With infertility, don’t overlook the obvious
I get this really interesting peek into couple’s lives that almost no one else gets. I get to see actual documentation of how often a couple has sex. That sounds weirder than it is. I really don’t dwell on this information other than noticing the letter “I” on a chart. With fertility charting, it’s necessary to keep track of each act of intercourse. Collecting real data on this has been eye opening. When it comes to working with couples with infertility, I find that this has caused a theory to come bubbling up to the surface for me.
I believe that some couples aren’t getting pregnant and may even believe they are infertile, when the problem is that they aren’t having sex, aren’t having sex enough, or aren’t having sex on fertile days. I’ve seen this often enough that I believe this is impacting more couples than we might realize.
18 months ago a couple came to me who told me that they were having trouble getting pregnant. I sat down with them for our first appointment to begin working with them to teach them The Creighton Model System so we could see what might be going on. As I familiarized myself with their medical and health background, my natural process is to start mentally filtering and categorizing their situation to begin to determine what signs of potential problems they may have that might be causing infertility.
Two weeks and then four weeks later, we were beginning to get some data from her charting that indicated potential PCOS signs. So we began talking about seeing a physician that could help her with that. We talked about timing intercourse to give them the best chance of achieving pregnancy. We met again two weeks after that, and I noticed that there were no documented acts of intercourse on the chart. I didn’t think too much of it at this point. Every couple is different. Some have lower sex drives, and after working one one one with over 170 couples, you begin to realize that there is a wide range of normal when it comes to frequency of sex. Her husband worked in the oil field and would sometimes travel out of town for work. Again, we met two weeks later, and the couple had still not had sex. I tried to gently dialogue with them, at first just a little jokingly:
“Well, guys, we’re going to need to get some acts of intercourse on the chart if you’re going to get pregnant!” They chuckled, said they’d been very busy, and we scheduled our next meeting for a month later.
You probably already know what happened next. We met again a month later and the couple still had not had sex. I’ll spare you going through every single appointment with them. By the time we had gone through an entire year of charting, this couple had had sex three times. Interestingly, not one of those times was on a fertile day.
When I met with this couple for their final charting appointment, the woman said to me:
“Do you think I really have a serious fertility problem? We haven’t gotten pregnant yet.” I emphatically explained (again) that I believed that their first problem was a relationship problem, and that a good doctor would first want them to actually try to get pregnant.
This woman was really in denial about the realities of her marriage and I think it was honestly easier for her to think about fixing something medically than it was to think about fixing something relationally.
You see, doctors, nurses, counselors, and allied health pros like me have a process we are supposed to go through when we’re working one-on-one with someone. We are supposed to identify the true situation or problem, i.e. ‘WHY is the person experiencing this problem?’ and drill down on that root cause to fix that. It would have been irresponsible of me to jump to sending this woman to a doctor who might do invasive tests and procedures, when the problem was actually more of a psychological and relationship issue. So the best thing for this couple really wasn’t some kind of infertility treatment. It was a referral for relationship counseling.
This has happened again and again. I frequently see couples who believe they are infertile, when they either don’t have sex on fertile days, have sex very infrequently, or don’t have sex at all.
But how can this be, you might ask? How can a couple not realize that they don’t have enough sex to get pregnant?
Consider this. Have you ever gone through the exercise of trying to track how much time you spend on social media? Or how much time you spend watching TV? In a study about smartphone usage, people underestimated how much time they spent on their smartphones by 50%.
Studies show that both men and women overestimate how much sex they (and others) have. The magazine, The Atlantic, recently published a fabulous and disturbing article entitled “The Sex Recession,” about how young people are having less sex than ever before.
Western society has also done a pretty good job of warning couples of how easy it is to get pregnant, when women are actually naturally infertile for a majority of the time. Another common experience is for women to come off of hormonal contraception and to fully expect that they will become pregnant immediately, just because they aren’t using contraception anymore.
One key important difference between a typical fertility doctor and a NaPro Technology trained doctor is that NaPro doctors rely on a Creighton Model chart. With Creighton Model we track EVERYTHING. We’re not only tracking the markers of healthy fertility, but we also track when and how frequently the couple is having intercourse.
In my opinion, ALL doctors who are helping a couple with fertility problems should be documenting how often and when the couple is having sex. This seems like a no-brainer. Before we go off on some wild goose chase to figure out some mysterious reason for a fertility problem, we should first make sure that the basic biological process for making babies is actually happening. And if it’s not, the couple needs help with that.
In my experience most fertility doctors just take the couple at their word that they are having sex at the correct time and no real tracking is happening. And some don’t even ask about sex before moving on to invasive fertility treatments.
Please don’t write me hateful emails telling me that you know that the cause of your infertility isn’t because you don’t have sex or you have a relationship problem. I know this is not the case for all couples. But it’s happened often enough in my five years of teaching and coaching, that it warrants a discussion.
So if you are struggling with a fertility problem, first get back to basics. Are you having sex? Often enough? At the right time? Are you sure about this if you aren’t actually tracking it? If you aren’t having sex often enough or at the right time, deal with this problem first. If you’ve done this consistently for the last 6 months and have not been able to conceive, then you should absolutely seek help for a fertility problem.