It is possible to be perfectly fertile and not be able to get pregnant for years, especially if you haven't learned how important it is to time conception. Because of this couples have been falsely labeled infertile.
Consider this. Couples who have no apparent problems with fertility still have only a 25 percent chance of getting pregnant after one month of unprotected intercourse (1). After one year of trying, they have an 85 percent chance of succeeding (2). We say that if a couple still isn't pregnant after one, perhaps two, years of trying, they are infertile. It may be that they are one of the 15 percent who are fertile, but not lucky enough to conceive right away.
Dr. Polly Marchbanks, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, has poked some holes in how we define infertility. She has pointed to several studies that showed couples, when given a little time, can still get pregnant without medical help. One group of 1800 couples were considered infertile because they still weren't pregnant after one year of unprotected intercourse. Eighty-four percent of them, however, did eventually conceive, although it took up to 10 years in some cases (3).
Still, statistics are not carved in stone. How long it takes for a couple to conceive depends on how often they have intercourse, their age and health, and whether they time conception. Some experts suggest that a couple needs to have sex three to six times per week
to maximize conception. Older couples, say infertility researchers, aren't as sexually active as younger people so have a naturally harder time conceiving. Men and women over 40 also experience infertility for more untraceable reasons than younger couples.
Waiting for Baby
As many couples delay marriage and pregnancy, they are left with fewer years to conceive. In many cases these years are also less fertile. While women have been blamed for the higher infertility rates, both sexes are affected to some degree. Living in our world is not easy. We are faced with an increasing load of stress, pollutants, refined and processed foods, and sedentary jobs.
All of these factors plus the accumulative effect of disease and an aging body compromise health and fertility. It's important to remember that reproductive organs don't live in a vacuum. They must operate and cooperate with other parts of the body. If the reproductive system or some other part of the body isn't working right, then fertility suffers. In recognizing the wear and tear our bodies go through with age, some fertility experts suggest that couples over 30 seek help if they still aren't pregnant after six months without birth control.
Even though men are as susceptible to stress and unhealthy eating as females, women have been assigned the task of watching the biological clock. Unlike sperm, which are constantly being replenished, a female is born with all the eggs she will use in her lifetime. It is thus assumed that these eggs must lose some of their vitality with time.
Recent research has confirmed that a woman's eggs are responsible for her decreasing fertility (4). Scientists at the University of California in Los Angeles went as far as to transplant fertilized eggs from young donors into menopausal women. The end
result was that nine out of the 14 older recipients became pregnant (5).
We've always assumed that because a woman's eggs are as old as she is, they must lose their fertility with age. But is there more to this picture that we can't see? Although a woman carries the same egg supply with her for life, these ova do not mature until the month they are released or discarded. Does this make a difference? Is it the egg that matures anew each month that dampens fertility or the body that supports reproduction?