Female fertility is often a taboo topic, but I think it’s one that needs to be discussed more openly and honestly than it is currently. So I am going to take the risk and talk about this important topic in the interest of freedom of information.
In addition to writing this blog, I have spent the last 20+ years working as a writer and editor, mostly covering the health and medical beat. Fertility, infertility, women’s reproductive health, birth control, and the like are topics I have covered many times.
Something that is often not said is that female fertility starts to decline, and dramatically so, around age 35. But with so many women being encouraged to put career before babies, the message they are often told is “there’s always time for that.”
Well, three dear friends of mine have found out the hard way that’s simply not true. All waited to around age 38 to get started with baby making, only to find even with all the help medical science had to offer, it just wasn’t meant to be. All were devastated by this fact. And all said, “Why didn’t someone tell me?”
It’s because of what I watched them go through that I am telling you this now.
But celebrities are having babies left and right at age 45 plus, right? Yes, some do. But not without a lot of help, and possibly a surrogate, or donor eggs, or adoption.
The truth is, after age 40 even the most advanced infertility procedure — in vitro — where sperm and egg meet outside of the body and are implanted at just the right moment — has about a 2 percent success rate (after age 40.)
Even if a woman freezes her eggs while younger, the success rates of the in vitro procedure are not increased. The hormonal mix after age 40 is hit and miss.
For some women, it indeed is no problem. In fact, after the age of 40 is the second most common time for a woman to have an unplanned pregnancy, resulting in “change of life babies” who are born to moms who think they don’t have to worry about birth control measures anymore.
I had my own children at the age of 33 and 40, both conceived within three months of deciding to try. I think a lot of that was due to both my in depth knowledge of how it works, and also just plain old good luck.
Maybe it is TMI, but I have always had very regular cycles and I have never had some of the the gyn issues that some women struggle with, such as endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, STD’s, or other factors that can greatly impact fertility. For women who do have these issues, timing is even more critical as their fertility can be severely compromised even by their mid 20s.
If you want a family, may I suggest another path? Have your children young and start you career in your 40s, rather than the more promoted path of having a career in your 20s and 30s and starting a family at 40.
I would not wish upon anyone the heartbreak and disappointment I have watched my friends go though. They just didn’t know, and nobody ever told them this. That’s why I am telling you this now. Infertility is not something I would wish on anyone, and it is a very private and deep pain.
Of my three friends (and their husbands), one has adopted two little girls, one has decided to stop trying infertility treatments and to accept her DINK lifestyle and focus on being thankful she has her wonderful husband to share her life with, and the third is right now undergoing what will likely be the final attempts. I know all would give almost anything for things to have turned out differently and for the third, I still hope that they will.
Doing different is not always easy, but sometimes it is the best path. There are challenges of parenting at any age, so I am not sure the advice to put off babies until one is in her late 30s for financial and career reasons is sound advice. I got lucky. And I am glad that I did. But just because it worked out that way for me, is no guarantee it will for others.
After watching what my friends have gone through, it’s not a risk I would advise someone talking unless they are 100 percent ok with the possibility that it may never happen at all.
(And btw, I am in no way endorsing teen pregnancy or that women have babies when they are not in a lifetime relationship. If it happens, by all means make the best of it, but to do so on purpose is just as unwise as waiting until age 47 to start trying.)