Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fertility math illiteracy

There's an article circulating around the Internet today about a new book, written by an infertile woman in her early 40s, which hypothesizes that American women are misinformed and misled about the link between age and infertility. A study sponsored by EMD Serono, Inc., the biomedical company behind such fertility drugs as Gonal-F (an injectible hormone used to stimulate the growth of multiple follicles for IUI or IVF) and Cetrotide (an injection used to trigger the release of those follicles prior to IVF egg retrieval), along with researchers from RESOLVE, the National Fertility Awareness group, surveyed 1000 women in their mid-20s to mid-30s about the chances of conceiving at different ages. The results were, of course, sad, but not unsurprising: most of these women couldn't correctly identify the average amount of time it takes to get pregnant at different ages, nor could they correctly identify the chance of conceiving per cycle at those different ages.

And why should they? I'm always stunned when I come across a woman (usually younger than me) who is unaware that her fertility will decline after age 35, and that our optimal fertility occurs in our 20s. Did talking intelligently about biological clocks ticking stop with my age group, or is it just that those of us infertiles nearing or in the over-35 range know first-hand? Our society is so hung up on celebrity news that we hear all the time about this female celebrity or that getting pregnant or giving birth well after age 35. They make it sound so easy, and, of course, rarely mention the fertility treatments, donor sperm, eggs or embryos that made it possible for them to conceive in the first place. When we do hear about artificial reproductive technology, we seem to hear only about the successes, not the many, many failures.(That talking about infertility is taboo is another topic entirely.) Why shouldn't America's women mistakingly believe it'll be easy to get pregnant?

This discussion directly links to two of the ridiculous platitudes most of us who've lost our babies hear the most: "You're young, you have lots of time" and "You'll have other children." Those of us who have battled infertility only to tragically lose our hard-won pregnancies or newborn infants know all too well how ignorant those comments are. We certainly could've answered those survey questions correctly. What's percentage of normal, healthy women under age 35 who conceive a baby any given cycle? 20-25%. What percentage did Paul and I have of conceiving on our own during the 2.5 years we tried without medical assistance? 3-5%. What percentage chance did we have of conceiving with super-ovulation IUI using expensive injectible hormones, multiple transvaginal ultrasounds and back-to-back IUIs at age 37 (for me)? 20%, back up to "normal" range. (Note: that's one out of every five tries. We got pregnant the second try with that protocol, the first when it was done correctly. So, does that mean we now will try four more times without success?)

In their rush to say something to address our loss, without having any idea what they might be saying, people have said stupid, stupid things. (This happens to ALL babyloss mamas and daddies, not just us.) Other women seem to think age 37 (now considered 38, since it's based on age at delivery, not age at conception) is really young, because they inevitably can name someone they know (or read about) who had their first/second/third baby at age 41/42/43/44 without medical intervention. Well, that's not medically "normal"!

Do I regret that Paul and I didn't seek help earlier? Of course, but Paul needed to accept that we needed help on his own time. I couldn't rush him. Besides, our lives were crazy-busy (job change for me, remodeling house, listing house, selling house, moving, being laid off, getting new job) so the timing wouldn't have been ideal. Still, even though I was aware of my ticking biological clock and sought the help of my family practioner before I was even 35 (bracing myself for the lecture that we needed to try longer/harder because I wasn't yet 35 and considered infertile), I had no idea the Hell we'd go through in our efforts to have a family of our own. I'm sure at some point we'll be on the other side, look back and say, "Wow, aren't we blessed now?" But I'll tell you what: if I am blessed with a living daughter (or daughters), you can bet I'll be lecturing her on women's fertility as she grows older. Tick tock.


  1. I know how you feel. If I would have had any idea about my fertility, I would have started trying when I got married at 26 instead of waiting three years. Yes, I am still considered young, but now I am 31 and still without kids.

    We are very uninformed about maternal age and fertility.

  2. Wow like the above poster I got married at 26....and am 31 now. No kids in my home. Since my baby died, I have thought a million times that I should have started trying for kids soon after marriage. Maybe by this time, I would ave had at least one baby....

    But then, my husband who is 4 years older than me was not ready. I wanted to do my masters, focus on career. In fact, my career has gone from bad to worse and since losing my son I have lost all interest in career as well...

  3. I am always telling people now about this stuff, hoping I can reach a few, better than none. My daughter will definitely be educated. Great post, thanks for sharing xoxoxo

  4. Great post.

    I agree with you and the basic assumption of people that it's easy to get pregnant, stay pregnant, and give birth to a living healthy child. I guess it comes from the fact that it seems like so many people do it...all the time. It's maddening that it seems like the people who want it most are the ones who have the most trouble. It doesn't help that infertility and pregnancy or infant loss are things society would rather sweep under the rug.


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