Fertility and Age - A Big Lie?
How ironic that the day I write a blog about fertility and age, addressing fear and the emotions around NOT being old at 20, or 30, or 40, or 50, I read in Cosmopolitan about maternal aging. Otherwise known as, “why didn’t anyone tell me that I may feel young, I may look young, I may BE young in terms of my overall lifespan, but, and wait for drum roll; my eggs are not young”.
Tanya Selvaratnam had that experience, which she speaks about in her interview in Cosmo with Liz Welch, titled "The Big Lie About Your Fertility". Her response? She got mad. She got mad because she felt that once again, women didn’t know enough about their fertility or the true workings of their biological clocks. Not enough to make truly informed decisions about when to have babies. Or if they were deciding not to have babies without even realizing it.
On Motherhood, Feminism, and the Biological Clock
Here’s a little bit about what Tanya had to say about her book, The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism and the Reality of the Biological Clock.
In Cosmo, she answers the question about what The Big Lie means:
“What is the Big Lie?
There are actually several. The biggest is that we can become mothers on our own timetable. Another one is that we can manipulate evolution. There are some people who so badly want to believe that we can control the biological clock with science and reproductive technology. But that is only because we are not really aware of the statistics. As many as 77 percent IVF cycles fail — but we only hear the success stories. People don’t share their stories of loss as readily. I thought if I could speak publically about my story, then other people share theirs, too. These heartbreaking scenarios — of women who gave up after five failed rounds of IVF, for example — can balance the more optimistic ones. It’s not about making people panic. It is about giving them accurate information.”
I had two distinct and opposing reactions to reading this article.
My first was, bravo! We need for women to hear this message, for doctors to hear this message, for our society to hear this message. I particularly liked her idea about fertility charts in Obstetrician/Gynecologists offices. Just like knowing about pap smears and mammograms, understand your fertility. Absolutely. What an inspiring idea; a simple, direct and visionary way to change the way women are educated about their own fertility. The way that feminism was addressed in this article was bold. Tanya is clear and articulate about the play between motherhood and feminism. Here’s what she had to say about it:
"Has feminism played a role in this misconception that women can wait to become mothers?
Feminism advocates for a world where women can pursue their ambitions — it did not tell women to not become mothers. Instead, it told them all the things they could do aside from being a mother. It may have created a tension between feminism and motherhood, but it’s a false tension. If you look at the advances that feminism has made for motherhood — daycares at work, baby seats, breastfeeding education and more, these are all specific concerns women have around being mothers. One of the big lies I address is that we don’t need feminism anymore. We need it more than ever."
My second reaction was that we’ve been talking about this for years. Decades even. This is neither the first nor will it be the last book to discuss these very same issues. Wonderful that is being said again. I love that. I love more that the very issues that she says are not being talked about, I hear talked about all the time. Women, many women, are more and more clear about looking at conception as a time driven issue. In speaking to women in varied work fields, I find so many acutely aware, as early as in their 20’s, that conception is something to factor in. I often hear that there is not an assumption that conception will come easily and they are prepared for needing and getting help.
Making Plans and Understanding Choices is More than a Woman’s Issue
I’m glad this book is out there. Anything to help spread the word. And most especially, getting feminism on the side of motherhood and discontinuing that ridiculous idea that it’s one or the other. Just as careers and motherhood are not one or the other; neither are feminism and motherhood, one or the other.
We are women. We are multi-faceted, with many different interests. We all deserve to know the truth. We deserve to know it early; we deserve to know it accurately. We deserve to hear it from our health care providers so that we can strategize planning our families. I liked that a lot, that phrase. Strategizing having your family.
Making plans and understanding your choices is more than a woman’s issue. It’s society’s issue. Supporting women making choices, early and in time to avoid regrets is one of the messages that I got from this interview.
And for that alone, I will buy and read the book.
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Fertility and Age
Forty is not old. Forty-five is not old. Fifty is not old.
If you're trying to become pregnant, with your own eggs, and you are forty, I bet you feel old.
Twenty-six is not old. Thirty-nine is not old. Thirty-two is not old. Twenty-one is not old.
I guarantee if you're trying to become pregnant and it's not happening, you're feeling your age and time ticking away.
We become so fearful around this; scared that we have missed that magic moment when pregnancy was possible.
Making Decisions During Infertility
Making decisions from a fear-based place does not always mean a wise decision. If you are stuck, in the middle of infertility (just simply not becoming pregnant), you may delay or speed along, out of desperation.
If you are feeling old, you may feel that there's no time to consider, rationally and sanely (remember those two feelings?); what is best for me? You may hold onto emotion and fear as a way of staying on a course of treatment that is not appropriate or insist on a fertility cycle treatment that is not necessary.
It is hard to listen when fear is roaring in your ears.
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In the midst of infertility treatment, I refused to tell people my age. I was young, very young. A fact that every reproductive endocrinologist I ever saw was always happy to tell me. I know that my age made my fertility doctors hopeful for a few reasons.
It made my chances of becoming pregnant higher as maternal age is a predictor of success and I had age on my side.
There was time to work with; the doctors didn’t feel as much pressure as they would if I had been older, with my ovarian reserve diminishing each month.
And I felt old at 26. Old, incapable, insufficient, blighted. Old, old, old.
When I would meet someone, I would not mention my age. When it came up in conversation casually, I would not tell people my age. When I was asked pointedly, I refused to tell people my age. I would smile and say that it wasn’t something I talked about. I had one friend who truly was driven crazy by my refusal to tell her and I admit to a fairly medium size dose of satisfaction out of torturing her about it. After all, I was feeling my age in ways that she never suspected. Anyone who wanted to know my age that badly was not going to be someone I wanted to share my infertility pain with. No way.
Infertility ruined every birthday for six years. I hated my birthday, more even than New Year’s Eve, which was also an official marking of time. Every birthday confirmed my feeling of how old I was. Old, not young. Because it was clear, quickly with infertility treatment, that age was my enemy. I was beautiful at 26, lovely unlined skin, graceful and strong body. The pictures I have of myself of that age do not tell you the whole truth. Think Dorian Grey. Think of how that portrait aged and became scarred and ugly. That was how I felt. At 26, I felt old and ugly.
Therapy helped. Yoga helped. Friends who were able to listen and not advise helped. My best friend in the throes of her own infertility helped. My family helped tremendously. My mother helped. For my 30th birthday, my present was her Grandmother’s diamond wedding band. Having my mom pass down an heirloom to me at that time was critical. It wasn’t being saved for my sister who one day might be able to give her grandchildren. It was being given to me, with love and affection for who I was, right there, in the middle of being old and ugly. Boy, did that help. Thanks Mom!
Fighting for how I felt helped too. That is was ok to feel how I felt. That I didn’t have to judge how I felt on top of feeling how I felt. In yoga, we observe our breath, not to change it or judge it, but to notice and even appreciate it, just as it is.
And that’s where I got. I started to have moments of appreciating my strength, beauty and yes, youth. Moments when I was 27, more moments at 28. And I remember feeling quite lovely, beautiful and young at 31. Much younger than when I was 26.
Tomorrow I am 49. I understand that it’s a significant age. Multiples of 7, prime numbers, cycles of 7. All I know? Is that I feel beautiful. And young.