Unexplained infertility. In medical terms, this is a legitimate diagnosis. A non-specific, but legitimate diagnosis. But is a non-specific diagnosis always acceptable in the case of infertility? I propose that it is not.
Let’s see. Non-specific diagnoses are probably reasonable when you’re dealing with some medical issues. For instance, it’s reasonable for a doctor to say, “You’ve probably just got a cold,” rather than running a bunch of tests to figure out exactly which virus is making you sniffle. In this case it makes no sense to drill down on the more specific cause of your illness, because by the time they did figure out exactly what was making you sick, you’d be over it, and you’d be out a lot of money and time.
Now imagine this scenario. You have been lethargic and having shortness of breath off and on for weeks. You’ve been having intermittent chest pain and feeling your heart racing. You go to the doctor and have a few tests run. Your doctor somberly looks at you across her desk and says, “You have unexplained chest pain.”
“But what’s causing my chest pain?” you ask. “Can you cure it? What’s my prognosis?”
She shrugs. “Well, we don’t know, exactly. We don’t want to be too invasive. We’ll have you take Aspirin everyday and hope it gets better.”
This is a ridiculous example and one we can’t imagine ever actually happening. But I purposefully use it for comparison because this is the kind of diagnosis that couples with infertility are offered every day. Few people seem to stop and say, “Wait a minute. What? Unexplained infertility? Why can’t you explain it? How is that even an answer?”
It’s as though the reproductive system is this dark and mysterious part of the body that we can’t possibly figure out.
In my teaching experience, many women actually believe they have unexplained infertility, but when we dig into their medical records, they actually do have a diagnosis that could be causing their infertility. Things may have been found by a previous physician that were not communicated effectively to the woman. Due to poor communication on the part of their previous physicians, they were left with the feeling that their infertility was unexplained and that nothing, except IVF, could be done.
What is the benefit of understanding as much as we can about a specific kind of heart problem? The more we know about the problem, what’s causing it and how serious it is, the more likely it is that we can treat it effectively and perhaps even cure it.
Infertility doesn’t last for a few days. For the couple hoping to have a family, this diagnosis is utterly life altering and devastating. Approximately 1 in 5 infertile couples will be diagnosed with unexplained infertility. This diagnosis is intended to be reserved for couples who, after having a thorough infertility “work-up,” can be found to have no known cause for why they cannot conceive.
I propose that the problem may be with the “work up” itself. I will explain this with one such example: the hormone assessment provided by most reproductive endocrinologists.
One of the first standard tests that a woman will have when trying to determine the health of her sex hormones is a test of her progesterone levels. Progesterone is a hormone produced by the ovary after ovulation. This hormone is responsible for sustaining the life of a new little baby should a woman conceive in that cycle. It prepares the lining of the uterus for possible implantation. Prior to ovulation, the woman’s progesterone hormone is naturally very low. Without getting too technical, if we measure it in the blood it measures less than 1. After ovulation, it should steadily rise, then peak, then gradually fall as the woman’s period approaches. Imagine a curve of numbers after ovulation, going from 9, to 15, back down to 8, and then back to less than 1 as her period is about to start again, over the course of about 13 days. So, in assessing a woman’s progesterone hormone, if she just shows up on a random day to have her blood drawn (as is the typical process when making doctor’s appointments), does her doctor really know where she actually is in that process?
If the doctor wants to get good information about her hormone health, then knowing where she is in her unique cycle is the only way to get any actual data.
Drawing her blood on a random day tells us almost nothing about her hormone health if you don’t know when SHE ovulated.
This is just one key difference in the NaPro Technology approach to assessing infertility.
In my mind, unexplained infertility is rarely an unacceptable diagnosis.
So, why does this continue to be acceptable? Why aren’t more infertility specialists trying to drill down on the ACTUAL cause of infertility? Why are couples given a diagnosis of unexplained infertility, and a packet of payment options for IVF after one or two visits to a reproductive endocrinologist?
Short answer: because they are going to do IVF anyway. They don’t think it’s necessary to find out what is causing your infertility. It doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, they are going to try to go around it, make your baby in a petri dish for you, and charge you 20K to give you that 35% chance that your baby sticks.
And whatever is wrong with you, will still be there, so when and if you’d like to try to have a sibling for your child, you’ll need to be ready with another 20K and a whole lot of hope.
Here’s another scary thought. Why, even when this little baby is created in a petri dish, evaluated to be a healthy, tiny little human, and then is literally put in the exact right spot to grow into a healthy newborn baby, do 65% of them still not make it?
Well, it’s probably because there’s something unhealthy still going on in there, in that environment where your new little baby was just placed and that hasn’t been properly addressed.
Here is one basic principle that we have to understand: Infertility is a symptom of disease or dysfunction in the body.
When couples with infertility decide to forgo the typical IVF clinic approach and end up sitting with me learning about charting their cycles to access NaPro Technology, one of our forms requests a “Medical Diagnosis to Date.” Unexplained infertility is the most common response, either because that was the actual diagnosis given to her, or it is what she believes after prior medical workups. Sometimes one will say something like, “Well, they told me maybe I had PCOS?” Often this diagnosis was given to them after 1-2 visits to a fertility clinic.
Would it surprise you to know that each one of these women eventually DID get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for their actual infertility-causing problem with a NaPro Technology trained physician? Did every one of them have a baby? No. Many have, and some haven’t yet. But all of them now know what is going on, and they knew their doctor was doing everything he could to correct it. They also now had months or even years of fertility charting data, documenting their health journey and cycle improvements.
If you have been diagnosed with unexplained infertility I urge you not to accept this diagnosis. Advocate for yourself. Get a second opinion. Connect with a Creighton Model practitioner who can guide you to a NaPro physician who will see you as not just a means to get a baby, but as a whole person, who deserves to understand her own body and to be as healthy as possible. The beautiful thing is that the process of having a baby is the normal, healthy way of things! Correct the health problem and often the baby (or babies!) will follow.
Have questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you! Email shirelle@InfinityFertilityCare.com .