Don’t Buy the Fertility Lies

 

I love babies and pregnant women; I have devoted my life to them. Until recently, I worked in one of Cape Town’s busiest government-funded hospitals and every day of the week, I would start work with an antenatal clinic. Roughly a hundred ladies would stream through those doors for their check-ups. I would measure tummies, listen to fetal heartbeats and do ultrasounds. I would issue antenatal vitamins, reassure mommies and empathize with all the complaints pregnancy brings. Twice a week, that same clinic that was filled in the morning with happy, but tired, wobbling pregnant ladies and the laughter of children soon to be older siblings, would turn into a desperate, quiet infertility clinic in the afternoon.

Recently Brigitte Nielsen announced her fifth pregnancy at the age of fifty-four. Janet Jackson was fifty when she had her first baby. Many celebrities are now having children in their late forties, and few acknowledge the truth that led them there – some even declare their pregnancies to be absolute miracles. Now, although I also believe in miracles, I have seen thousands upon thousands of pregnant women and have personally never seen a spontaneous pregnancy in anyone over the age of forty-five. In fact, any healthy, spontaneous pregnancy in a woman over the age of 42 is by itself, a miracle.

Of course every woman has the right to privacy and of course these celebrities do not have to disclose any details of their pregnancies, but this causes a fertility illusion. The fantasy that women are somehow able to become pregnant without any medical intervention at very late ages.

At my clinic, infertility patients have a characteristic way of speaking – desperately. Some are even regretful. They regret years of contraception when in a stable relationship. They regret putting their careers first, and they regret the terminations they might have had in their youth. Unfortunately, after the age of forty, these patients aren’t even referred for further intervention anymore. Their chance of success is low, and there is a limited budget and too few resources. Upon hearing this, the couple is usually taken aback – obviously forty “isn’t old” – this is where I start to blame celebrity culture. Every time I have to tell a couple that adoption is an option and I can see their hearts breaking at the thought of never having biological children, I feel angered by celebrities who keep quiet about the interventions they have received. I feel angered about the eggs they froze years ago and the fertility lie they are spreading. Most of all I feel angered that society now believes that we are somehow able to escape the biological clock that keeps ticking while we “decide when the right time is”.

The pain of reproductive failure can be utterly destructive to a couple. Some people live in a state of mourning, like they have suffered through a death. If earlier intervention could have avoided the issue, it would spare these people such unbearable pain. Does that mean that celebrities have a responsibility to talk about their reproductive interventions? No. But it would be damn kind if they did.

Some important points of fertility:

  • Infertility is a couple’s problem. Half of the time the cause is related to the male and the other half, female. Keep in mind that sperm analysis is usually cheaper and less invasive than female partner testing, and should be done early on.
  • If planning to have children after the age of 35, please harvest your eggs before then.
  • Research the costs of IVF before deciding that that is the path you would like to take later in life.
  • If you struggle to conceive do not wait longer than a year after contraception cessation to see a fertility specialist.
  • You should at least be having active intercourse three times a week when trying to conceive.
  • You do not have to have a biological child to be a parent.

 

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There are 56 comments.

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  1. Coolidge

    You left off, don’t live in a country that rations medical care to only people the government deems worthy.

    • #1
    • July 11, 2018 at 8:20 am
    • 6 likes
  2. Thatcher

    We have baby #3 baking in the oven right now. My wife is 33. We’d like to have 4, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to swing it by the time she’s 35. Hopefully we’ll get in under the wire.

    • #2
    • July 11, 2018 at 8:22 am
    • 7 likes
  3. Coolidge

    My mother actually knows a woman who really did become pregnant the old fashioned way at age 50: this happened in 1969. She had married in her twenties, but was never able to get pregnant: she and her husband just accepted their childless life and focused on other things. Then, when she was 50, she went to the doctor because she wasn’t feeling normal: “Well, my dear” the doctor said, “You are pregnant.” This woman was in such a state of shock that she almost got hit by a car leaving the doctor’s office: she said that she was just wandering around, in total shock. She ended up giving birth to a healthy baby girl.

    So, it does happen, but it almost never happens. You are absolutely right: we need to be more honest with young people about fertility and the way it declines with age.

    • #3
    • July 11, 2018 at 8:25 am
    • 16 likes
  4. Thatcher

    We had all of our children (5) at the beginning of our marriage. I turned 32 right after #5 was born. I can’t imagine having babies and toddlers in my 40s. I was too tired. I don’t know if it was because I’d already been raising five children, or if I’d have been tired anyway.

    • #4
    • July 11, 2018 at 8:30 am
    • 6 likes
  5. Member

    Preach!

    Young women are told so many lies….take on the student loans for a college degree….focus on your career…only marry the “perfect” man…have babies in your 30s or beyond…you can have it all! They are also told choosing family/mothering is a cop-out and beneath their potential. I seem to remember a guest article in an ivy-league college paper (Yale?) written by a female alum that told women students to find their husbands while at school (because they are never around such an abundance of intellectual, similarly aged men in the workplace) and to live their lives focused on family and friend relationships, not on careers. The guest author was roundly excoriated for her arcane advice.

     

    • #5
    • July 11, 2018 at 8:42 am
    • 13 likes
  6. Member

    Mike H (View Comment):

    We have baby #3 baking in the oven right now. My wife is 33. We’d like to have 4, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to swing it by the time she’s 35. Hopefully we’ll get in under the wire.

    My wife and I were 35 when Baby 3 was born (conceived at 34) and 37 when baby 4 was born (conceived at 36). Don’t give up hope for 4.

    • #6
    • July 11, 2018 at 9:28 am
    • 8 likes
  7. Member

    Dominique Prynne (View Comment):

    Preach!

    Young women are told so many lies….take on the student loans for a college degree….focus on your career…only marry the “perfect” man…have babies in your 30s or beyond…you can have it all! They are also told choosing family/mothering is a cop-out and beneath their potential. I seem to remember a guest article in an ivy-league college paper (Yale?) written by a female alum that told women students to find their husbands while at school (because they are never around such an abundance of intellectual, similarly aged men in the workplace) and to live their lives focused on family and friend relationships, not on careers. The guest author was roundly excoriated for her arcane advice.

    Funny how things come full circle – the feminist movement was good for opening employment doors and salaries, but it really did a number on the family. Now as you said, and see from experience, women are selling themselves short in so many ways. Everyone barks freedom – freedom – personal choice – now they have to live with those choices. Great article.

     

    • #7
    • July 11, 2018 at 9:33 am
    • 7 likes
  8. Coolidge

    I have friends that are 35 and still single, and I know they’ll want to have kids someday. Every time I see them I want to say “Hurry up! Clock’s ticking!” (I don’t, of course. My social skills aren’t quite that bad.) I didn’t meet my wife until she was 35, and there were some other factors that were even more of an issue. We did have to get help to get pregnant, and finding a good doctor can be a challenge. It’s not cheap and not easy. Worth it though.

    Maggie Swart: You do not have to have a biological child to be a parent.

    Very, very true. For as much as I dislike a lot of celebrity culture, I do have to give credit to those celebrities who have championed this point by adopting children.

     

    • #8
    • July 11, 2018 at 9:44 am
    • 9 likes
  9. Member

    You are so right. For men, it doesn’t matter much when you have kids. But for women, the clock really is ticking. That is not fair. But that’s the way it is. Like in other areas of life, you ignore reality at your peril.

    You’re right that spontaneous pregnancy after 45 is very rare. I’ve seen two in 25 years of medicine – one might have been 43 or 44 – I can’t remember for sure, the other one was extraordinary…

    True story:

    I had a patient once, 51 years old, who had recently sent the last of her 3 kids to college. Her relationship with her husband had not been good in years, and they had planned to get divorced once all the kids had left home, so as not to disrupt their lives any more than necessary. Her youngest child left for college in August, they filed for divorce a few weeks later, and early the next year her divorce was final. She went out to a bar that night to celebrate her newfound freedom.

    You probably know how this ends.

    Anyway, she came to me a couple months later with nausea and other vague complaints. One thing led to another, and eventually I did a pregnancy test, which was positive. I came back in the room and said, “Congratulations! You’re pregnant!” She just sat and cried. 

    She didn’t get the guy’s name at the bar. She was finally kid and husband free, and now she had plans for the next 20 years. She’d be a single mother at 52. Her next kid would graduate from high school when she was 70.

    Sometimes a small mistake can have big consequences.

    I never heard how it all worked out. She was a Christian, and would not consider abortion. I suggested adoption, but she wasn’t sure she could give up a baby she gave birth to. Also, the risk of Down’s syndrome at that age is high – I can’t remember the stats – one in 20? Maybe worse than that. Again, I never heard how it all worked out.

    I wonder how she’s doing…

    • #9
    • July 11, 2018 at 9:52 am
    • 11 likes
  10. Coolidge

    Skyler (View Comment):

    You left off, don’t live in a country that rations medical care to only people the government deems worthy.

    I am often amazed at how much money the insurance companies spend on various fertility procedures, with some couples getting 60K to 100K to attempt to get pregnant.

     

    • #10
    • July 11, 2018 at 10:08 am
    • 2 likes
  11. Member

    Maggie Swart: Most of all I feel angered that society now believes that we are somehow able to escape the biological clock that keeps ticking while we “decide when the right time is”.

    Who says that will not eventually be the case? Isn’t that the point of developing such technology and the trend for technological developments? You develop technology to overcome natural obstacles, like increasing speed of travel (trains, planes, etc.) or cures for cancer. Its expensive and so-so at first because of starting costs and then over time declines in cost as it becomes mainstream. It is technically a lie right now but in time it might become the truth.

    • #11
    • July 11, 2018 at 10:09 am
    • 1 like
  12. Member

    I come from a long line of “late breeders”; my grandmother was 45 when she had my mother (#11) and my mother was 41 when she had my brother (#6).

    I didn’t start having kids til I was 30 and consider myself fortunate to have had four by 38. 

    My daughter, on the other hand, already has two at the age of 26 and is hoping for at least one more. She and her family live in our back house so I spend a lot of time with her and I am struck by the difference of having kids in your 20s versus 30s. And I had great pregnancies and considered myself pretty energetic.

    I was recently with all my nieces and this topic came up – they are all young and foolish enough to think you can plan your life. I just kept saying: keep your options open; don’t make up your mind now to not marry young; don’t decide to put off children. In fact, if memory serves (after I’d had a few drinks) I told them that if they meet the nice guy in college or in their early 20s, grab him and marry him. That the older they get, the fewer nice guys you have to choose from.

    One niece (in her early 20s) rolled her eyes and said she certainly had better things to do with her life than have children. I told her that fertility clinics are full of women just like her who had a change of heart.

    I heard recently that there’s a growing trend of women marrying and having their children young, then concentrating on their careers or going to graduate school in their 30s. I hope it’s true.

    • #12
    • July 11, 2018 at 10:25 am
    • 11 likes
  13. Coolidge

    Annefy (View Comment):
    I heard recently that there’s a growing trend of women marrying and having their children young, then concentrating on their careers or going to graduate school in their 30s. I hope it’s true.

    I hope it’s true too. I am no expert, but I have the impression that fertility drops somewhat after age 30? Most women between 30 and 35 or so can probably get pregnant easily enough, but some can’t. One of my cousins had two children in her twenties, but then…nothing. And they were trying, and they were only in their 30’s. 

    • #13
    • July 11, 2018 at 10:30 am
    • 3 likes
  14. Coolidge

    JudithannCampbell (View Comment):

    Annefy (View Comment):
    I heard recently that there’s a growing trend of women marrying and having their children young, then concentrating on their careers or going to graduate school in their 30s. I hope it’s true.

    I hope it’s true too. I am no expert, but I have the impression that fertility drops somewhat after age 30? Most women between 30 and 35 or so can probably get pregnant easily enough, but some can’t. One of my cousins had two children in her twenties, but then…nothing. And they were trying, and they were only in their 30’s.

    It is a strong possibility that since in the past, people had a tough time living to be forty, our bodies are programmed to be fertile when we are in our teens and our twenties.

    (I am not saying people shouldn’t try for pregnancies when they are older. Just stating it might be more difficult.)

    Also, I hope our culture re-programs itself so that women who “drop out” to have their babies early on don’t have the formidable task of “re-entering” society at a lower place than they deserve. (Confession: I very much enjoy it when some “at-home mom” comes on Shark Tank with the product she devised while caring for her little ones, and leaves with a hefty check from one of the Sharks.)

    • #14
    • July 11, 2018 at 10:59 am
    • 5 likes
  15. Member

    CarolJoy (View Comment):

    JudithannCampbell (View Comment):

    Annefy (View Comment):
    I heard recently that there’s a growing trend of women marrying and having their children young, then concentrating on their careers or going to graduate school in their 30s. I hope it’s true.

    I hope it’s true too. I am no expert, but I have the impression that fertility drops somewhat after age 30? Most women between 30 and 35 or so can probably get pregnant easily enough, but some can’t. One of my cousins had two children in her twenties, but then…nothing. And they were trying, and they were only in their 30’s.

    It is a strong possibility that since in the past, people had a tough time living to be forty, our bodies are programmed to be fertile when we are in our teens and our twenties.

    (I am not saying people shouldn’t try for pregnancies when they are older. Just stating it might be more difficult.)

    Also, I hope our culture re-programs itself so that women who “drop out” to have their babies early on don’t have the formidable task of “re-entering” society at a lower place than they deserve. (Confession: I very much enjoy it when some “at-home mom” comes on Shark Tank with the product she devised while caring for her little ones, and leaves with a hefty check from one of the Sharks.)

    I had a very well established and pretty good job when I stopped at 30 to have my kids. I would have loved to have been able to jump back in at 45, but I would have been jumping back in too high.

    Seems like it would be easier to jump in at a lower level once you’ve had your family.

    • #15
    • July 11, 2018 at 11:10 am
    • 4 likes
  16. Member

    Mike H (View Comment):

    We have baby #3 baking in the oven right now. My wife is 33. We’d like to have 4, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to swing it by the time she’s 35. Hopefully we’ll get in under the wire.

    Women who have had earlier healthy pregnancies have an easier time getting pregnant later.

    Cow Girl (View Comment):

    We had all of our children (5) at the beginning of our marriage. I turned 32 right after #5 was born. I can’t imagine having babies and toddlers in my 40s. I was too tired. I don’t know if it was because I’d already been raising five children, or if I’d have been tired anyway.

    I wanted all mine before 30. My mother was 20 when she had me. She’s in her 50s now and does all these things with us while my mother in law, 10 years older, rests and just enjoys being surrounded by grandkids, but she has never gone to the zoo, museum, or aquarium with us.

    I’d like to be this active with my grand kids.

    • #16
    • July 11, 2018 at 11:59 am
    • 4 likes
  17. Coolidge

    CarolJoy (View Comment):

    JudithannCampbell (View Comment):

    Annefy (View Comment):
    I heard recently that there’s a growing trend of women marrying and having their children young, then concentrating on their careers or going to graduate school in their 30s. I hope it’s true.

    I hope it’s true too. I am no expert, but I have the impression that fertility drops somewhat after age 30? Most women between 30 and 35 or so can probably get pregnant easily enough, but some can’t. One of my cousins had two children in her twenties, but then…nothing. And they were trying, and they were only in their 30’s.

    It is a strong possibility that since in the past, people had a tough time living to be forty, our bodies are programmed to be fertile when we are in our teens and our twenties.

    (I am not saying people shouldn’t try for pregnancies when they are older. Just stating it might be more difficult.)

    Also, I hope our culture re-programs itself so that women who “drop out” to have their babies early on don’t have the formidable task of “re-entering” society at a lower place than they deserve. (Confession: I very much enjoy it when some “at-home mom” comes on Shark Tank with the product she devised while caring for her little ones, and leaves with a hefty check from one of the Sharks.)

    I once read that the ideal age biologically for a woman to give birth is 14. I’m certainly not suggesting that this is a good idea psychologically or socially, but in cave man days when our bodies were first evolved it makes sense. Of course, our minds and society have advanced more than just our bodies, so please do not take it that I will be happy if my daughter comes home pregnant at 14.

    • #17
    • July 11, 2018 at 12:04 pm
    • 3 likes
  18. Member

    This is certainly good advice, generally, though I join several others here as being both a child of a later pregnancy (mom was 38 almost 39 when I was born) and the 50 year old father of an adopted 10-year-old. We tried to have children the usual way but time was against us and we do wish we had started earlier. 

    That said, adoption is wonderful and should not be seen as being somehow in competition with having biological children. Several families we know have multiples of both- 3 and 3, 2 and 4, etc. 

    • #18
    • July 11, 2018 at 12:08 pm
    • 6 likes
  19. Member

    Skyler (View Comment):
    I once read that the ideal age biologically for a woman to give birth is 14.

    Where did you hear that?

    I heard that it’s better for them to be fully developed, which still takes a couple years past menses onset.

    When googling, everything is full of reassurances for post 35 pregnancy success, but doctors say best age is 20-35.

    I had previously seen 17-25 is the best age for first child.

    • #19
    • July 11, 2018 at 12:13 pm
    • 2 likes
  20. Member

    My now-80-year-old Aunt told a story about when she first got married (I believe she was early 20s) and my grandmother would send her magazine articles saying that women lost half their fertility between the age of 25 and 30.

    • #20
    • July 11, 2018 at 12:20 pm
    • 3 likes
  21. Member

    My dad watched some show on TV in the 70s (I think) about infertility (which is really the first I’d ever even heard of it. In Scotland you don’t get pregnant; you “fall” pregnant. As in: Och, it’s a sin. Did you hear she fell again?) I’d never known or heard of anyone who tried to get pregnant and couldn’t.

    Anyway, a woman in her 30s was interviewed on the show and she said, “I get up every morning and wonder how many eggs have died.” My dad found that hilarious and quoted it often to his “old maid” daughters.

    • #21
    • July 11, 2018 at 1:33 pm
    • 4 likes
  22. Coolidge

    AltarGirl (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    I once read that the ideal age biologically for a woman to give birth is 14.

    Where did you hear that?

    I heard that it’s better for them to be fully developed, which still takes a couple years past menses onset.

    When googling, everything is full of reassurances for post 35 pregnancy success, but doctors say best age is 20-35.

    I had previously seen 17-25 is the best age for first child.

    Oh, I’m not going to dignify my source with credibility, even if I could remember when and where I heard it, though it seemed at least plausible at the time. And no, I wasn’t trolling pedophile websites.

    I’m not a doctor. I’m just sharing a tidbit that I always thought was interesting.

    • #22
    • July 11, 2018 at 1:38 pm
    • 1 like
  23. Member

    Skyler (View Comment):

    AltarGirl (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    I once read that the ideal age biologically for a woman to give birth is 14.

    Where did you hear that?

    I heard that it’s better for them to be fully developed, which still takes a couple years past menses onset.

    When googling, everything is full of reassurances for post 35 pregnancy success, but doctors say best age is 20-35.

    I had previously seen 17-25 is the best age for first child.

    Oh, I’m not going to dignify my source with credibility, even if I could remember when and where I heard it, though it seemed at least plausible at the time. And no, I wasn’t trolling pedophile websites.

    I’m not a doctor. I’m just sharing a tidbit that I always thought was interesting.

    That’s probably the lower end of the ideal age range. There’s probably a reason many cultures, especially more ancient cultures, started marrying their girls off around that age. 

    • #23
    • July 11, 2018 at 1:58 pm
    • Like
  24. Member

    :thinking: (View Comment):
    There’s probably a reason many cultures, especially more ancient cultures, started marrying their girls off around that age. 

    I thought it had to do with life expectancy and health in high risk environments.

    Societies that are more developed, with better hygiene, and longer life expectancies seem to adjust to later ages rather naturally.

    • #24
    • July 11, 2018 at 2:15 pm
    • 3 likes
  25. Member

    What does it say about a society’s priorities that it spends billions on technologies to prevent its women from becoming pregnant in their 20’s; and then spends more billions to cause its women to become pregnant in their 40’s? 

    • #25
    • July 11, 2018 at 3:20 pm
    • 14 likes
  26. Editor

    Mike H (View Comment):

    We have baby #3 baking in the oven right now. My wife is 33. We’d like to have 4, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to swing it by the time she’s 35. Hopefully we’ll get in under the wire.

    We’re on the same trajectory. I’m 32 and our third is a year old. 

    • #26
    • July 11, 2018 at 3:25 pm
    • 4 likes
  27. Member

    AltarGirl (View Comment):

    :thinking: (View Comment):
    There’s probably a reason many cultures, especially more ancient cultures, started marrying their girls off around that age.

    I thought it had to do with life expectancy and health in high risk environments.

    Societies that are more developed, with better hygiene, and longer life expectancies seem to adjust to later ages rather naturally.

    By the time you make it to age 15-20, you’re past the diseases that kill off the very young [five(?) and under] and could expect a reasonably long life, assuming you don’t get an infection (or die in childbirth).

    • #27
    • July 11, 2018 at 3:29 pm
    • Like
  28. Member

    If you struggle to conceive do not wait longer than a year after contraception cessation to see a fertility specialist.

    The above is very important. I didn’t get married till I was 34. We didn’t start trying til I was 39, and when nothing happened in 6 months, we saw a doctor. I went on fertility drugs for two years and still nothing happened. I stopped when I turned 42 because the safety of taking them any longer was unknown. We decided to be the cool aunt and uncle instead. God had other plans, though. My daughter was born when I was 45, no fertility drugs or any other medical intervention, and she is perfect. I didn’t even have any of the usual problems of older mothers. The doctor said I have a “slow internal aging clock.” I later found out that my grandfather was born when his mother was 47, in 1897. So it must run in families.

    I so agree re the Hollywood culture and feminism. They’re making young women believe they can “have it all,” but you can’t. You have to make choices in life, and some choices matter more than others.

    • #28
    • July 11, 2018 at 4:05 pm
    • 9 likes
  29. Member

    Annefy (View Comment):

    Anyway, a woman in her 30s was interviewed on the show and she said, “I get up every morning and wonder how many eggs have died.” My dad found that hilarious and quoted it often to his “old maid” daughters.

    Ha! As I said above, I didn’t marry till I was 34. I was having a fun life, thought I’d never want kids, and I actually felt sorry for friends as they got married. My dad used to sit me down and say, “You know, there’s such a thing as holding three aces too long.”

    • #29
    • July 11, 2018 at 4:07 pm
    • 8 likes
  30. Member

    Can I assume you are referring to first time pregnancies? As others have noted, I know several women who had unassisted pregnancies in their mid 40s but that was after a long string of pregnancies starting in their 20s.

    I was technically infertile for half my 20s. I was never able to see anyone for it though, so I just… toughed it out, I guess. At 38 with Sixlet surprise on the way, I’m wondering where that infertility went. I suspect my case may not be normal.

    • #30
    • July 11, 2018 at 4:46 pm
    • 4 likes
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