Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Piece of Advice #14: Realize the clock is already ticking on your fertility

The prevailing wisdom on how much time women have before their fertility begins to seriously decline is changing; it's been scaled back significantly.  For decades now girls have been taught that the right timeline for personal development goes something like: college, work, play the dating market, work overseas or go to grad school, get a serious toehold on your career, start looking for Mr. Right, find him, have a couple of kids.  It was thought that 35 was the end date you had to be wary of.  So - plenty of time, right?  Apparently not.

For this one I'll be your cautionary tale.  I followed the script with a few substitutions because my family background is conservative.  I went to college, graduated with honors, went to work overseas, returned, worked a little while then went to grad school, met my husband, married and then started trying to have a family. My husband entered my life when I was 25, almost 26, and I married him when I was 27.  We are Catholic so we didn't use birth control, but I monitored my fertility for a little under a year because he had some student loans and other debt that I wanted to discharge, and it took that long to accomplish it with both of us working.  But by the time I was 28 I was trying to have a baby.  By 30 I was undergoing infertility treatments and by 32 I'd given up - I'd gone as far with it as my religious beliefs allowed and was burning out hard on the process.  I'd had surgery, I'd taken drugs, I'd given myself numerous injections.  I'd had biweekly blood tests and ultrasounds.  All in vain.  At nearly 34 I adopted my son. (My beautiful, bright, funny, active, 100% all boy son.)

So according to what I'd been told, I started trying well before I should have had to worry.  But that's not the way it worked out.  Endometriosis got there first.

And here's another thing to consider.  Casual sex can really mess with your fertility too.  Some STD's can make you infertile.  Some can create dangers in delivering a baby.  Pro-choice activists shout from the treetops how safe abortions are, but having one (or more) can damage your future reproductive capacity too.

This was not an issue for me.  I was a virgin when I married.  No STD's, no abortions.  Still infertile, though, when it counted.

What feminism doesn't want to talk about is the dirty little secret that most women want to have babies.  They might also want fast-track careers and romance with sexy, powerful guys and Manolo Blahniks cluttering up their closets, and they may not think too hard about the babies for a good long time, but at some point biology wins out and most of them will want the babies too.

Do you know how hard it is to want a baby and not be able to make your body produce one?  I'll tell you - it's hard.  It's brutal.  It rips your heart out.  It'll make you rage.  You will not be able to walk down the street without noticing how many babies and toddlers and little children are running about.  You will read news reports about abusive, neglectful parents with a new wrathful eye.  You will go to baby showers for your fertile friends and then come home and look at that full aspirin bottle.  You will hold it in your hand and then you will slowly put it back on the shelf and flip through your calendar to locate your next fertile period.

People will tell you, "If you can't have a baby, just adopt."

These people will not know what they are talking about.  Because adopting is just as hard a process as infertility treatments and no guarantee of getting a baby.  Those pro-women feminists who told you the great news about abortion?  They neglect to mention that all those abortions eliminate all the babies that would otherwise be available for adoption.  The rest go home to single mothers, many of whom will not be able to handle motherhood well or at all.  Every white, healthy baby has about 20 would-be adoptive couples competing to be its parents.  And the mother, the pregnant girl who chooses who will have a child and who won't, is someone you might not trust to water your plants for you while you are gone on vacation.  Your social worker will put your entire life under the microscope, will mandate sessions with a counselor to determine whether you are appropriate parent material, will take a check for a seriously large amount of money, and will then call you and say something like, "Uh, I have a birthmother here.  She's a lesbian, but she had a one-nighter with her gay friend and is now considering adoption.  She drank pretty heavily early in her pregnancy, but isn't drinking much now, just smoking marijuana now and then.  Oh, and she's bipolar.  What do you think?"

And it is crazy - CRAZY - but you will listen to that and you will still want that baby so bad, you'll nod and smile and say, "When can we meet her?"  Or if you're like me, maybe you won't.  But then you won't have a baby.

The point of all this is: your fertility is important.  It is so important.  Do not discount this.  Make using it as much a priority as establishing a career or traveling abroad or buying a beautiful house.  Make it more of a priority.  Plan ahead and save yourself a great deal of heartache and soul searching.  Trust me on this.  I've been there.


  1. I hope you love your son even though he's not your baby.

  2. I adore my son. I've thought and said countless times that I doubt I could have produced a child as bright, funny, loving, creative, and cute as he is. I've spent all my time with him since we brought him home - no sitters, no daycare. He is very strong-willed and all boy, quite different from me, but he's an amazing little boy. I'm so lucky to have him. Right after our adoption was finalized his country of origin shut down and the international adoption scene changed drastically over the course of a couple of years.

    I don't feel in any way that I would love him more if he was mine biologically, and I have worked through a lot of the more overwrought emotions that I went through on the process of getting him. But infertility is like a death in a way. I can't look back without mourning a little.

  3. I'm assuming given your background you've looked into Dr. Hilger's work with endometriosis?

  4. Heart goes out to you. That's a long road to have travelled.

  5. Thanks for the comments. This wound up being a harder post to write than I anticipated because it was so personal.

    As for the endometriosis, SansSenior, I think it's too late for me. The options my fertility specialist gave me were basically to blast it with poisonous chemicals that could cause serious birth defects if I were to get pregnant precipitously - necessitating artificial birth control in the short term - or moving on to stuff like IVF which I was/am opposed to that kind of tampering for both ethical/religious and pragmatic reasons. I had surgery which should have taken care of the endometriosis in the short term, but of course it comes back and it had done some permanent damage by then.

  6. I should note that in the end I went neither the poison nor the IVF route. I focused my efforts on adoption.

  7. This was really powerful, Rachel. Amazing.

  8. you dont mention this, but birth control pills can also destroy your fertility. A lot of women take them while going through school and career then stop, but their fertility doesn't come back. The implants or shots are even more likely to cause permenent infertility.

  9. Grerp,

    My wife (27 when we married) had endometriosis too, and it caused fertility problems. Luckily for us though, a laser-scope proceedure (Doc went in through her belly button and used a laser to ablate the endometriosis) worked. Six months after the proceedure (when she was 32), she was pregnant with our first child.

    But we were lucky. Waiting is a bad idea. The other thing about waiting until you're older is that having small children around is exhausting, and a younger body is better at recovering.

  10. I think it a huge disservice to tell people that birth control is effective and safe. The complications that can be caused can be devastating, ranging from infertility to outright death, and not just for women who smoke.

    Many would like to think that science has all the answers, but it very clearly does not... Not for food, not for birth control, not for many other things.

    I wish more men and women realized birth control isn't the answer. It's damaging in so many ways and infertility is certainly not the least of these.

    As an aside, I am really enjoying your work here. Thank you for your insightful and thorough posts.

  11. grerp...I don't even know what to say. I have a friend who did got the IVF route - to the tune of $60,000 before all was said and done - and finally got her baby at 41. We've talked about it a lot.

    After I had my first (at 24), I started trying again...and tried, and tried and tried. To make a long story short, it took me 10 years and 3 miscarriages to have my second baby. Even though I already had a child, those years broke my heart over and over again. I can't pretend to understand how it feels to *never* be able to have a child, but my experience with secondary infertility left me with just enough understanding that I was crying along with half this post.

    I'm so sorry...and so happy for you that you have your wonderful little boy.

  12. Relevant:


    Which of the career paths listed below makes more sense?:

    1. Focus on career right out of school, have recreational sex with pleasant male companions your own age, be on the success track for 10-15 years, then panic when you realize you want children but you don’t want to derail your career, your looks are starting to fade compared to the twentysomethings, there aren’t any men that seem interested in marrying you, and in any event, you’re running out of time,


    2. After high school or during college, focus on finding a man about 10 years older who has established himself in the last decade and who wants a family. Use your youth, looks, and fertility to find the best possible man for the role of Husband and Father. Have children at a young age, soon after you finish your schooling, while you have lots of energy and your body will recover quickly. Be there for the kids when they need you, and let your husband do the financial lifting. Be good to both the kids and your husband, and be thinking about what your career dreams are while caring for your family. Talk to your husband about these dreams. Tell him you don’t want to just sit around the house at age 40-45. Then go after your dream, once the kids are of majority age. You’ve still got a few good decades left, plenty of time for career success.

  13. Wow - this is really great writing. Does this blogger write anywhere else? She deserves a bigger audience.

  14. There is something insidious and horrible that starts to kick in around age 34-35 for women conceiving children. It is universal for all women, cannot be tested for to avoid, and cannot be avoided. Basically, there is a roughly even trade off between advancing genetic maternal age after that point and reduced vitality and life expectancy in daughters. So, if a woman aged 40 conceives a daughter, about 6 years, or 10%, is taken off any daughter's lifespan and health. At 44, it's about 10 years, or 15%. And, it's not "they just die at 72 instead of 82, with everything else the same until then". All through those daughter's lives, their health, their vitality, their vigor, their life expectancy are reduced at every age. This is not a good thing to do to darling little babies you'd want to put in dresses and put bows in their hair.

    Please, please, please, for the sake of your future children, freeze eggs/have children naturally before age 30, if at all possible.

    P.S.: You know at what maternal age the odds for babies having Down's Syndrome start to get worse due to advancing age? NINETEEN.

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