Lately, fertility anxieties haunt the dreams–waking and sleeping–of every adult woman who hopes to someday be a mom. We hear from all directions that fertility wanes fast, especially for women over 35. The dystopian film The Children of Men picked up on the apprehensions bred by those stories to fuel visions of global apocalypse! Though we don’t hear much else on the topic, fertility is the side of the later motherhood story that we’ve all heard about in the media.
Odd that against this background of unease, so many post-35 women who want kids end up having them (like the film’s star Julianne Moore, at 37 and 42). In 2006, 611,000 babies were born to women 35 and over. That’s one in seven babies. Only roughly 4.4% (some 27,000) of those births involved IVF. Among first time moms, one in twelve had that first baby at or after 35 (up from one in 100 in 1970). Add in the adoptive moms and you’ve got a substantial portion of the population starting families later.
Clearly, many people are fertile in their late 30s and early 40s–and egg donation makes it possible for some women to bear kids using another woman’s eggs (and at some expense) much beyond the age at which their own eggs go past due. I go into what we know about the particulars at great length in chapter 6.
Through 39 chances with your own genetic material are good (very good if you don’t already have a known endocrinal disorder that suggests you’ll have fertility issues), then they go down quickly to roughly 50/50 at 41, and much lower at 43. I spoke with women who had no problem getting pregnant in their mid 40s, and with women who had problems in their early 30s but then had no problem later–and all over the in-between.
The complexity, as one woman I interviewed pointed out, is that the statistics don’t talk about you personally. At whatever point you are, there are no guarantees. Everybody has to weigh the factors (are you with the right partner for the long haul? does that matter? what about finances? career? sense of maturity? desire to stay home for a while with a baby and to be there for a kid long term? etc.) and decide for herself what makes most sense for her and her family.
These are huge issues with lots of radiating effects, and there’s no one right answer. Ready explores things from the perspective of women who waited and then started families–some intentionally, some by default. Some out-waited their fertility and went on to adopt or employ donor eggs. For these moms waiting for family made sense and worked out well. The good news is that there’s more than one road to a happy family. But family isn’t guaranteed–and some women do end up childless when that would not have been their choice.
The fertility scene is evolving. . . and as a group we get to work on spreading a balanced perspective on the topic; on sharing real information about new options as they emerge (I’ll post on that soon); and on determining what kind of public policy we want to enact in order to give all families the support they need to raise happy, productive kids.