- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 29, 2010

Discovering that one is infertile is like joining “a secret underground club,” said Melissa Ford, creator of the award-winning Stirrup Queens blog, at a Capitol Hill briefing Wednesday.

But this complex, emotionally riveting issue needs to come out of the shadows - and be fully covered by health insurance, said advocates from Resolve: The National Infertility Association.

“Infertility is a disease, and we need more ways in which we can combat it as a disease,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democrat and co-sponsor of a “family building” bill that would require insurance companies to cover infertility services.

Infertility affects a “staggering” one in eight couples, the congresswoman said, but just 15 states require such health insurance coverage.

Maryland and West Virginia are among the states with coverage, according to Resolve.

A companion family-building bill has been offered in the Senate by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat.

Resolve Executive Director Barbara Collura said another advocacy goal is to win $1 million for a “national action plan” on infertility, which is being developed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A CDC white paper on infertility shows there are still too many gaps in what is known about the causes of infertility, early detection and treatments, said Dr. Maurizio Macaluso, chief of the Women’s Health and Fertility Branch at the CDC, at Wednesday’s Resolve briefing.

The ultimate goal, he said, is to preserve Americans’ ability to conceive, carry a pregnancy to term and deliver a healthy baby.

Federal data show that an estimated 7.3 million women, aged 15 to 44, struggle with “impaired fecundity,” which means they have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy.

Of married women in that age group, about 2 million are infertile, which means that they have not become pregnant despite 12 months of sexual activity without contraceptives.

Leading causes of infertility include sexually transmitted diseases, especially chlamydia and gonorrhea, which result in infections that scar delicate reproductive organs. Exposure to chemicals is thought to affect sperm adversely. Being obese is associated with poor outcomes in childbearing.

The popular belief that women can endlessly delay childbearing is another culprit.

Women come in at ages 38, 40, 42 and “still think they have time” to have a baby, said Dr. Rafat Abbasi, chair of the gynecology department at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. Even though they may have “a fantastic body, fantastic career, fantastic husband, fantastic life,” their ovaries are aging and are going to stop, she said. “Time is not your friend.”

Mrs. Ford, who has written a book about infertility called “Navigating the Land of If,” said she was told by doctors that she had “nothing to worry about” when she didn’t become pregnant after trying for more than a year. In truth, though, “I wasted a lot of time” listening to that advice, she said.

Three years later, at age 30, “I got the happy ending” for herself and her husband when she gave birth to twins. People need to talk about infertility experiences more openly, she said, so others are not left “fumbling in the dark” about diagnoses and treatments.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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