Almost every couple hopes to have at least one child. And after a marriage, the real planning begins. But all too often, couples who cannot conceive are faced with problems that are not medically understood, with solutions that are not adequately explained or available.
“Too often I see couples who have been trying to get pregnant for years, and in frustration, they think that they are destined to never have a child,” said Dr Loh Seong Feei, medical director of Thomson Fertility Center.
“There are usually plenty of options for couples,” he said.While he was quick to note that there is nothing wrong with actively trying to get pregnant the traditional way, he advised that if conception has not occurred after one year, then professional advice should be consulted—especially for women in their late 30s.
However, while technology and science can give a boost, Dr Loh believes in a holistic approach to the treatment of infertility. While always taking a patient oriented stance, he helped pioneer the discipline of reproductive surgery in Singapore, treating many patients with endometriosis, uterine fibroids and tubal diseases, just to name a few. But, he also underscored the significance of traditional eastern medicine.
“Western doctors do not understand or value how eastern medicine and practices can help with pregnancy. There are numerous herbal medicines, if taken properly, that can help, as well as acupuncture for both men and women,” he said.
But when these methods fail to bear fruit, Dr Loh then guides the patient through the rigmarole of fertility treatment. Sometimes, this requires internal surgeries that can involve the testicles, or clearing blockages in the fallopian tube or removing cysts that can grow on the surface of an ovary.
For men, Dr Loh and his team at the Thomson Andrology Laboratory work closely with patients to improve sperm quality. Such things he suggests are as simple as not smoking, to counting the number of sperm in the ejaculate, measuring the sperms’ health, and then running it through a process known as sperm washing—a technique that removes the impurities or dead sperm “to get the best swimmers.”
This technique is especially beneficial for patients who under-go the exceedingly common and less expensive fertility treatment known as intrauterine insemination (IUI), versus in vitro fertilization (IVF)—a process by which an egg is fertilised by sperm outside the body before it is placed back into the female.
“IUI is less complicated and minimally invasive. You just have to have the correct tools,” said Dr Loh. IUI involves injecting the sperm into the uterus at the same time that the woman is undergoing hormonal treatment to “stimulate more efficient egg production.”
“We have a very high success rate with this form of treatment. I recently had an Indian couple who couldn’t conceive for five years, and this worked on the first try,” he said.
“I even helped my own brother and his wife with this technique. They now have triplets,” he said proudly, before adding that “sometimes you get more than you asked for, but it is always a blessing.”
Besides these techniques, Thomson Fertility Centre also has more advanced options that apply to the busy jetsetter. If IVF appears to be the best course of action, and it is difficult to get the couple on the right cycle, the laboratory can freeze both the egg and the sperm for insemination at a later date.
Egg retrieval can take two to three days for the right moment, and if the husband is not around for that, “we recommend that we should already have a frozen sample on hand,” he said.
While this technique helps couples with busy lives, he also noted the value of preserving eggs for patients over the course of many years. For instance, breast cancer can age ovaries by 10 years and sperm can slowly be degraded by industrial pollutions or poor health choices.
“It is important for families to know their options when it comes to fertility treatment. Many things can happen and it is good to plan and be ready for the right time. Even if your plan is way off in the future, we can help preserve the most important parts of your reproductive system,” he said.