If I were to ask ten Canadians what it meant to be infertile, I would likely receive ten different answers – and they could all be correct.  A recognized disease by the World Health Organization, infertility is defined as ‘the failure to conceive following twelve months of unprotected intercourse’. The reality is, however, that infertility is much more complex and goes beyond this definition. The one in six couples in Canada who have difficulty conceiving naturally would likely tell you that no two experiences with infertility are the same.

Addressing the knowledge gap

"As the trend to delay childbearing continues, more Canadians will need to turn to assisted reproductive technologies in their efforts to start or grow their families."

This feature focuses on five key areas: causes of infertility; treatment options; understanding pregnancy ;  health and pregnancy – making sure you get adequate nutrients and supplements -  and age – deferred motherhood and available options for conception. You may be surprised to learn about some of the causes and contributing factors of infertility. For example, did you know that although infertility is often perceived as a predominantly female disorder, male-factor causes are prevalent in nearly half of all cases? Many Canadians lack this kind of basic, yet important knowledge about their reproductive health.  Additional knowledge about lifestyle choices, donor sperm, alternative therapies, nutrition and dietary supplements to name a few are all part of the puzzle that together can have an impact on their ability to have a family. 

Advanced maternal age

Today, women are having children later in life than they were 10 years go.  According to Statistics Canada, the average age for women to have their first child has risen from 25-29 to 30-34 since 1991, and the birth rate for women in the 40-44 range doubled between 1988 and 2008. Age is a contributing factor in infertility; fertility starts declining as early as age 28, while the risk for complicated pregnancy and birth rises considerably. Infertility can strike at any age. Many common diseases contribute to infertility, including endometriosis, diabetes, anorexia, obesity, and cancer – plus lifestyle choices such as smoking.

As the trend to delay childbearing continues, more Canadians will need to turn to assisted reproductive technologies in their efforts to start or grow their families. In Canada we have world-leading fertility experts across the country available to treat infertility, and fertility clinics are becoming ever more sophisticated in their techniques – intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) – as they continue to deliver a high standard of care. However, there are barriers: out-of-pocket cost of assisted reproductive technologies, geography, stigma and lack of information prevent many Canadians from conceiving.

Knowledge is power

At the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada (IAAC), we believe that an important element of preventing a further rise in infertility is to ensure that younger Canadians are better educated about their reproductive health. Canadians also need to have a better understanding of what they can do to protect their fertility. If young men and women learn early on that they may be at risk of infertility, they can take steps to treat their condition. The one-in-six Canadian couples who are affected by infertility often suffer in silence. As the patient voice for Canadians with reproductive health issues, IAAC’s national network of support groups – currently at 32 and growing – allows a safe forum for those affected by infertility to share information and connect with others. Patients armed with knowledge about treatment options and what to expect when they visit a fertility clinic will feel more confident about starting their journey.

On behalf of IAAC, I extend an invitation to all Canadians to reach out to us for support and the latest reproductive health information needed to make informed choices.