Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The age factor

I'll be 33 years old next week. It's shaping up to be one of those birthdays that gives you chest pains because you can't come to grips with the fact that your body continues to age despite your lack of accomplishments.

I'm not saying 33 is old, guys. But what I've absolutely come to accept is that as it relates to fertility, my age is not ideal. I know people older than me are having babies every day and I haven't reached that evil age cutoff of 35, when your eggs suddenly turned into powdered milk. But science is science. It doesn't matter how healthy you are or how awesome your skin looks -- every year that goes by is another year older, and your eggs are as old as you are. You don't make new ones. It's a real bummer.

All of the eyebrow-raising from my doctors used to irritate the living hell out of me. They'd ask if I was planning on having children soon. Ages 27, 28, 29, and 30 slipped by, and I told the doctors I wasn't planning on it. And they, without fail, told me that the sooner I did, the better.

There is a section in Making Babies titled "Be Aware of Your Age." This section also irritated me to no end; if I had a time machine, maybe this section could have helped me. Nonetheless, it cuts to the chase immediately: "If we had to pin fertility on just one factor, the most important would be age. The older you are, male or female, the more likely you and your partner are to have problems conceiving and carrying a pregnancy." The book goes on to say "the best advice is to have children sooner rather than later." Sounds familiar.

Here are some more fun statistics from the book.

Women under age 25 have a 96 percent chance of conceiving within a year. That figure drops to 86 percent between the ages of 25 and 34. The odds decrease again for women at age 35, with further drop-offs at 38 and again at 42.

Beginning when men are in their mid-30s, miscarriage rates start to rise, enough to double by age 45, at which point about one in three couples with men age 45 or older had a pregnancy ending in miscarriage, regardless of the woman's age.

All of this kind of information used to bug me. How dare my doctor, or some book, or anyone for that matter, try to tell me when and how I should use my reproductive organs? I wasn't ready to have a baby and that was all there was to it. Should I have gotten pregnant and had a baby just because it was the right thing to do, biologically?

The short answer to that question is Yes. I never, ever imagined I would be the kind of person who said something like this, but I'm going to say it now and I'll keep saying it to anyone who listens:

If you think at some point you will want children, have them now. Have them in your 20s. You will never be physically, emotionally, or financially completely prepared for children. You will never take that trip to Italy before the kids get here. You won't lose the weight. You aren't going to be glad some day that you spent an extra three or four years indulging yourself by doing whatever you wanted instead of changing some screaming baby's poopy diaper. Have them now, if you can, and then your eggs can get old and turn into powdered milk. Have them now and maybe you won't deal with miscarriages, drugs, needles, IUI, IVF. The story of the 40-something movie star who gets pregnant with twins is a delusion, my friends. God only knows how many rounds of IVF she paid for. How much money and grit do you possess? How much heartache could you potentially save yourself?

Thirty-three isn't ancient, even in fertility years. The doctors still call me "young and healthy." They expect I'll be able to get pregnant and carry a baby to term, and I expect the same. But I admit I hear a clock ticking in the background. I admit I wish I'd listened more thoughtfully when my doctors advised me to think about having children sooner. It might have saved me some trouble.


  1. This seems like self-punishing thinking to me. Why beat yourself up for something that you can't change? You weren't ready then, but you are ready now. Let's deal with now.

    Be nice to yourself.

    Maybe I'm speaking out of turn, but I have this habit of doing this self-blame game myself so maybe I see it in you even if it's not there.

  2. I agree with Mandy. Don't beat yourself up over something you can't change.

    And I'm 37. I'm not ready to say my eggs are powdered milk.

  3. I get it. You guys remind me of a friend who always says "It is what it is," with a shrug. Like -- no use obsessing over what you can't change. Accept it and move on. I agree! But I still have major regret. I'm trying to move on. And Libby -- I don't personally believe our eggs turn to powdered milk at 35. That's just my sarcasm about the medical community's take on pregnancy at 35 or older. :)

  4. I just turned 26 and I'm working on having kids even though I don't feel ready and wish I had more time for myself. I completely understand where you're coming from.

  5. I think its part of our nature to second guess ourselves. And I agree with everyone: You can't change it. Give yourself a pass and move on to the next step.

    Adding water to powdered milk. ;)

  6. I tend to agree with this. I used to think the same as you, and now that I'm in my 30's I constantly beat myself up for not getting married sooner and getting a jump start on all of this.
    On the other hand, there is no use in crying over spilled milk (powdered or otherwise)

  7. Erin, I don't know you, but I wish I did. I wish my blog was up and running so I could link stuff to this. I don't see it as shaming; I see it as kind advice for people who might think their plans, career aspirations, etc. are important in the face of science and mother nature. It is hard, as a feminist, to say those things don't matter, but as far as nature is concerned, they don't. I think all celebrities who give birth at 47 should be required to disclose the fact that they didn't use their own eggs. I also think you are brave and awesome. And you said all that better than I did.

  8. Hmm. As someone who wants kids - has always wanted kids - a lot, but hasn't yet tried to get pregnant, I know that I'm coming from a very different place than you are, Erin. It just seems to me that this post is a reaction to pain and regret, as opposed to a more objective assessment of the reality of your life thus far.

    I'm 29 now, and by the time I get married next June, I'll be 30. After giving my marriage a one year-ish, "newlywed phase", the youngest I will possibly be when I try to conceive my first child is 31; not reproductively "old", but not in my prime either. But when I look back 5 or so years, to the real prime of my fertile prime, I see a kid with no real idea about life and a lot of crap still to slog through before really coming into her own. That girl really wanted kids, too, and if I'd ended up having one back then, I'm sure things would have worked out ok, but the person I see when I look at myself now is 20X the parent my 24 year-old self could have possibly been.

    What you're saying about age and fertility is, of course, 100% true, and women should be aware of it so they don't march cavalierly into their late 30s just assuming they can pop out 2 or 3 kids whenever they feel like it, but I think the advice to have children asap, ready or not, is more for the present you - if, like you said, you could turn back the clock and have your mid-20s body back, complete with its mid-20s ovaries - than it is for the actual young woman you were, who knew what she wanted and put off having her babies for a reason.

    If in two years I find myself in the same situation you're in now, I wonder how I'll feel about this and whether I'll want to tell my 29 year-old self to shut-the-f-up? Probably - ha. In any event, Erin, I truly hope that long before then you're holding your baby in your arms and looking back wistfully on your childless youth. I wish you the best of luck!


  9. @desperatetotango - I'm glad you get it. :) Best of luck!

    @monkeymomma - ugggghhhhhhh I can't! Maybe once this damned birthday passes.

    @mommyodyssey - there really is no point in beating ourselves up about it, but I still do it anyway. Productive, eh?!

    @Kris - exactly. I just think there should be really honest messages about fertility, not these false ones about "easily" having kids in your 40s. Let us know when your site's up!

    @Carly - I totally get it. I was a complete numbnuts in my fertile prime. I wasn't married, and had no direction in life. And you're right; I'm speaking largely to Young Me. Maybe there's a Young Me out there in another universe who's got her shit together. Everything will work out -- for me and for you.

  10. How well I know this regret. All we can do is turn it into wisdom and share it with those who care to listen. Hugs!