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Am I infertile because my mother was?

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Anonymous asks:

I'm 15 years old, going on 16 and I've been told my whole life by my Mom that I'm not supposed to have kids. I mean, in terms that I'm not able to. She was supposed to infertile (they were married for two years before me and there hasn't been anything since) and she's only had me. She told me that because I'm so much like her that I'm probably infertile too. I've never had the tests done. Gynecologists creep me out. For some reason, I've always wanted to be a mom. I'm really great with kids and I love them to death. I feel awkward feeling this way! Is this normal? I'm I wrong to feel this way? When I get older, is there any way that, supposing I am infertile, I could have a baby? Is it wrong that I want to be a mother so much? I've told one of my ex boyfriends (when we were still dating) about it and he just called me a whore for it. Is this natural? Is there any way to fix infertility?

Heather Corinna replies:

It doesn't make any sense to presume infertility until you have had fertility tests done.

At least once a week or two, I sit in the clinic I also work at counseling someone for an abortion procedure who was told or had the idea that they were infertile, and who didn't get tested to make sure that had any truth in it. This is one of those things you just really cannot base on hearsay, or smartly consider yourself to be without reliably verifying the real deal. Suffice it to say, it is a seriously bad idea to have sex without using a method of birth control based on the idea you can't become pregnant when you're not fully prepared -- emotionally, financially, practically, interpersonally -- to be pregnant or be a parent. There's no need to have to find out the hard way that your mother is probably wrong.

Infertility is not usually something hereditary in origin. Some conditions which can be causes of infertility -- like endometriosis -- can run in families, but infertility itself really does not.

To give you a basic overview, the most common causes of infertility in women are things like:

  • Damage to the fallopian tubes, usually due to an untreated sexually transmitted infection
  • Endometriosis, a disorder which causes uterine tissue to grow outside the uterus, and will tend to be marked by irregular bleeding and very painful periods
  • PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) or uterine fibroid cysts
  • Irregular ovulation (which is not hereditary)
  • Elevated levels of prolactin, due to breastfeeding or a pituitary tumor
  • Early menopause (though at your age, that'd be practically unheard of)
  • The use of certain medications
  • Other medical issues or conditions like some cancers (or treatments for cancer), diabetes, thyroid disorders, sickle cell anemia, HIV, etc.

Only around 10% of infertility cases are unexplained, or have a cause which cannot yet be found. And with a lot of these things, you can easily rule them out yourself based on your sexual and health history, and per symptoms. If you've not yet been sexually active (or have, but get your yearly exams and know you're in fine sexual health), and you have pretty normal periods without a lot of pain or irregular bleeding, you're probably just as fertile as the next person. Even in those cases, plenty of people who have had an STI, irregularly ovulate or who have PCOS, for instance, are still fertile.

Clearly, your mother wasn't infertile. It may be that your parents simply didn't have sex often, or the timing was such that another pregnancy did not happen: a lot of couples have to time the sex they have with ovulation in order for a pregnancy to occur, especially as they get older. It may be that your parents used a method of birth control, or that your mother or father really didn't want another child, but that's not something your mother is choosing to share with you for whatever reason (it can be a loaded and private issue). It may be that your father had a low sperm count or some other issue: just as often, infertility is an issue with the male partner, not the female one. And in around a third of cases, infertility is due to issues with both partners, not just one.

All the same, even if your mother really had been infertile, it's not likely something she could have passed on to you, and she is not a reliable source when it comes to determining your fertility. Because you're like her does not mean that your reproductive system is a replica of hers: her thinking here is flawed, even if she did or does have fertility issues. Here's a good, basic rundown of some typical myths about infertility for you from an infertility clinic.

So, what I'd suggest given how worried you are about this, is just talking to your general doctor. You don't have to see an OB/GYN to talk about this, but if you're sexually active or have been having any issues with your periods, then you'll want to have a gynecological exam regardless. Gynecologists are no more "creepy" than any other kind of doctor or specialist. And if you got that idea about OB/GYNs from your family, I'd suggest you ditch it. In fact, one way to safeguard your fertility is to keep current with your preventative reproductive and sexual health. if your Mom really did have infertility issues and didn't do that herself, it may well be that she had a causal agent -- like an untreated STI or an ovarian cyst -- which a gynecologist could have helped her deal with or prevent complications from.

If you really want to know the status of your fertility without having tests done yet, you can chart your fertility cycles yourself and get an accurate idea of if you are fertile or not. It's nothing close to rocket science or a huge investment of money or time: doing so just takes a finger, a basal thermometer, some paper, a pen and a couple minutes of your time every morning. Pretty much anyone can do it by using the practices explained in an article we have here on FAM which I'll link you to at the end of this page. Within just a couple of months of charting, you should be able to see clear patterns of ovulation.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to be a mother, and it's understandable that you might also feel more strongly about that having been reared with the idea it was something you could not do. (I'm really glad to know that the boyfriend who called you a whore for wanting to talk about being a parent -- heck, for any reason -- is now an ex.) Lots of women want to be mothers. Lots of women don't. Either are valid choices, and neither means something is wrong with someone. You just want to make sure that if and when you choose to parent, you're being realistic and that you're thinking both in your best interest as well as in the best interest of the child you'd bring into the world. Just because we want to parent or be pregnant doesn't men we're ready to be the kind parents a kid needs or that that desire is always going to happen at the right time.

But until you actually determine you can't become pregnant, it doesn't make much sense to dwell on infertility.

In the case there is actually an issue or problem, there are lots of ways around many infertility issues now (but they do involve changing your tune on OB/GYNs), and to boot, even for women who truly cannot become pregnant, sustain a pregnancy, or deliver a child safely for their health or the child's, there are still ways to have a family of your own. There are an unfathomable number of children -- over a hundred thousand every year in the United States that we know of -- without permanent homes in the world, and there are never enough adoptive parents available for them. Mothering someone is different than just being pregnant or birthing someone: being unable to become pregnant or birth doesn't keep anyone from being able to be a parent, and parenting is a far bigger thing than the mere ability to become pregnant.

Here are some additional links for you, including the piece on how to chart:

written 18 May 2008 . updated 27 Jan 2014

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