The Politics Of “Fertility Fog” Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 15 2015 @ 7:20pm

Several more women tell their stories:

Ugh, that last letter you published, which included this phrase “I, and many of my Ivy League, high-income friends” was HORRIBLE. Here’s what I have to say: Ladies, don’t be so selfish. If you choose to focus on yourself (and there is nothing wrong with that) for the first 20 years of your adult life, don’t COMPLAIN when you then have the a) money, and b) time to pursue IVF. Be HAPPY that you are so fortunate.

I’m 31, do not have children of my own. I am in a relationship with a man who has a 6 year old and an 8 year old. We live together and he has shared custody of his kids. I am there too, doing homework, helping out with dinner. Some might say I have a family – and in some ways, yes, I definitely do – but they are not my children and never really will be. He and I have discussed having one of our own someday, but honestly, I don’t know that it will happen. But that’s ok.

Because I made a CHOICE. Just like that Ivy-League educated, rich lady did. We make choices. These choices involve tradeoffs. She’s lucky to even be able to MAKE that choice. She had access to birth control to avoid pregnancy, and enough education and income to have a “pretty freaking awesome” life. So have I – but I am owning up to the fact that I prioritized awesomeness in my 20s over procreating, and perhaps that means I may not reproduce.

Don’t make a choice and then complain about the result of your choice.

Another is “really shocked and saddened to read these stories about doctors avoiding discussing fertility with their patients”:

It makes me even more grateful for my OB/GYN who, when I was 36 (and still single), directly addressed the subject at my annual appointment:

Her: “Do you want to have children?”
Me: “Hmm.  I haven’t really thought about it.  I guess so.  At some point.”
Her: “Well, if you do, here’s the name and address of a fertility clinic.  You shouldn’t wait any longer.”

And when I walked out of her office,  it hit me – yes, I did want to be a mother, and yes, it was about time to do that.  And thanks to her (and an anonymous sperm donor), I have spent the last sixteen years being a mother, and I can’t believe that I almost missed this experience and this life that I love were it not for the not-very-subtle prodding of my OB/GYN.

Another reader reminds us:

The risk of Downs’ syndrome and some kinds of birth defects increases with the age of the mother, others with the age of the father. The mother – from the CDC:

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On the other hand, risk of gastroschisis (intestines outside the body) decreases with age of the mother. For fathers, their increased age is associated with increased risk of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and autism.

Another reader tells multiple stories:

I can tell you all about fertility fog. (Sorry this got really long.)

When I was about 34, in a serious relationship with a younger man, but not engaged, a friend told me she wanted to talk to me about something serious.  She told me that I shouldn’t wait to have a baby, that she’d had age-related fertility problems at 35 and didn’t want the same thing to happen to me.  It was upsetting, because I wasn’t in a position to go home and try and get pregnant that night. But I didn’t dismiss her.  I told my boyfriend (now husband) what she’d said, and that, while I wasn’t giving him an ultimatum, I couldn’t wait forever because I wanted a family.  When I started openly talking about adoption or donor sperm, he got the hint, and we got engaged. I was married just before turning 35.

Lo and behold, I had problems getting pregnant (which may not actually have been caused by my age, but being older didn’t help).  I learned a lot about infertility and was very quick to seek aggressive medical help when it didn’t happen right away.  With lots of medical help, I was able to have three children, including twins.  (By the way, my gynecologist acted like my age was a non-issue, and if I’d left it up to her, I would have waited a lot longer to seek help from a fertility specialist. I am very grateful to my friend for lighting a fire under me.)

I was quite open with my friends, all career women, about our struggles, and very clear about the perils of waiting. They were mostly skeptical that fertility really starts to decline in your late 20s, and falls off a cliff after 35.  They latched on to the stories that comforted them. They would read about celebrities seeming to get pregnant very easily in their mid to late-40s and assumed that they would also be able to do so.  They seemed to think I was just bitter when I assured them that the celebrities were almost certainly using donor eggs.  I can’t tell you how vindicated I felt when it was revealed in Cheryl Tiegs’ divorce that she had indeed used donor eggs to have her children at 52.  She had gone around on talk shows telling people that the twins had been conceived using her eggs and her husband’s sperm because she’d taken such good care of herself that her reproductive organs were “young.”  (I know for a fact that her doctor would be asked at infertility conferences to do for these regular women what he’d done for Tiegs.  He couldn’t tell the truth, of course, because of doctor/patient confidentiality, but he hinted.)

Anyway, two stories.  One friend seemingly took me seriously.  When she got engaged in her late 30s, she planned a short engagement, and we had a sit down where I told her everything I knew about how to up her odds of getting pregnant quickly.  She was quite worried.  Lucky for her, she got pregnant easily and had a healthy baby.  I think she probably felt I’d made her panic for nothing.  She also apparently thought that her pregnancy cured her of her age.  Instead of trying quickly for a second child (she wanted several), she decided it would be ideal to have at least two years between children, and although she was now in her 40s, decided to wait that long to start trying again.  I tried to gently hint that she might not want to wait, all the same issues applied, but, to my regret, I wasn’t pushy about it, and didn’t tell her she was an idiot for waiting (even though that’s what I thought).

Well, she did get pregnant again after a while and miscarried.  She miscarried several times. Her miscarriages were almost certainly as a result of her older eggs.  But she refused to believe it and refused any treatment that might increase her odds of success.  She even called me crying once to tell me that her new doctor had told her that her miscarriages were the result of her age, and that she should see a fertility doctor right away while there was still some hope.  I told her the doctor was being reasonable, but it was like she was deaf.  She switched doctors!  She never had another child and was sad about it for many years.  I always have felt badly that I did not push her harder not to wait.  But I don’t think she would have heard me.  If she wouldn’t hear a doctor, why would she hear me?

Second story.  A friend was having no luck meeting a guy, so decided to go the donor sperm route.  She got all set up, picked the clinic, the donors, the whole thing, and was ready to begin.  Then one day we were having lunch and she told me she’d decided to wait at least another year.  (She was in her late 30s.) I again tried to gently encourage her not to wait.  I remember asking her whether, if she knew that by waiting she wouldn’t be able to have a child would she still wait and she said yes. She also said she would never pursue treatment.  I left it at that.  She knew my story.

A year or so later, she finally tried to get pregnant and it didn’t work.  She had tests done and the results were not great, her likelihood of success not good, but she decided to do IVF (which she said she’d never do) anyway.  Her several attempts failed pretty miserably.  And she told me that I “should have told her that it was a mistake to wait”!!!   I felt awful, but also a little pissed.  I did tell her.  I just didn’t TELL her.  It was probably already too late anyway, to be honest.  She ended up adopting a child, eventually married, has stepchildren and is very happy.  I don’t think she has any regrets now, so it worked out for the best, but there was a lot of heartache in between.