Healthy Expectations: Couples battle fertility challenges to get on the path to parenthood

(Photo: Liz Thompson)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Liz Thompson lovingly folds newborn-sized onesies and pajamas. She and her husband are just weeks away from welcoming their second son, and it took years of frustration to get to this point.

“Unless you go through it, you don’t even have a clue what it feels like,” Thompson explains. “That was really, really tough for us.”

Thompson and her husband met in middle school and were high school sweethearts. They married in their early 20’s.

“We were about four years into our marriage and people are like, ‘Where are the kids?'” Thompson recalls. “I wasn’t at the point where I felt emotionally I could express where we were, what we were struggling with.”

Thompson had been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) years before. Irregular menstrual cycles and fertility challenges are signs of the hormonal disorder.

Overall, this 2013 study from the National Institutes of Health found as many as one in six couples deals with infertility.

“Much more common than you think,” says Dr. Kenneth Steingold, an obstetrician/gynecologist who specializes in reproductive endocrinology.

Dr. Kenneth Steingold says tests available may help to pinpoint a cause for infertility.

From his office at Virginia Fertility Associates, Steingold explains there is a battery of tests that may help couples figure out what is happening.

Bloodwork looks at hormone levels, how the blood clots and the immune system.

There may also be physical complications.

“The uterus can be malformed,” Steingold describes. “You’re born that way.”

Steingold says many fertility issues are treatable, but some couples never get answers about why they are experiencing repeated miscarriages or problems conceiving.

“About half of the time, you do not find a cause.”

Steingold says while there are still some unknowns about fertility, a woman’s age is the number one factor affecting it.

Any woman aged 30 who has unsuccessfully tried for a year to conceive or who is 35 and has tried for six months should see a fertility specialist.

As she approached the end of her twenties, Thompson remembers navigating the issues she and her husband were having to start a family.

“I just felt a lot of grief about that,” she says. “We were just going through cycle after cycle of just not getting pregnant.”

The two of them met with Steingold for screenings and to come up with a course of action to manage Thompson’s PCOS.

“That was one thing Dr. Steingold really talked to us about. There’s nobody to blame,” she says about struggles to get pregnant. “Sometimes it’s timing, sometimes it’s a combination of things.”

(Photo: Liz Thompson)

After eight months of working with Steingold, the Thompsons conceived their first son, who is now two and a half.

“The challenge to get pregnant has really made me grateful for stuff that he does,” she says with a smile. “That most people probably would be really frustrated about, but I just look at him and I think what a miracle.”

She now looks forward to feeling the fulfillment of raising their second son.

“He’s due in October,” she says. “We’re excited.”

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