Realising there is a problem with fertility

When young men and women are in their teens and early twenties they are usually keen (and often encouraged by parents, teachers and peer groups) to make sure they do not get pregnant. Those who had been very careful to use contraception told us that when they stopped they often expected to conceive pretty quickly.

Reaching or approaching the age of 30, getting married and settling in a home often prompted the decision to have a family. Many assumed that starting a family would be an easy next step in life, the ‘natural’ thing to do. Some, such as Oliver, were initially worried about trying as they were fearful about whether they were ready for life to change, as it inevitably would with children. 

The people we talked to said that it took anything from a few weeks to several years for them to realise that there might be a problem with their fertility. Many couples gave it at least a year before they went to their GP; often they waited this long because they expected that the GP would not take their concerns seriously if they had only been trying for a few months. (See ‘Going to the GP’).

While some women said that they had talked to their pregnant friends and relations about how long it had taken them to conceive, others said that this was a very difficult topic to raise. But whether they discussed it openly or not, it was hard not to make comparisons and to get concerned if they felt they were being overtaken by their peers.

The realisation that there was a fertility problem often emerged slowly over months or years. The inability to conceive sometimes came as a real shock to people and challenged expectations that they had held since childhood about marriage and parenthood. 

While for some having problems conceiving came as a complete shock, for others, pre-existing conditions had forewarned them they might have difficulty conceiving. Some had had miscarriages in earlier life, which caused them concern. Others had conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or endometriosis that could affect their fertility. Although Carol had not been told that her fertility could be compromised by her polycystic ovaries, she said that she had a ‘niggling doubt’ more or less straight away when she did not get pregnant. Janine was treated for skin cancer in her late 20s, prompting her to re-evaluate what she was doing with her life. As soon as she was well she decided that she wanted children.

Some knew that their partners were infertile before they got married. Others were on their second marriage and had had a vasectomy or sterilisation before getting re-married, and so needed to seek treatment to have a baby with their new partners.

​Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated July 2017.


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