Fertility Treatments: Planning Ahead For Parenthood
Education and Advocacy Dr. Scot Hamilton, President of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, sheds light on ways Canadians can avoid and treat infertility.
Bringing a child into the world is a miracle, and for couples dealing with infertility issues, new procedures can help make miracles happen.
“There’s an awful lot of couples who don’t realize that they can’t get pregnant forever,” says Dr. Scot Hamilton, President of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society.
Roughly one in six couples in Canada will experience issues with infertility — and both men and women can have problems conceiving. Causes of infertility range from medical treatment, such as chemotherapy, to advanced age, to conditions such as diabetes or hormone imbalances. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and maintaining an unhealthy weight can also contribute to a couple’s ability to get pregnant.
And it seems like these figures are on the rise. According to the federal government, the rate of infertility in Canada has doubled since the 1980s.
“Everybody knows somebody and cares about somebody who’s had to deal with it,” says Hamilton, adding that while there are more people dealing with infertility issues, there are also more treatment options than ever before.
Frozen in time
While conceiving a child before the age of 35 greatly increases the chances of a successful pregnancy, the right time to have a baby biologically may not be the right time for everybody.
For those who want to press pause on their biological clock, fertility centers offer cryopreservation, the option to freeze eggs and sperm. Men typically freeze their specimen if there is a risk of sterilization in the future, such as prior to receiving cancer treatment. Since men typically produce millions of sperm daily, collecting samples is quick and simple.
By contrast, since women are born with their lifetime supply of eggs — and like the rest of the body, those eggs will age overtime — the freezing process is more complex.
“There’s a far bigger change in egg quality with age than there is with sperm,” says Hamilton explaining that if women wait until later in life to have children, it becomes increasingly difficult and in some cases impossible to conceive. More than 90 percent of women are able to get pregnant before the age of 30, but by age 40, nearly one out of every two women will struggle with infertility.
Freezing eggs at a younger age — a process that involves hormonal stimulation and surgical extraction of eggs from the ovary — allows women who haven’t found the right partner, are dealing with health issues, or are busy with their careers to preserve their fertility. Hamilton explains that eggs that are frozen at age 32, for example, often retain the success rate of a 32-year-old even if they are thawed and implanted when a woman is older.
And infertility is not the only risk that comes with age.
“At increasing maternal age, there’s [also] an increase in chromosomal defects that happen,” says Hamilton. For women who are considering having children later in life, pre-natal screening can determine the health and viability of their remaining eggs. These tests, typically consisting of blood tests possibly followed by an amniocentesis, can detect conditions such as Down syndrome, Trisomy 18, and open neural tube defects.
Though fertility treatments have come a long way, Hamilton says that there is still progress to be made in terms of recognizing fertility treatments as an essential, and covered, form of healthcare. Earlier this year, the provincial government announced plans to expand OHIP coverage for in-vitro fertilization, but patients will still need to pick up the bill for treatments such as cryopreservation.
“I think that reproduction is part of being healthy,” he says. “People treat it almost like cosmetic surgery when I believe it needs to be considered more than that.”