Starting your fertility treatment at a clinic can be overwhelming. There are lots of tests all with names you have never heard of before. And let’s face it, medicine feels like a foreign language that can be very difficult to understand. But knowledge is power! So today I’m here to give you important tips on how to get started on your path to fertility.
When Should a Woman or Man Visit a Fertility Specialist?
If you have any risk factors for infertility, then you should go to a fertility centre straight away – there is no need to wait.
If you don’t have any risk factors, and you’ve been trying for a baby, then age is the key when making your decision to seek treatment. If the woman is under the age of 35 and has been trying to conceive for more than one year, we recommend that the couple consult a fertility specialist.
If the woman is over the age of 35, she has less time to get pregnant because she has begun losing eggs. So if you’re a women of 35 or over and you’ve been trying to conceive for more than six months you should consult a fertility treatment specialist.
The key message here is not to wait. All too often our Centre sees people who have been trying for about four years on average. That is way too long and often means things have got a lot worse or eggs have got to very low levels. Don’t put this off! Fertility treatments are generally more successful the younger you are.
How to Find a Good Fertility Doctor
Finding a good fertility doctor and a fertility treatment clinic that you are comfortable with is really important. You need to interview the fertility clinic! Find out about the treatments they offer. Do they have the treatments you might need? Get a feel for the staff in the clinic when you speak to them on the phone. Do they seem happy to answer your questions and open to giving you information?
Many clinics will offer a free consultation with one of the nursing team. This is a great opportunity to ask about how the treatments in the clinic work and to get an idea of some average costs. When you go to a clinic, make sure that they ask lots of questions and get to know you and your partner well.
You should expect to have some detailed forms to fill in; this is part of the essential information-gathering process which ensures that you are assessed in detail.
Do not be Afraid to Ask Questions about the Team of Fertility Doctors! What are their qualifications? If the fertility clinic’s doctors do not have specialised fertility training of any kind, then they are simply not equipped to make sure that you are tested adequately and treated expertly.
How to Prepare for your First Doctor’s Appointment
A good fertility clinic will have all the information about you ready before your first doctor’s visit. All your medical information, past tests, medication, previous treatments and your family history will have been reviewed. You will have been told about any basic starting tests that the clinic requires.
It makes a lot of sense to have these done and ready for the doctor who will be seeing you. This helps make your first doctor’s visit as efficient and informative as possible.
If you have not been to a nurse’s appointment, then you should bring along reports of all tests and treatments that you may have had previously.
What are the Basic Starting Tests that a Good Fertility Clinic will Need?
Basic starting tests for women include blood tests to check the numbers of eggs they have (an AMH test), whether they are making and releasing eggs (ovulating) and to check the levels of hormones that control their fertility and menstrual cycle (Prolactin and Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)).
You will also need a detailed pelvic ultrasound to check the health of your womb, ovaries, and pelvic area. Sometimes a woman will be asked to have a tube x-ray (HSG) or other tubal imaging (HyCoSy) to see if there is an obvious problem with the tube (such as a blockage) preventing the eggs and sperms from meeting.
A good fertility clinic will also prepare you for a healthy pregnancy by ensuring you have a normal cervical PAP smear and checking your weight and blood pressure. They will also check that you are protected from catching German measles (also called Rubella).
For men a detailed semen analysis from a qualified professional is essential. This sperm test checks the number of sperm you are producing, how well they swim, whether they are healthy and other possible problems such as antibodies, infection, other cells, and problems with the semen fluid.
What to Expect at Your First Doctor’s Appointment
So your tests are all done and you’re ready to see your fertility doctor. What happens next? Ideally, both you and your partner (where relevant!) should attend your first doctor’s appointment together. This means you can both be involved in the discussions and decision-making. It also means the doctor can talk to you both about your fertility.
Forget the common belief that infertility is a woman’s problem, men can be the cause of infertility in a couple and in many cases, infertility is a result of conditions in both the male and the female partner!
If you don’t have a partner or they cannot attend, bring along a close friend instead. Having someone with you can help calm your nerves and also helps to ensure that you remember the questions you had planned and what the doctor tells you.
Before your doctor’s appointment, you should ask the clinic staff all the questions you have so that you can feel as prepared and comfortable as possible at this first visit.
Find out how long you should plan on spending at the clinic. Most first doctor’s appointments will require at least one hour at the clinic. It is also good to ask whether you may need to be examined or provide a urine sample. Knowing what procedures are needed makes the process less nerve-wracking.
Make sure that you are on time for your appointment and allow plenty of time for parking and traffic problems!
I promise you it does get easier. As you progress in your fertility treatment journey, you will start to understand how the clinic works, who the staff are and what is expected of you. At the first few visits it is normal to be nervous and unsure. Never feel that you cannot ask questions.
Will I Need to Have a Gynaecological Examination at My First Visit?
This really depends on the doctor and how the clinic is run. Many fertility clinics offer a one-stop-shop first appointment. Getting everything done in one visit means the doctor has most of the information they need to advise you clearly on your optimal testing and treatment options right away.
Always find out from the administrative staff booking your appointment if you are likely to be examined. Also, find out if the day of your menstrual cycle is important. There is nothing worse than being on your period the day of your appointment and then being told you need to rebook for another day!
If an examination is being done, the doctor usually will perform a pelvic examination and a transvaginal pelvic ultrasound scan on the female partner. You can always choose to delay this examination until your second visit. If you have not had a cervical PAP smear within the last three years the doctor will usually offer to perform this for you during this examination.
What Will the Doctor Discuss with Me at My First Appointment?
After looking at your tests and examining you, your fertility doctor will spend time discussing the possible causes for your fertility issues with you. They may tell you about further tests that may be helpful, and about possible treatment options for you to consider.
Infertility is complex and everyone is different. Fertility doctors are very much like detectives. They need to piece all the pieces of the puzzle together to get a good idea of how to solve your problem.
If either of you requires any further blood tests, these can usually be performed by the nurses in clinic right away. For other tests, such as tube x-rays, specialised scans, and semen testing, you’ll usually need to make an appointment for a day in the future.
What are My Next Steps?
The next steps depend 100% on you! First, what fertility issue or issues have you identified so far? Second, do you need to do more tests before the doctor can figure out the likely treatment options that can get you a baby?
Sometimes you will be ready to jump into treatment after this first doctor’s consultation. But at least half of couples that a clinic sees are going to need a few more tests and a second doctor’s visit before their issues and treatment options are clear.
What Questions Should I ask my Fertility Doctor?
There is no list here that everyone needs to follow. What is important is to ask the questions that you need answered.
Infertility is not a potentially fatal medical condition, like cancer or diabetes where there is one obvious treatment choice for you, and you just need to get going with it.
Fertility treatment is all about choice. First of all, you’re choosing to try and have a baby with fertility treatment. And because there are different options with different success rates and costs, you will also have to make choices about the route you are going to take. This means you have to understand how the options work and then understand the pros and cons of each option for you.
Only then can you make your choice about what you may or may not do.
More than half of the consultation that a fertility doctor has with a patient is about answering questions. Do not be afraid to ask —and ask again! — if you don’t understand. If you have read about and are interested in a particular fertility treatment, then you should feel free to say so and ask about it.
In reality, you will soon find out that the nursing and administrative staff actually do most of the work in a fertility clinic explaining things to patients and answering questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of everyone!
Find a staff member in the clinic who you feel comfortable talking with. Everyone communicates differently and a key to getting a better understanding of your fertility tests and treatments is to find the person who communicates well with you, whoever that is. It does not need to be the doctor.
In fact, many of the nurses, scientists or reception staff are excellent communicators and can help you by answering your questions.
The Top 6 Questions to Ask Your Fertility Doctor About Treatments
- What type of treatment would you recommend we try first?
- Does this involve medication, surgery, or both?
- What are the risks of treatment? Are there any long-term effects?
- Are there less invasive treatments to try first?
- How long should we try this treatment before moving on to another option?
- What other options do we have if that treatment doesn’t work?
3 Questions to Ask Your Fertility Doctor about Success Rates
First of all, try not to get too caught up in the success rates and statistics. Statistics are often based on averages, but the truth is everyone’s body and experiences are different.
All clinics provide success rates by a woman’s age for each type of treatment. But what is really important is YOU! And by that I mean, what is good and what is bad in your situation. You need to know what your individual statistics are like, and what the doctor realistically thinks your chances are.
Here are three great questions to ask;
- What are the success rates specific to me for this treatment?
- What are the success rates for less invasive treatments?
- What are my chances of getting pregnant if I don’t do any treatment?
If you and your partner go into treatment with your eyes and hearts open, knowing what to expect, you’re less likely to get depressed and anxious, and more likely to manage well and come through the fertility treatment as strong as you were when you started, if not stronger!
Don’t be Shy! Ask Questions About Fertility Treatment Costs!
You need to know, realistically, exactly what are you getting into.
There are a range of things that you might need to pay for when considering any treatment. Both your doctor and the nursing and admin staff should have information about all the different costs you will encounter.
Ask your doctor for a treatment estimate (a breakdown) of what you will need for your treatment from start to finish, with costs. Don’t be afraid here! There can be hidden costs for some treatments like IVF, and it is better to know all the possibilities that exist for you upfront.
RELATED: What is the cost of IVF?
Top 3 Questions About Your Next Steps and Starting Fertility Treatment
Once you have been told about your fertility treatment options, the next step is getting started. At this point it is good to have an idea of how things work. Ask your doctor:
- What are my next steps?
- When can we start treatment?
- Is there anything else I need to complete or tests I need to do before being able to start my treatment?
Ask About Support
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask where you can get support. Fertility treatment can be stressful and scary; it can cause depression and anxiety, so you should have help! Does the clinic have a support group or can they recommend one? Does your clinic have a counsellor who provides support and advice before, during and after your fertility treatment?
There you have it: your first steps on the path to tackling your infertility and getting on the road to conception!