One in six Canadian couples experience fertility problems

Canadian Infertility Awareness Week aims to shed light on modern medical options.

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      Starting Thursday (May 12) Canadian Infertility Awareness Week (CIAW) begins across the country, and a Vancouver doctor is speaking out about the modern medical options available to those having difficulty conceiving.

      Infertility is a relatively widespread problem in Canada, with up to 16 percent of couples experiencing problems conceiving, according to a 2012 study by Statistics Canada and Assisted Human Reproduction Canada. The theme of CIAW—"Because It’s Time"—points to raising awareness about the prevalence and reality of infertility. 

      “I think it’s very important to educate and make women aware that this is an option for them,” Dr. Sonya Kashyap told the Georgia Straight about professional infertility services during an interview in her office. “I’ve had several patients say to me that it just wasn’t a part of their dialogue with anybody.”

      Kashyap, medical director of Genesis Fertility Centre, said that in medical school she found the field of reproductive endocrinology and infertility to be a fascinating academic challenge. She was also enticed by the chance of working with motivated patients.

      “People who suffer from infertility have feelings of grief that are akin to people who receive a diagnosis of cancer,” she explained. “Everybody expects that reproducing is something that our bodies should be able to do for us, and a lot of times we take that for granted. And when it turns out that that’s not the case, it’s a huge disappointment.”

      Kashyap said she is thrilled about the future of medical science in her field. “These days, with assisted reproductive technology, you can actually prevent the transmission of a lethal gene or disease. You could take somebody, for example, who had Huntington’s in their family and you could help them prevent transmissions of that gene into their child through preimplantation genetic diagnosis.”

      This would effectively remove the gene from future generations, she said, and change a potentially lethal family genetic history altogether.

      “What’s worth more than that?” Kashyap asked. “For people who have suffered, have seen their loved ones suffering, have lost someone close to them from a genetic disease they could not control or impact, I mean, that’s invaluable.”

      Kashyap said she hopes that a large part of CIAW will be an increased recognition of egg freezing as a smart option not only for women experiencing difficulties conceiving presently but also women planning for a family later in life.

      “For most women after age 37, it becomes very difficult to become pregnant, and after age 40, very very difficult. A lot of people don’t realize that when they see people around them—or people in the news or on TV—becoming pregnant at those ages, what a tough journey that might have been.”

      Kashyap pointed to egg freezing as one of the many misunderstood aspects of reproductive technologies. “Most of the women that we see who come to freeze their eggs, contrary to what people believe, don’t do it because they want to focus on their career and they want to delay a family. They do it because they’ve turned 35, 36, 37, 38 and they haven’t met their partner yet. Maybe because of their education, maybe because of their work path, maybe because they live in a city like Vancouver, where everything is so expensive and things are delayed.”

      When asked if she believes embryo selection, rather than sex, is the reproductive way of the future, Kashyap laughed. “I hope not! These days, unfortunately, a lot of people suffer from infertility, and it does become a mechanical process, and it does become a medicalized process. There are many reasons in the future why that might increase: people having families later, identification of more and more genetic disorders that can be avoided, optimization of outcomes from the perspective of fertility preservation. Hopefully, romance and sex will never go away, because that is how most of the world is reproducing.”

      “I think the guiding factor to that,” she continued, “is actually going to be the age at which we decide to have our families. The older we decide to have our families, the more and more likely it will be that we will need these technologies, and that seems to be the trend.”

      Kashyap said awareness is the key factor with promoting events like CIAW: “Education about what affects fertility, from environmental factors to age factors to genetic factors to things like sexually transmitted diseases, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome—so many things...some of which we can do something about in advance and some of which we can’t, but at least recognizing the signs and symptoms and knowing that there’s help available.

      “All people have to do is ask and find the right place to go.”

      Canadian Infertility Awareness Week runs from May 12 to May 20 and aims to shed light on the possible causes and treatments for infertility and to debunk common myths. Genesis Fertility Centre is holding an open house on May 24, 6pm to 8pm in the week following CIAW. You can RSVP at genesis@genesis-fertility.com.

      You can follow Colten Dom on Twitter at @coltendom

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