Do you have or had fertility problems, or are you afraid of it?


In 2009 my husband and I got to know each other, high school lovers, as they call it. After more than 10 years of joys and sorrows together, we decided it was time for the next step, a baby. However, since I had a hormone spiral, we couldn’t decide to go for it overnight since I first had to make an appointment with my gynecologist. In October, I called for an appointment, but I could only go for an appointment by the end of January; by then, my spiral was removed. During these 4 months of waiting for this appointment, I thought a lot about getting pregnant, and I mainly wondered how ‘smooth’ everything would go for us. Sometimes you hear stories of women who ‘had the first prize’ from the first time, while this is not evident with others. It is a subject that can be very sensitive.

Speaking for myself, I am lucky that I did not have problems getting pregnant, and I also had a good pregnancy; I am one of those who ‘had the first prize.’ Yet, I also have many friends where I hear that things have not gone so smoothly. This creates a lot of uncertainty and perhaps even tensions in your relationship, but also with the outside world. Just think of that friend who makes a comment like ‘When is your turn,’ or ‘You certainly have enough extra bedrooms to make babies.’ Well-intentioned words, but on the other hand, it is also strange that people say or dare to ask without much hesitation on this topic since this is an intimate subject. Especially if you have been trying to conceive for a long time at such a moment, such comments are extra painful. Are you someone who can talk openly about this with friends or family? Or is this, after all, a subject that you do not hang around the clock?  

After all, fertility problems are still taboo in society. However, many couples who want children face problems. For about 15%, it takes more than one year to become pregnant. 

One in six of the Isala participants experienced problems fulfilling their pregnancy wish.  

Among them, 1% of women do not have a partner or have a female partner and therefore need help to fulfill their desire to have children. Read more about this in our previous blog post from Eline.  

Fertility problems can be due to various factors and affect both men and women. Disrupted ovulation is the most common cause of reduced fertility in women, for about 20-30% of the cases. A condition that occurs in nearly 10% of women is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS. This also emerged as a common cause among the Isala participants. PCOS is associated with several symptoms, such as ovarian cysts, disturbed or no ovulation, and hormone imbalance. Another common condition that can lead to reduced fertility is endometriosis, which also affects about 1 in 10 women. In this case, cells of the endometrium also occur outside the uterus, which can cause problems in conceiving. These days, there is more evidence that there is a link between the vaginal microbiome and infertility. It appears that lactobacilli play a role in preventing infections and inflammation. Further research is, however, still needed, and also Isala wants to contribute to this research.

Fortunately, many solutions exist today that can help couples who otherwise would not be able to have children. 

Among the Isala participants that followed a fertility aid, 32% followed hormone therapy, 26% artificial insemination, 16% in vitro fertilization (IVF), and 15% intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI, a variant of IVF in which one sperm cell is injected into the egg). 

Fertility treatments and an unfulfilled desire to have children can significantly impact your everyday life. Moreover, it can affect your (mental) health and are debilitating if it takes a long time. This topic can be very sensitive to your friends and family. Maybe someone just heard that he/she cannot have children (naturally), and is he/she still in the middle of a grieving process and not ready to talk about it. Give that person the time and space and possibly let him or her know afterward that they can always find a listening ear in you. 

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Isala wants to break the taboo around vaginal health. That’s why all our research kits contain great conversation starters  (also online available). Use these cards as inspiration for interesting chats with friends and family, and find out how much there is to say about vaginal health.

You can also start a conversation online by clicking on a question and adding your response. You can do it anonymously – your first name is fine. The Isala researchers will answer your question. This way, we can increase knowledge about the female microbiome and break the taboo together. That’s our dream at Isala. Feel free to add comments and ask questions – let’s start the conversation together!