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The Infertility Trap

The train has already left the station: how it can happen to you

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Wilfried Feichtinger, founder of the Wunschbaby Institute Feichtinger in Vienna, is Austria's most renowned reproductive physician and expert in fertility treatment. Based on the breadth of his experience, he recently published a book intended to help women and couples find their way to starting a family and happiness—and above all, to get on board on time.

“If you’re late, life will punish you!”. These harsh words were originally said by Michail Gorbatschow and have been repeated and applied in countless different scenarios. The phrase is even applicable regarding having kids and family planning: “Those who do not want to fall into the trap of unwanted childlessness are well-advised to think about family planning at an early age,” emphasizes Univ.-Prof. Dr. Wilfried Feichtinger, a specialist in reproductive medicine in Vienna. “The fact is: producing a healthy child becomes increasingly difficult with increasing age, and even the gods in white can’t turn back the biological clock.”

In their book “ Die Unfruchtbarkeitsfalle. Wie es dazu kommen kann, dass man den Zug verpasst ” (Orac Verlag), Univ.-Prof. Dr. Wilfried Feichtinger and co-author Eva Stanzl discuss the problems faced by modern women and couples: the desire to start on the career path, finishing a degree is a must, the search for the right partner is also strenuous, and finding the right partner to father children with is more complicated now than ever before. Since the introduction of oral contraception, women have been able to decide for themselves when and if they want to become pregnant. The only problem is that women nowadays are at risk of falling into the infertility trap, leading them to miss the train and get stranded alone on the platform.

No worries?

“Stop being so dramatic!”, or “thanks to modern medicine, that’s no longer a problem!”, and “women are still getting pregnant in their 50s nowadays!” – these are the phrases whispered into the ears of childless women in their late 30s by their friends, oftentimes when their biological clock is ticking the loudest. Instead of going to the doctor to clarify the status quo of their own fertility or to finally get off the pill, those women repeat these mantras to themselves every day in front of their bathroom mirrors. “Without judgment, I would like to make it clear to women and couples that, although reproductive medicine is very advanced today, it’s still impossible to perform miracles,” the “medical father” of the first IVF baby in Austria, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Feichtinger emphasizes. “Most women, and even specialists in reproductive medicine, simply overlook or ignore the fact that the younger, the better. Period.”

Clarification creates clarity

In his book, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Feichtinger approaches the sensitive topic surrounding family planning in a gentle and down-to-earth way. The book is primarily aimed at young people to demonstrate the importance of timely family planning, as well as older women who do not have but still want to conceive children, in order to demonstrate the medical possibilities available. “I describe how artificial fertilization works, what potential possibilities it offers, and the limitations that come with it,” Univ.-Prof. Dr. Feichtinger explains. The founder of the WIF finds it counterproductive for couples to put family planning on the back burner, denying any responsibility regarding the matter and solely rely on the advances in reproductive medicine. “Family planning is the opposite of contraception,” the expert explains. “Family planning means not only ‘preventing having children’, but also ‘we’re going to have children when the time is right’”.

A conscious decision

Frozen egg cells, IVF, Sperm Banks, etc. are the strongest allies of the pill-taking generation and they all demonstrate what modern medicine is capable of today. However, statistics have shown that once women reach the age of 30, fertility rates begin to decline. Once women hit their 40s, the chance of becoming pregnant drops to 5-10% of women per year—even with medical intervention. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Feichtinger claims “I don’t want to induce panic or weaken your confidence in reproductive medicine: I just want to make it clear that planning a family necessitates a conscious decision to do so”. At the same time, the physician would like to warn people against setting their expectations too high—the people that already finished decorating the nursery before actually getting pregnant or have already purchased cute little pink socks or baby dresses are the ones that often end up disappointed. “Trying to force offspring into your life can put a lot of psychological stress on yourself and your partner and can even prevent you from getting pregnant.”

Finding the right time is difficult

Timing is not only important for the parents—children also have the right to keep an eye on the clock. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Feichtinger demonstrates in his book the effects it has on children when their parents are older: carefree adolescence versus mature experience. “children that are a lot younger than their older siblings, or so-called ‘stragglers’, almost always show considerable differences in personality traits than their older siblings. It’s well known that this has to do with the age of the parents, but it has never been deeply researched,” Univ.- Prof. Dr. Feichtinger explains. Stragglers often appear more sensitive, intelligent, more relaxed and far more goal-oriented than their older siblings. The fact that their parents might have played less soccer with them, or maybe only for a shorter period of time, does not seem to bother most.

Reacting to life

The core statement of his book can be summed up as follows: “Reproductive medicine is a blessing for couples experiencing infertility because it can make pregnancies possible in situations where a natural pregnancy would be nearly impossible. Reproductive medicine, however, is not a substitute for life planning farther in advance.”

In the words of Gorbatschow, “Dangers await only those who do not react to life”. This can be said about family planning. “In order to not fall into the infertility trap, it is important to open your eyes to reality and to act in time,” Univ.-Prof. Dr. Feichtinger says.

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