Sometimes conception needs a little help

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Not a day goes by when I look at the boy and think how blessed I am to be given such a precious gift. Even though the hubs and I got married at a relatively late age, I have to admit that having a child soon after marriage was never on the cards for us. The Mookid came to be despite all odds, and ever since he was born, he has made me realise that for all the wrongs that I've done in my life, I must have done something right to deserve him.

On hindsight, I don't know what was it that made me think that conception can be done with a flick of a switch. We were planning to get a place of our own and 'settle down' comfortably before we even thought of starting a family. I did not take account my age, and that there are many other factors which could have made conception difficult for us. I did not think that when we were finally 'ready', the chance would have passed us by, or assuming that there are problems with either of our systems, it may have been too late to seek treatment.

Fertility issues, especially in Asian societies, have been practically seen as 'taboo'. It is just not done to talk about problems conceiving, or to even admit that external help is needed. In a society whereby children are often seen as a measure of one's success, be it socially, financially and physically, the inability to produce offspring will indicate failure on so many sensitive levels.

Image source
One of the most challenging issues facing couples who are trying to start a family with little success is the fact that it can be extremely disheartening to realise that many other couples seem to face no difficulty whatsoever in trying to conceive. As it is, when disappointment looms on a monthly basis, it adds on additional pressure when there are so many people around who are either celebrating the news of an impending arrival, or are welcoming their newborns. Unfortunately, many couples are loath to seek professional help even after a year of trying unsuccessfully, because perhaps the stigma is there, or there could be a strong case of self denial.

What many people do not realise that human beings are considered to be the least fertile of all mammals. The chances of conception during a given month (even during ovulation) is merely 20%, and in women above 40, there is only a 5% chance of conceiving.

There will come a time after a period of trying to conceive - that a couple will realise things are not 'happening' as expected. Being able to communicate openly with our partners is the first essential step in overcoming fertility concerns. Keep an open mind, and it will help tremendously if a couple recognises that it is a combined effort, and not merely a problem which can be attributed to just one party.

Myths about (In)fertility

The woman is at fault.

Even though quality of eggs varies from one woman to the next, approximately 25% - 30% of fertility issues is attributed to the male. This can range from low sperm count, low sperm quality, or a myriad of other factors.

Regardless of how uncomfortable it may be to discuss this issue, it is important to note that ultimately, it is a joint decision. Just as deciding to have a child is a mutual one.

I have been given a clean bill of health, I do not smoke or drink, and I exercise regularly. I should have no problem conceiving as and when I'm ready.

Unfortunately, even though being healthy prior to starting a family helps, it does not ensure successful conception in many women, especially when they are of advanced age. It is a (sad) fact that the chance of a woman conceiving naturally decreases as they get older.

The chance of conception starts decreasing rapidly from age 35 onwards. A woman is born with about 400,000 eggs to last her lifetime, with one egg ripening monthly. As she advances in age, many eggs become inactive, resulting in them becoming of poor quality. This affects the chances of conception and carrying a healthy baby to full term.

That said, there are of course exceptions to this rule - and there have been documented cases whereby an older woman manages to conceive naturally and give birth to healthy babies, whereas her younger counterpart may not be as lucky. (source)
Image source

Elevating the hips so that the sperm does not 'leak out' after intercourse will increase the chance of conceiving.

There are no documented evidence that positions affect conception. In fact, studies have shown that sperm travels up the cervix and into the uterus within a few minutes after ejaculation. Given the millions of sperm present in ejaculate (only one is needed to fertilise an egg), a little leakage will not affect the reproductive chance.

"Frequent intercourse (every 1 to 2 days) yields the highest pregnancy rates, but results achieved with less frequent intercourse (two to three times per week) are nearly equivalent." -source

If a man has low sperm count, he should 'save up' his sperm and not have intercourse as often to increase the amount.

Abstinence, in many cases, actually leads to poor quality sperm. The window of 'abstinence' is thought to be between 3 - 5 days, but there is no evidence that this method actually helps because there are men with low sperm count who yields good quality ones even with daily intercourse.

We have had a child, so we should not have problems having a second one.

Secondary infertility (SI) is defined by doctors as the inability to conceive or carry to term a second or subsequent child. This happens for a number of reasons, such as age, health, or even polycystic ovarian syndrome (the first child was perhaps a one-off).

Given this day and age, all fertility problems can be overcome.

While fertility issues have been addressed successfully and many people have overcome infertility with the help of modern technology. there are many factors which also determine the success rate of assisted conception. There are instances whereby eggs and sperm are of poor quality, the uterus is simply unable to support pregnancy till full term, or the woman may have health issues in which conception is not recommended.

So many infertile couples choose to suffer in silence because infertility is not something that people are comfortable sharing about. In fact, it not only is a trying time for the couple involved, but when family members or close friends get to know about issues which a couple face - it can be extremely awkward for everyone. 

Infertility is commonplace, and couples need to know that there are many avenues which they can explore to assist them in the journey towards starting a family. Fertility Week Asia this year starts on the 25th of August, and it aims to correct common misconceptions regarding fertility, offer options to those who suspect they may have problems conceiving, and provide support to those who are already undergoing fertility treatments.

In the quest to complete a family, many couples often face barriers which may be tough to handle, and fertility problems may just be one of many. It can take its toll on a couple emotionally, physically as well as financially, and it can put a huge strain on even the strongest relationships.

Be Sensitive!

Be very careful about posing 'well-intentioned' questions to friends, family or acquaintances. When a couple have been married for quite some time and there are no children in the picture, do refrain from asking obvious questions such as 'Are you planning to have kids?' or 'When are you going to start a family?'

While these questions are said without ill intention, it can put a couple in an awkward position when the answers may be private or something that they are struggling with. Furthermore, the last thing that couples dealing with fertility issues need - is a reminder of their problem.

Whether you are facing issues with fertility or know of people who are - it is important to note that fertility is not a disease, and it is nothing to be embarrassed about. A strong community spirit and show of support will be the first step towards learning to cope and living with infertility. 

When the society is more aware of the misconceptions and myths surrounding this (taboo) subject, more people will understand that there are available options open to those who have been trying for a child without success.

For more information regarding Fertility Week Asia, the issues surrounding infertility and the available options, please visit:


Disclaimer: This is a community awareness message brought to you by Merck Serono in collaboration with MummyMoo. While I was compensated for this post, all opinions and sentiments are completely my own.


  1. Whoa. A really deep post! I will have to read this again when the sun is up and my brain is more awake :|

  2. Thanks for bringing awareness to this (sensitive) topic in Asia. I struggled with it for a while too even after seeking professional help and it was the support from the large community abroad that really helped me through those trying months. Ever since I became a mum, I met a few other mums who acknowledge struggling with infertility for a while too and we wished that there was a local community that we could turn to as well. So thanks again for talking about this topic

  3. The be sensitive part is so true, sometimes I can't help but ask my married friends if they intend to have a family. Although in most cases they say they are not ready yet and wish to enjoy their honeymoon period, well, you never know if they have been trying hard beneath the sheets. Love reading your thoughts on this!

  4. After getting to know that some friends are/were struggling with infertility, I now try not to ask married+childless couples when they are having kids cos I'm afraid it's a sensitive topic for them.



Powered by Motherhood