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#NIAW-A Personal Story- “What I Wish I Knew and Who I Wished I’d Listened To” Blog Feature

I always thought I would have 2 kids. Yes, just like that, when I was ready.

I paid a big price; literally, physically and emotionally, thinking that it would all work out when I was ready for a family.

My Life Plan

“Achieve, succeed, accomplish” has been my modus operandi in life; wanting to be the best I could be and show that a girl from a little village in the Netherlands could become a doctor, a business woman, and have a rich life in glamorous world cities like Paris, London and New York. I had a couple of long-term relationships, but circumstances were never quite right in my opinion to start a family.

The only person who ever questioned how motherhood would fit into my career and life choices was my mother. Which independent young adult listens to their mother…?

What We Are Taught

Family has always been the cornerstone of American society. Yet, young adults are not being taught, while they’re learning about all their life options, to think proactively about the importance of establishing a family and how this could affect their life choices.

Teenagers and young adults are taught to stand out as an individual, show the world who they are, use and develop their talents, be unique. Our society supports young people to “Live Up to Your Full Potential” and invest in the future mainly by emphasizing the importance of education and to excel, highlighting the importance of sport, hard work and dedication. Family planning is not part of their education, except when speaking about what we like to call “Birth Control”, but what we are really teaching them is “Birth Prevention” or even pregnancy avoidance, as a wise lady pointed out to me. There is no focus brought to preserving their fertility for the future, when they do want a family.

In addition, over the last decade, achieving “happiness” by connecting with authentic selves through meditation, yoga and mindfulness has become an important goal. Nowadays, many companies and schools bring these tools to young adults as we learned to appreciate the importance for their overall well-being. Yet, even though research shows that being part of a family dramatically affects our happiness, there is no focus brought to achieving a family in the future. Why are there no systems in place to bring awareness to young adults to take prospective parenthood and building a family into account when making choices in their lives?

What We Need to Know About Our Fertility

And I am not the exception here. Women increasingly have babies later on in life; in particular, those who have a higher education. With at least a master’s degree, one-fifth doesn’t become a mother until at least 35 (Pew Research Center Analysis, 2012 Population).

I don’t believe that this is a choice so much as an end effect from fulfilling other goals.

I don’t believe it just happens either. In today’s society where the emphasis has been on building careers and personal and/or professional growth, family building has been pushed to the side and is only considered when one is ready to begin.

I believe that young women (and men) are simply not aware of the fertility struggles they might face when they leave parenthood as an issue to deal with later in life. Expecting for it to just happen when they are ready turns out to be an unrealistic and unreliable way to plan a family.

I believe that they are not aware of the options, such as egg freezing, that they have when making important life decisions in their twenties. Then they are left to rely on the medical community for help when they experience fertility challenges later on in life.

I believe that planning our family’s needs to be as fundamental and basic as planning our education and career.

How My Family Building Suffered From Not Planning

With my personal story, I will spare you the details, but in summary, I went through extensive fertility treatments in my early 40’s, after my frozen eggs did not result into any viable embryos. I only froze my eggs at age 37, when circumstances were still not quite right for motherhood, in my opinion. I knew that egg quality declined rapidly after age 35 and felt that I needed a back-up plan. Although I knew there was no guarantee for success, I did not realize that it was really already too late for efficient or effective egg freezing. None of my eggs turned out to become normal embryos because of chromosomal abnormalities related to “advanced maternal age”.

I was absolutely gutted. Years later, after 4 IUIs, 2 miscarriages, 8 IVF cycles, multiple peer support group attendances (Ladies Night In), acupuncture, Fertile Yoga sessions and significant life style changes, we ended up being extremely lucky, with our now 1 year old little girl. I guess that ambition contributed in a good way at least in that we were in the very fortunate financial situation to be able to afford the creation of “our million dollar baby”…

 

What I Wish I Knew

Despite my success, it is a mistake to think that it will all just work out. Infertility affects 1 out of 10 women between 12-44. 1 out of 8 couples will struggle with fertility-related issues. It opened my eyes when I went through fertility treatments and encountered so many women in their twenties and early thirties who never thought that infertility was something they had to deal with; yet, there it was. Women who tried for years to have a baby; by themselves, with professional reproductive assistance, some with multiple centers, with varying outcomes. A complete shock, life changing and entirely unexpected for most. It is worthwhile knowing of the existence of such a condition early through fertility assessment, so that time can be allowed to deal with it, without having the additional worry of aging eggs.

And as much as my personal “I wish I had knowns” aspects of my family building haunt me, it chills me more to realize that as a doctor, I’d be more likely than most people to know the fertility challenges that occur for otherwise healthy people. Simply put, I didn’t and it is likely that many other people focused on their personal and professional goals don’t either.

I strongly believe that it is everybody’s responsibility, as part of our society that touts family as its cornerstone, to educate young adults around fertility and family planning, so that they are empowered to make well informed life choices in balancing personal, professional and family life.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to be proactive with young women, who may want to freeze their eggs, and prevent them from becoming mid-thirty year olds finding out that it really is late for that? Or from becoming the late thirty, early 40- year- old, like me, who struggles or fails to conceive because they were not aware of their fertile reality, the options they had back then and are left thinking “I wish I had known…”? (Or I wish I had listened to my mother.)

About Wendy Kampman

Wendy Kampman is a 43-year-old who currently works as an executive director for a Biotech, to help develop medicines for patients with immunological disorders. She grew up in the Netherlands, where her parents and sister still live. After medical school, she became a pediatrician and subspecialised in Pediatric Intensive Care. Medical training and her work for the pharmaceutical industry brought her to New York after she spent time in Paris and London (and on aircrafts!). She and her other half moved to Fairfield, CT, and are so fortunate to live in a beautiful home with their daughter close to the beach. Wendy loves to be outside, go for walks, run, bike, play tennis or the piano, and she tries to sing as well. Wendy hopes that by telling her story, she will be able to help prevent other women from going through the same painful and costly journey.