Fertility treatment options haven’t always been as robust as they are now. March is National Women’s History Month, and in honor of that, we put together some of the major changes for women’s health and cultural views of fertility since the founding of America. Together, these changes have made a difference in how we can conceive a child!
Barrenness was assumed to be the woman’s fault; however, like Hannah in the Bible, some women trusted in their faith to provide children for them. If they did not have children naturally, they often took in other children who needed care, and were seen to still be “fruitful” in good works.
In 1677, a scientist, Anton Van Leeuwenhoek found sperm in semen with his microscope.
Infertility was treated often with folk remedies. Only women were seen as infertile; men were assumed to be fertile. The condition of not being able to conceive was known as “sterile.” Doctors in both Philadelphia and the UK tried to treat the issue by sexual stimulation through electrotherapy.
The cause of infertility was assumed to be unbalanced living, such as too much excessive luxury. The mother-child bond became a central part of the family relationship, and even into the next century, women who chose not to have children were seen as selfish.
As the century continued, surgical equipment and a better understanding of the human body moved attention from lifestyle to the anatomy causing infertility, such as “defects” in the uterus or cervix. The speculum was invented, and used to widen the cervix, thinking this would enable sperm to travel through. Its inventor, J. Marion Sims, also experimented with artificial insemination. Gynecology emerged as a medicinal field of practice, though most doctors (still almost exclusively male) continued to believe that a woman’s personal behavior dictated her fertility or lack thereof. Infertility treatments became a standard of care for those who needed it, as fertility rates hit a historical low at the end of the century because prostitution spreads STDs.
A test for blocked fallopian tubes was developed, and the female reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone were discovered. Also a big moment in history: Lillian Lauricella gave birth to twin daughters from donor insemination. Male infertility also saw attention, as guidelines were published explaining how to analyze sperm count and quality, and the male sex hormone testosterone was discovered.
Synthetic hormone supplements became available in the 1940s, and Harvard physician John Rock reported the first U.S. fertilization of a woman’s eggs in a lab—the beginning of in vitro fertilization. The demand for fertility treatments grew, and ovarian stimulation drugs clomid and pergonal were tested. The first sperm bank opened in Minnesota, and a volunteer group Resolve was formed to help those facing infertility.
In 1981, Elizabeth Jordan Carr was born as the first in vitro baby in the U.S. ICSI procedure was introduced in the ‘90s, and an infertility clinic in Atlanta announced the first successful pregnancy using a previously-frozen egg.
We still fight lingering stigmas surrounding infertility – that we’re selfish for waiting too long, that something must be wrong with us if we’re not parents, or that it might be a moral punishment for not living right. None of these are true, and we support each of our patients in fighting the stigma and discovering the most effective path to fertility for themselves.
If you’d like to learn more about how we might be able to help with any issues you might be facing, or update you on the most recent successes in fertility treatments, please contact us anytime at 717-747-3099 or click on the button below. You can also watch our free webinar found here.