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.