Monday, June 24, 2013

You don't actually have all the time in the world

A female friend of mine in her late twenties recently wrote a blog post pondering the question of when to have children. That is clearly a deeply personal choice that each woman or couple must decide for themselves. So, naturally, I'm going to weigh in. I’m going to tell her the same thing I ignored when I was in my twenties. If you’re a woman, you don’t actually have all the time in the world. 

My husband and I found out the hard way that I was infertile when we were both 27 years old. We did manage to have a child three years later, but it was not easy or cheap. Granted, most women do not experience infertility as early as I did. Nevertheless, age-related infertility is not a myth perpetuated by the male patriarchy. It’s real. A woman in her twenties who is actively trying to get pregnant will have a monthly success rate of up to 25%. By the time she’s 35, that rate is down to 10%. Meanwhile, her miscarriage rate will have more than doubled and her risk of having a child with Down syndrome nearly quadrupled. Once you hit 40, you’re almost certainly going to need the help of fertility specialists to have a child and they’re probably going to recommend that you consider using eggs that are donated from another (much younger) woman, aka ‘adoption in utero’*.

The moral of this story is that, no matter how much you moisturize or exercise, as far as your ovaries are concerned, forty is not the new thirty. 

Unless in your specific case, it is. 

And that’s what makes these kinds of decisions so difficult. Even if you have a family history of either infertility or late-in-life pregnancy, there are no guarantees. So what’s a woman to do? Start trying to conceive before they’re emotionally or financially ready for a child, something we’ve been telling them since they were little girls is a terrible idea, or wait until the perfect moment when their relationships and careers converge, something which might never happen?

This blog post is sounding very bitter, and I don’t mean it to be. My husband and I are very happy with the way our lives have turned out. However, my experience does make it hard to know what to tell young women who are considering the question of when to have children. Common sense tells me to say ‘don’t start too soon and have a child you’re not ready for, or worse yet harbor regrets about paths not chosen and pleasures not sampled.’ But biological sense implores me to say ‘don’t wait too long and find out that it’s already too late.’ 

*There’s also ‘regular’ adoption which, like donor eggs, can be used by women of any age. Women who don’t mind considering these options obviously have more time to play with.

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