Shattered Dreams: Young Women and Infertility

By Nancy Da Silva

For a young woman the knowledge that she may never be able to have children brings with it a double dose of pain. First is what might be the death of hope. A young woman, who has grown up dreaming of the day that she will start her own family, is suddenly told that it may never happen. She shares this pain with many older women who have been unable to conceive. Secondly is the possible death of ‘time’. All young women who want to have children are always told ‘oh you have plenty of time’. They are encouraged to pursue higher levels of education, to focus on establishing careers etc, convinced that when they do want to settle down and have children it will happen for them. But then they are shocked to discover that it doesn’t. This is a pain that young infertile women carry alone.

In some cases, with older women, they maybe experiencing infertility as a result of a difficult first pregnancy which means they may already have other children. A single young woman, who has been told she may never or may have trouble having a child, will not have that first child as a comfort.

So with the dropping estrogen levels and dropping egg production rates that come with age for women over thirty five, what could be some of the reasons that a young woman, under the age of thirty would be unable to conceive a child and is there anything that can be done to help them get back those gifts of ‘hope’ and ‘time’?

For the purpose of this article we’ll be looking solely at the reasons why a female might be unable to conceive without considering the factors her male partner may be bringing to the table.

Normally, a woman is at her most fertile in her early twenties. But it’s important to note than even at the peak of her child bearing years, a woman only has a 25-30% chance each month of actually getting pregnant. Once a woman hits 35 and onward, that percentage drops to ten percent.

So let’s look at some of the most common factors of infertility in young women.

1. Multiple Sexual Partners

This brings with it the danger of an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases. There has been an alarming increase in cases of gonorrhea which if left untreated, can cause sterility. It is extremely important that women use the best STD protection methods available to them not only to protect their health, but to protect their chances of conceiving once they decide to.

2. History Of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

PID causes inflammation and scaring of the fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus,severely compromising the woman’s ability to conceive. In many cases, women are not aware they have PID until they try to conceive. Women who have used intrauterine devices (IUD’s) in the past may find that this method of contraception may cause the onset of pelvic inflammatory disease and thus leave them unable to conceive when they decide they are ready to become mothers. The key to treating PID is early detection, before the inflammation has a chance to severely scar the reproductive organs. Regular gynaecological exams are imperative so that if caught early enough, the doctor can prescribe antibiotics and the infection will clear up. However, if the PID is caused by a sexually transmitted disease then the woman’s partner will have to be treated as well and sexual intercourse avoided until the entire prescribed medical treatment has been completed.

3. DES Exposure

DES stands for Diethylstilbestrol and was commonly prescribed to pregnant women who had experienced earlier miscarriages or difficult pregnancies as recent as the 1970’s to help estrogen production. It was eventually taken off the market after it was learned that the supplement could lead to reproductive complications to a female fetus, leading to future pregnancy complications and infertility for her. While there are no treatments for abnormalities caused in-utero to female babies who have been exposed to DES, there are treatments that may help women increase their chances of conceiving.

4. Anorexia And/Or Bulimia

It’s only been recently that a past that involved an eating disorder has been added to the possible causes for infertility in young women. Because eating disorders usually manifest themselves in the mid teens and up into the woman’s usually most fertile years, they can severely affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant. Anorexia causes a woman to stop having her periods, compromising ovulation and damaging egg production because a healthy body weight is essential for menstruation to occur. Once an eating disorder has been confirmed it is vital that the young woman get treatment that includes psychotherapy and nutritional counseling. Admission to an in-patient facility may be necessary and once the woman gains weight and her cycle regulates itself the chances of conceiving should improve. But regular check ups are still important to monitor any long term damage. Young women who have the desire to have children need to take charge of their health now. In this day and age when any number of factors from the things she may have been exposed to before she was born, to the chemicals in the foods she consumes, to past harmful behaviors could contribute to her inability to conceive. Keeping healthy and making sure to schedule regular visits with her gynecologist can help her turn the dream she has for future children into a reality. By taking control of her physical and reproductive health, she gives herself the gift of time.