Breaking the stigma: National Infertility Awareness Week shines light on fertility challenges

One in 6 people globally are affected by infertility, and that number may be higher in the Miami Valley, doctor says.

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

In 1989, RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, founded a movement called National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW). Its purpose is to reduce the stigma and to educate the public on the difficulties of reproductive health — which SpringCreek Fertility, a Centerville-based fertility treatment center, often does.

Infertility — a disease, condition or status of the male or female reproduction system that can prevent a person’s ability to conceive — affects an estimated 17% of people globally at some point during their lifetime, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Reproductive issues can often manifest in the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes for females; low sperm levels, motility (movement) and morphology (shape) of sperm for males.

The causes of infertility are too wide-ranging to fit here and can be a lifelong affliction for some — though as treatments are becoming more widely available, so is the dialogue surrounding it.

Part of the mission of NIAW is to spread the word at the grassroots level, and to open up the conversations because as the message becomes clearer, those who suffer realize they are not alone. Generally, the first step to empathizing and breaking down those barriers is to talk about it.

Since NIAW’s inception in 1989, one way the conversation has shifted is through the availability of tools such as social media. SpringCreek Fertility — an independent, full-service fertility center that recently expanded to serve Columbus and Cincinnati — has used social media to encourage and spread awareness not only during National Infertility Awareness Week but throughout the entire year.

Each day of NIAW has a unique hashtag, such as #WearOrange2024 — orange being the color of assurance and understanding — and a corresponding “challenge” to participate in.

Megan Connelly, Digital Marketing Specialist at SpringCreek, said that while they do post every day of NIAW, it’s imperative to spread the correct information — which a slew of misinformation exists alongside.

Though Connelly isn’t a member of the clinical staff, she ensures that everything shared through SpringCreek’s social media is verified either by a Nurse Practitioner, Provider or trusted fertility sources, like the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) or RESOLVE.

On top of what’s shared online — from facts to patient stories — SpringCreek representatives also visit referring doctors’ offices to pass out flowers and flyers during NIAW: a seemingly simple gesture that encourages doctors to talk to their patients about infertility, and to emphasize the changes that need to be made to get patients where they want to be.

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

As the WHO reported, an estimated 1 in 6 people globally are affected by infertility, though this doesn’t include LGBTQ+ couples and those who choose to parent without a partner. What’s more, SpringCreek Medical Director Dr. Jeremy Groll suggested that those numbers are potentially even higher in the Miami Valley.

“We have a lot of environmental factors, between air quality and water quality in the region,” Groll said. “Exposures from chemicals from manufacturing or agriculture can affect sperm function. We do see higher rates of women with low ovarian function. I strongly feel some of these environmental factors may be influencing both sperm and egg and overall fertility for people in our region, but these things are major factors nationally and worldwide.”

A recent report in the New York Times stated that the EPA is pushing to remove “forever chemicals,” collectively known as PFAS, from tap water, exposure to which has been associated with decreased fertility in women and developmental delays in children.

“Air quality assessments [in this region] show high particulate counts and other factors that all contribute to overall physical health but also reproductive health,” Groll said.

SpringCreek not only recognizes the impact of environmental factors on fertility, but they also offer information on how to counteract those circumstances — from inside their comprehensive new patient binder — suggesting green cleaning supplies and fertility-forward foods — to what they post for NIAW and every day.

National Infertility Awareness Week may just be one week in the back half of April, but there are also awareness months for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis, among other reproductive conditions. But regardless of what time of year it is, infertility is around the clock. As science changes and the word gets out through rogue platforms posing as authorities on the subject, misconceptions are fairly common, as well.

National Infertility Awareness Week helps to dispel common myths related to infertility, bringing general awareness of how frequently infertility occurs, when treatment should be sought and that treatment options are available to anyone needing help to achieve their family plans.

“Over time it has become increasingly accepted and open,” said SpringCreek’s Women’s Health Nurse Practioner Julie Cuy Castellanos on how the perception of infertility has changed since SpringCreek opened in 2014. “People are much more open to talk about it or to investigate either diagnoses or looking into treatment options.”

National Infertility Awareness Week is recognized April 21-27, 2024.

Infertility misconceptions

Here are three infertility misconceptions (in quotes), dispelled by SpringCreek’s Women’s Health Nurse Practioner Julie Cuy Castellanos:

“Infertility is just a female issue”

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues, one-third by female reproductive issues and one-third by both parties or by unknown factors.

“Using birth control can cause infertility”

Hormonal contraception does not impact the underlying fertility status of a female even with long-term use.

“Stress causes infertility”

Aside from the uncommon extreme stress circumstances like famine, daily stress does not affect a person’s fertility.

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