I didn’t always know that I wanted to have babies, but I definitely started to feel the pull towards motherhood around my early thirties (cliche, I know). And now, inching my way closer to my late 30’s, I know that I have to be a mom. The egg freezing process opened my eyes to the emotions and psychology of being faced with the potential of never actually getting that. I’ve felt that fear personally, and I saw it in the eyes and faces of the women I saw in the waiting room at NYU Langone Fertility, day in, day out while going through the oocyte cryopreservation cycle.
During my visits to NYU Langone Fertility, I was constantly struck by the sheer number of women sitting in the waiting room. There were times I wanted to take pictures as evidence, but given most women would rather be anywhere else but the fertility clinic, and given most people want to keep this private, I thought pictures would be inappropriate and highly annoying (the last thing I wanted to do is piss off a waiting room full of hormonal women. I am allowed to say that – I was one of them).
All of us there were beyond our most fertile years, which isn’t surprising, but it is odd when you think about it. We are only having conversations and getting help after fertility becomes a problem.
This all underscores a very obvious thing, but an obvious thing we don’t like to admit. Women are having babies older and as a result, are seeking fertility help when they’re likely past their prime baby making years (me included). I know we hate to use phrases like ‘past our prime,’ but let’s not kid ourselves: while we can have babies well into our 30’s and 40’s, they’re not our prime baby making years. Our eggs are at their best in our 20’s and for some us, maybe early 30’s.
I have a theory on what has led us to this point: A lack of real sex education, a lack of conversation with our doctors, and a celebrity culture that bombards us with images of older women having babies has caused an inflated sense of fertility prowess. ‘I have plenty of time’ was certainly the dominant thought in the back of my mind for years.
I found a study that proves my hypotheses on this topic are right. It’s from 2011, so I’m hopeful that the situation has improved. The Facebook and Apple announcements back in October 2014, and the media frenzy that followed certainly sparked the conversation, though I suspect that the announcements started an egg freezing trend rather than lead to real, informative conversations with our doctors (which is imperative, as the study shows).
The study surveyed the fertility knowledge of women 25-35 who are not currently undergoing fertility treatments or currently trying to get pregnant. That’s an important distinction from women who are trying to become pregnant because it’s the key to the problems we face: we don’t actually get smart about fertility until we’re trying to get pregnant, and as we know, that’s increasingly at a later age, at which point, it can be too late for that knowledge to be helpful.
There are a few pointed facts from the study that suggest that 1) we are in denial about the realities of fertility after a certain age and 2) conversations with our GYN’s are crucial in correcting our misperceptions AND driving more proactivity in this area.
- ‘Despite most women planning to leave their first pregnancy until their early 30’s, 3 in 4 women do not have concerns about being able to conceive – the same percentage believe that they will have an average or easier time becoming pregnant than most’ – this is overestimating our fertility prowess ladies. Let’s get our heads out of our asses please.
- In general, women believe that it is easier to get pregnant than is actually the case, underestimating the length of time it takes. Additionally, 9 out of 10 women underestimate the rate of infertility problems amongst women 40 and over.
- Women stated that their primary source of fertility information is their Ob/GYN, but typically, GYN visits are limited to an annual PAP, and last approximately just 12 minutes. And very little discussion is happening around fertility between patient and doctor:
- 52% of women say they never discuss future pregnancy plans
- 78% never discuss age as a factor of infertility
- 89-96% never discuss fertility treatments
These numbers are shocking to me. The reverse of this would be like talking to your GYN about the birth control pill only after an unplanned pregnancy. Think about it, in no other medical area of our lives are we so reactive. (Some of us) check for skin cancer once a year, we get check-ups, we get our teeth cleaned and checked out twice a year, get an annual PAP, etc. And many of us are proactively preventing pregnancy with the birth control pill for decades at a time even though our chances of becoming pregnant in a given month are only 25% during our peak years, and steadily decline from there. There is no other aspect of our health and well being that we leave to chance as much as we do starting a family.
None of this sounds very moving until you’ve tried to get pregnant, or faced the possibility of never having children. Before I froze my eggs, I had some serious anxiety issues and emotional ups and downs. And I’ve seen first hand what it can do to women.
So let’s get our heads out of the sand please, and start dealing with it earlier. Let’s have conversations with our doctors and get our AMH and FSH tests done. Then let’s make proactive decisions about how and if we’re going to preserve our fertility. And some may choose not to, but it will be a choice rather than a terrible circumstance.
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