It's one of those big, ugly words that you don't know much about, and you hope you never have to find out.
Then if it does happen to you, you're suddenly thrust into a world with way too much information.
The worst part? Most of your family and friends are still in the don't-know-much-about-it camp and it's hard for them to relate or understand.
I put together this very basic guide to help give you an idea of what the infertility world is like. If you're starting to think that you may be having fertility struggles or if you have a loved one who is currently suffering from infertility and you just want some information to help you understand, I hope this helps.
This information is compiled from the following websites (plus a little touch of my own personal experience): Coastal Fertility Specialists, Resolve: The National Infertility Association, and the American Pregnancy Association.
What is infertility?
Infertility is a disease which causes an inability to conceive a viable pregnancy after 12 months of regular, unprotected sex. This can also include the ability to achieve pregnancy but suffering from recurrent miscarriages.
This disease affects 1 in 8 couples, so there's a good chance you know someone who suffers from infertility - even if you're not aware of it.
There are also families who suffer from secondary infertility. In this case, the couple is suffering from infertility after successfully conceiving previous children without medical assistance.
What causes infertility?
Infertility can be caused by a wide range of underlying issues from physical problems to hormonal irregularities. It can be caused by issues with either the female partner or the male partner or a combination of both.
For men, there's really only one thing that needs to be checked: the sperm. There are 3 characteristics of semen that are checked when a couple is facing fertility challenges -
1. Sperm Count: Are there enough swimmers?
2. Sperm Motility: Do they swim and function correctly in a healthy/normal way?
3. Sperm Morphology: Are they shaped correctly or are there abnormalities/deformities?
For women, fertility challenges can be more complicated. There are several different checkpoints in the reproductive system where things could go wrong. The uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries all have specific parts to play in the reproductive process - not to mention the hormones that keep it all working.
This is just a short sampling of the possible causes for female infertility: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), Endometriosis, uterine abnormalities, fibroid tumors, luteal phase defect, ovulatory disorders caused by hormone problems, premature ovarian failure, a blockage in the fallopian tubes, etc.
When should you consider seeking medical help?
There are some symptoms and conditions that may warrant medical help sooner, but the general rule is:
If you are under the age of 35 and have been having regular, unprotected sex for at least 1 year without successfully conceiving,
If you are over the age of 35 and have been having regular, unprotected sex for at least 6 months without successfully conceiving, you may want to speak to your OBGYN.
The first step is usually the OBGYN. He or she can often run some preliminary tests to rule out any obvious issues and can sometimes treat more minor causes of infertility. If your condition requires further assistance, you will be referred to a fertility specialist.
What is a fertility specialist?
A fertility specialist is a Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE).
REs are experts in the field of infertility. Just like any other field of medicine, different doctors will have different approaches and treatment plans. You will want to find the RE that you feel most comfortable with.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. Ask about success rates and treatment options. Ask about the embryologists, ultrasound techs, and other medical professionals involved in the process. Ask about ANY concerns you have. This is a huge decision and not one you should take lightly.
What can you expect when you first visit a fertility specialist?
Your first visit will likely be information overload. Bring something to take notes and a list of questions you might have.
You'll go over your medical history and the events that led you to the fertility specialist's office in the first place. They may have further questions about other medical events, like thyroid problems, that could be related.
The doctor should go over all of the tests you will need and the possible treatment plans. You may also meet with the financial advisor in the office who will go over typical treatment costs as well as any possible insurance coverage and financing options.
What treatment options are available?
Treatment will be entirely dependent on what is causing the infertility in the first place.
Many people have heard of in vitro fertilization (IVF) where sperm and eggs are retrieved and embryos are created in a lab before being transferred back to the mother's uterus, but they may not know that there is a whole battery of other treatment options depending on the situation.
There are surgeries available that can correct uterine abnormalities. Medicines can be used to treat hormone issues or some ovulation disorders.
A procedure called intrauterine insemination (IUI) is sometimes used where sperm is taken from the father and injected directly into the uterus of the mother, who has sometimes been given medication to induce ovulation when necessary.
The most invasive and most expensive treatment is the one most people have heard about. IVF is a long process of hormones, egg retrievals, and sperm samples followed by creating embryos. Then if all of that is successful, the mother has to prepare her body with hormones for the implantation of the embryo.
There are some diagnoses that require skipping straight to IVF, but often couples who are going through IVF have tried other treatment options first.
This information is just a very small glimpse into the world of infertility. The truth is every case is different because every couple facing infertility has their own unique combination of medical causes. Some couples will respond well to less invasive treatments and conceive quickly with treatment. Others will go through years of different treatments before finally finding something that works.
If someone you love has trusted you enough to share their plans to seek fertility treatment, the most important thing to know is that they have likely already been through a lot of frustration and disappointment and heartbreak before coming to this point. You may only see this one part of their story that they are sharing. You may not know everything that has been going on under the surface.
A little bit of grace and a lot of love and support go a long way.
If you are in the beginning of your infertility journey and have any questions, please reach out. I would be happy to answer any questions I can or tell you the best person to ask if I can't!
My mom is forever telling me that parents nowadays have all kinds of “new fangled” lingo for everything we do.
Like Fresh 48.
Have you ever heard of a Fresh 48?
It’s a newborn photo session done within the first 48 hours of the baby’s life. It usually takes place at the hospital or place of birth and captures those precious early days of getting to know your little one.
I know most of you are probably thinking, “Oh yeah… they have a photographer at the hospital that comes around and does those pictures.”
And you’re right. Most hospitals have a contracted photographer that randomly shows up at your door at some point during your stay to ask if you would like photos of your baby.
But did you know that you can hire a photographer in advance to do a Fresh 48 session?
There are some major perks to hiring your own photographer.
Just think about it:
-You will work with the photographer to choose what time would be best for your session. When you know in advance, you can take a little time to shower or freshen up before your session begins.
-You can discuss your preferences beforehand and what photos you would really like to have.
-You can arrange to have older siblings or any other special family members you want included present at the time of the planned photo session.
It’s a win all around.
Those first days with your baby are so precious, but they’re also a blur of nurses and visitors and feedings and vitals checks and paperwork…
Hiring a photographer to come and capture photos as you take time to really soak in those moments as a new family will give you memories you can look back on long after your baby is grown.
Back in the fall, I had a portrait session with this sweet family in downtown Charleston. At the time, this mom was just coming to the end of her first trimester and let me know they would be getting in touch with me after the holidays to schedule a newborn session.
I have been looking forward to the birth of this little guy for a couple of reasons-
First, I love fresh babies. Obviously.
But second, I was so excited to see this big sister again! She has personality for days, and she is still one of my favorite kids I have ever photographed.
One of the best parts about lifestyle newborn sessions is that the older siblings can be relaxed in their own environment. Newborn sessions take a while because we often need breaks for feedings or diaper changes. When I'm in the client's home, however, older children can take breaks whenever they need and play with their own toys in their own space. As you'll see, I even spent a little time taking some photos of just big sister while her new baby brother was being fed and changed.
Since I don't bring tons of props or big studio set-ups, it's really easy for me to travel to clients' homes for these sessions. Unfortunately, the day before was the day the Wando Bridge was shut down I-526. When I arrived at this family's home, Dad joked that this ended up being a pretty convenient time to be home with the baby. Staying home and snuggling your new baby instead of sitting in awful traffic? Definite win.
I just want to say a quick thank you to this family for trusting me, yet again, to photograph this sweet time in your family!
Now for the part you're all really here for anyway....
An adorable baby fix!
Find out more about lifestyle newborn sessions and the other services I offer here.
I adore this sweet family! I first met Erin when we were both teaching at the same elementary school. She was engaged to Billy at the time. It's amazing to think they are married and have TWO beautiful little girls now! I had the pleasure of photographing their second baby girl's newborn session.
When I arrived at their house, the newest addition was just settling to sleep. Big sister, Ireland, had just woken up from her nap and she very proudly introduced me to her new baby. While she got a snack and got dressed, I started setting up to photograph new baby Blake.
Side note: I make a lot of my own hats and headbands. I'm always happy to use any hats or special props a client wants to use, but I never want a client to feel like they have to purchase special items for their session. I have plenty of options, and I'm always looking for new patterns to add to my collection.
Blake slept like a champ throughout the entire first portion of the session. I changed her headpieces, her position, and her blanket multiple times and she barely stirred. She was a true sleeping beauty.
By this time, the big sister was dressed and ready to snuggle her new sister... well... almost ready.
Personally, I think her skirt looked pretty cute like that, but we straightened her outfit. Now that we could see the words on her shirt, I snuggled the sisters up on my favorite fuzzy blanket. I think it's pretty clear that Ireland is completely smitten with her new baby sister.
Toddlers always seem to be snacking and Ireland is no exception. Once she was done taking pictures, she was ready for a treat.
Next up were photos with mom and dad individually. I love all the faces newborns make, and Blake was full of them! It seems she was very interested in her daddy's story.
She saved the sweetest smile for mommy though...
I am over the moon for this family and can't wait to see these girls grow up together.
I got into birth photography because I love birth. The act of bringing a new life into this world, no matter how it happens, is always breathtaking for me. Capturing someone's birth story leaves me floating on a cloud for days. It is always an honor to be invited into one of the most sacred moments someone will ever experience.
There are some births, however, that are extra special. This is one of those times. This beautiful mama, Charity, is a friend from my very first teaching job almost 10 years ago. We attended each other's weddings and saw each other almost daily for two years. When I got married and moved, we kept in touch here and there through social media. My heart broke for her as she shared some of her journey through infertility and ultimately, IVF (in-vitro fertilization). I prayed for her and her husband many times, and I was thrilled (I may have squealed) when they announced their IVF cycle was successful. You can only imagine my excitement when they invited me to photograph the birth of this long awaited little girl.
I texted with Charity the night she checked into the hospital to prepare for induction. I had my mom on call to watch my kids when I needed to head to the hospital, and we waited. And waited some more. It seemed induction wasn't working right away. They stayed a second night in the hospital and early the following morning, the doctors were finally able to get things moving.
I sent my kids to grandma's house for the day and planned to run a couple of errands while I waited for "the call" letting me know it was time to head to the hospital. I had just walked through the doors of my very first stop when I got a call that things were moving pretty fast. I was a little nervous because I live and hour and a half (without traffic) to the hospital where she was delivering. Thankfully, I made it at the perfect time!
When I arrived shortly after 11 A.M., Charity had opted to get an epidural and was trying to get some rest before the main event. She had been checked recently and was dilated 9 centimeters.
I chatted with her husband, Mark, and caught up on life since we had last seen each other. Mark's mom was also there. She sat with Charity most of the time holding her hand and watching the monitor.
About an hour after I arrived, a nurse came in to perform a cervical check and declared it was time to push!
After about 45 minutes of pushing, the beautiful Arabella was welcomed earthside at 1:01 P.M. I was struggling to hold back my own tears, so I was just praying my photography skills were enough to work through blurred vision.
Being a birth photographer has its challenges: on call life, never knowing how long you'll be present at a birth, marketing in a culture that doesn't always view birth with the same reverence I feel... It's all hard, but being a witness and capturing the miraculous never ceases to overflow my cup with joy.
I met this sweet mom, Allison, through a mutual friend about a year ago. Our daughters are close to the same age and at the time, we lived in the same neighborhood. Shortly after I met her, she found out she was pregnant with her third baby.
I was originally supposed to do a Fresh 48 session with this family and hopefully be present when the big sister and brother came to meet the new baby. However, this little guy had some breathing issues at birth and landed himself in the NICU. As someone who has experienced this same stress and chaos myself, I offered to switch to a newborn session instead once they were able to go home. Luckily, his stay was short, and they were able to get home within a few days.
Baby Brayden was only 5 days old when I came for his newborn session. Not long after I walked in, Allison asked if I wanted to hold the baby while she helped big brother into his special t-shirt. Um... OF COURSE. I am ALWAYS willing to snuggle new babies and I not-so-discreetly gave the top of his head a little sniff. I love new baby smell. It's my favorite.
Once all the kids were ready, I set up my favorite fuzzy blanket and prepared to take pictures of all 3 kids together. There was only one problem...
Baby Brayden was NOT happy. Although he had been fed recently and had a clean diaper, he still wasn't happy.
I swaddled him and that helped for a little bit. Big sister was fantastic at following my directions for pictures and very patient. This clearly wasn't her first rodeo.
The new big brother, on the other hand, required a little more coaxing (i.e. bribing). He didn't want to give the baby a kiss, but I can see these brothers certainly have their own special bond.
I thought a change of position might help, so I got all of the kids settled together on the couch. I was able to get the elusive picture of the kids smiling together (no photoshop head swapping necessary)!
After I finished up with the big kids, they got to go on a special outing with their grandmother, and little Brayden got what he really wanted: TO EAT! Even if you meticulously plan and have baby fed before your newborn session, babies often don't cooperate anyway. The issue with newborns is that they often cluster feed, and you can't always plan when that's going to happen. Cluster feeding is extremely common in the first several weeks with a newborn. It's the baby's way of signaling mom's body to make more milk for an upcoming growth spurt, and newborns grow rapidly in the beginning.
The good news is that I am a very laid back photographer. If we need to stop to settle a fussy baby, I'm totally fine with that.
Once Allison nursed Brayden, he snuggled in to sleep. I wanted to make sure he was deep asleep before moving him, so I snapped a few pictures of him with mom while we waited.
Once we were sure he was settled, we snuggled him in a blanket and we put him in an adorable crocheted set that was a gift from a friend.
Before I left, I wanted to get a picture of Brayden snuggled on his mom's chest. However, as soon as he smelled his mom, there was only one thing he wanted...
In my glimpse into this family's life with three kids, I saw a little bit of chaos, plenty of laughs, and an abundance of LOVE. I was in awe of Allison's grace and patience with all of her kids, and I can't wait to see more of this family as they grow together.