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While my sisterhood of friends is quite varied, when it comes to children, we each fall into a few basic categories; those who want to have children, those who decide not to have children at all and those who want kids and also want successful careers. I have been a very firm and outspoken campaigner and card-carrying member of the "Yes, we can have it all!" party. I have always wanted kids; I grew up on a small island where 11-year-olds were put in charge of babies. I took this chore seriously and loved every minute of it. Throughout my teens and 20s, my maternal instinct was like a rainbow halo above me, always shining bright. Friends in college used to say I was a born to be a mom, I was the matriarch of our circle of friends, and wore the crown with ease and glory.
It was during my stint as the matriarch of our college crew, where I started to hear about women who weren't able to have children very easily and after some research, I became an egg donor for a dot-com couple while I was a student at UC Berkeley. It was their third round of IVF, I never thought to ask details of their journey to fertility because as a 20-something, I was much more focused on the side effects of the fertility drugs and how I was going to follow all the instructions surrounding the extensive process. The cycle with me as the egg donor did not take, so I don't currently have a child out there in the universe. However, I enjoyed trying to help another woman reach her dream of motherhood. During the procedure, I recall the doctor saying something along the lines of, "Wow, you have incredibly full eggs!" in the middle of the retrieval. For whatever reason, I carried this comment in my head all these years and have very consciously used it as my foundation and reminder to myself that I have time because I have juicy, full eggs. My 30s zipped right by, as I chased my career dreams as a successful television producer, book author and eventual business owner. I never gave much serious thought to what was going on with my body. I just forged ahead, collecting career promotions and living the dream, while also dating all the wrong men.
As I turned 40, I realized I was still single, and slightly bitter about my married friends' bliss and baby movement; and I thought I just might be ready for love. I dove into online dating, met a phenomenal, smart, available, warm, honest, affectionate, gorgeous guy who wanted to get married and have kids one day. He was the whole package. We got hitched, and I am a happily married 43 year-old wife. The past three years our relationship has endured more than most newlyweds face; three natural pregnancies, three miscarriages, three DNC surgeries, a fibroid removal surgery, expensive ongoing acupuncture from the "God of Fertility" Dr. Dao and to boot, our relationship also gained a third wheel which I call the "F word,"-- Fertility. Oh, we also got slightly religious: Huntington Reproductive Center is our church and Dr. Bradley Kolb is our minister. My entire adult life, I believed I had all the time in the world to have a baby, a successful career, find love and live happily ever after. After all we have endured and since joining the over-40 fertility community, I no longer have the luxury of living in the "Yes we can " movement the same way I did before experiencing all these baby making setbacks. In some ways, I feel as though I missed the last page of an important memo from my feminist sisters about the slight cost of waiting and wanting to have it all.
As cliché as it sounds, if I had known then what I know now, my journey would have taken a very different route. Today, I still believe we can have it all, just not in the way we were originally pitched. I know so many women in their late 30s and early 40s who are smart, worthy, successful, and single and have it al-most. Like me, many have played a good game of being just fine right where we are, we have success, we hit our career goals and don't really "need" to get married or have children. Along the way we subconsciously slid into this "if it happens, it happens" way of thinking when we really felt much stronger about wanting to have children. While I was busy becoming so smart and successful in my career, I sort of accidentally missed the boat on becoming educated in this one area of my life, and I know I'm not alone. We women don't really want to outwardly accept the biggest health issue facing us in our mid 30s and early 40s is fertility. Many of us have created this self-imposed silence surrounding fertility and because no one is outwardly talking about it, it doesn't get much attention so when women arrive here, there's a lot of unnecessary shame surrounding infertility. We trusted our mothers and feminist leaders who preached "Wait, you'll have time to get married and start a family later, work on your career first." In fact, the real truth is that we have our whole lives to get a career and a very small window to have a baby -- let alone find a partner too. I wonder why someone didn't make a really pretty advertising poster with some of this information back in the 80s, so I could have at least considered exploring all the options while becoming a strong woman of independent means. Today what I want to tell women in their late 20's and early 30's and even 40's is this: Yes, you can absolutely have it all, but having it all requires strategic planning, a reality check and a hardcore dose of health education 3.0.
I encourage young women to take some of that career drive and put part of it into getting informed, learning about fertility, taking charge of your ovaries and the reality attached to them. Understand the statistics associated with waiting. Know there are real numbers, real stories and get empowered to make sound decisions about a few things now before you are 43 years old and wondering where the time went. Let me make something clear, I'm not in any way suggesting my single sisters dive in and get knocked up by just any sperm swimming by, nor do I suggest you get or stay in a relationship that is not worthy of your presence. What I am saying is make being educated early a priority, so in turn, you can plan accordingly, regardless of what path you choose. Here are just a few keys things I learned, while taking charge of my own fertility.
1. There is no "right time" to interrupt a career for a baby or marriage. 2. There is plenty of evidence to support the hard cold truth that the quality of our eggs takes a nose dive at age 35 and about 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, which means we have almost a 50 percent chance of having to go through three pregnancies to have two children. 3. You can't control fertility, but you can control learning about all the fertility treatments out there right now. 4. Decide where you stand on the ethical issues surrounding technology of fertility treatment so you can make informed decisions rather than emotional based ones in desperate times. 5. Test your eggs now. Get informed and know what you're up against. There are various tests available, from ultrasounds that help determine basal follicle count to blood tests you can have done during your menstrual cycle. Eggs age differently in different women. And the aging process can get faster or slower relative to the general population. The earlier you get tested the more time you have to explore the many options available.
6. If you are in a relationship or married and plan to have children with your current partner, make an appointment now to have his sperm checked, you have no idea how many friends of mine spent so much time worrying about their eggs, when it turned out to be a sperm related issue. Being checked now allows you time to handle any unexpected issues early. 7. From blocked tubes to thin uterus lining, fibroids and low progesterone count, there are just so many variables most women don't consider may be an issue while "waiting" and these are all possible. So while you're not ready to have kids quite yet, ask your doctor about basic fertility tests available to help clear the decks and of any potential issues you or your partner may or may not have looming. 8. Get educated and start a conversation with yourself about where you stand on surrogates, adoption, IVF, egg freezing and sperm donation.
One third (30%) of infertility can be attributed to male factors, and about one third (30%) can be attributed to female factors. In about 20% of cases infertility is unexplained, and the remaining 10% of infertility is caused by a combination of problems in both partners. I waited too long to learn all of the above, it wasn't until after my second miscarriage did I leave my OBGYN and head to HRC and found Dr. Kolb, who schooled me, took a chance with an over 40 case and got us on track. With the help of IUI (intra-uterine insemination), we are now 14 weeks pregnant. Not for one minute do I assume we're in the clear quite yet, I am high risk, we still have genetic testing ahead and I take it one day at a time, that is my truth, and this is part of the cost of waiting. What I am clear about, is that we are currently experiencing the true beauty of having miraculously merged feminism and fertility at 43. Amen.