-depth, but here is a summary of each:
Intrauterine Insemination: A treatment that involved directly inserting sperm in to a woman’s womb, either by using a partner’s sperm or a donor’s sperm.
In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF): The removal of an egg from the ovaries, fertilised with sperm in a laboratory and then returned to the woman’s womb.
Traditional Surrogacy: One of two types of surrogacy. This kind involved the egg of a surrogate mother and the sperm of the intended father. In this instance only one of the parents (the father) will be biologically related. In this case an IVF clinic may be involved but, depending on the arrangement, isn’t always necessary.
Host Surrogacy: The egg and sperm of the intended parents are combined. In such instances IVF is always required.
Adoption or Foster Care: Both of these options involve taking in a child/children who are not biologically related. Each have their own procedures, provisions, and difficulties. Neither should be undertaken lightly (but, then again, neither should starting a family in general).
Non-conventional and alternate methods for conception also exist – for example, the Pop dildo by Semenette – and surgery can sometimes correct complications.
In all cases, if you’re worried about infertility then the first port of call is to talk to a medical professional. They will be able to let you know what issues you may face and present your options in full. And, if you feel that your doctor is ill-equipped, don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion.
Fertility is a hugely emotional issue, and can cause feelings of failure and inadequacy when one cannot start the family they so crave, but it is not a dead-end. This is just a 101 for fertility but know that there are support groups, resources, and (most importantly) multiple options at your finger-tips.
Starting a family in a non-conventional manner does not invalidate the love nor significance of the family that you do start. There are no impassable barriers to family life. Only struggles which can be overcome.