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Reactions to “How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?”

a blog by Ellen Glazer, July 22, 2013

When a friend told me about the article in July/August Atlantic, “How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?” I was skeptical. The gist of the article is that the warnings to women about age related declines in fertility have been over stated and over blown. As a counselor who sees so many women in their 40’s struggling with infertility, I’ve come to believe that age plays a huge role in determining who is fertile and who is not. The question, I guess, is: “what age—when does fertility really decline?”

Author Jean Twenge provides some compelling research indicating that a large percentage of women in their late 30’s are fertile. She adds that the percentage is higher for white women of normal weight. Twenge quotes one study that found that the difference between a 28 year old woman becoming pregnant and a 37 year old is only 4 percentage points. And another that says that 89% of 38 year old women are fertile. So why then have I seen so many women for whom age seems to play such a major role in declining fertility?

For one thing, Twenge doesn’t dispute that fertility declines significantly when women are over 40. Nearly all her reassuring research and anecdotal stories involve women in their mid-late 30’s. When I focus on actual chronological age, I have to acknowledge that the women I see struggling the most are in their 40’s, not 30’s. True, some had difficulties in their 30’s and have now “aged” into their 40’s as one treatment after another has failed.

Another interesting point Twenge makes is to distinguish between women conceiving on their own and with treatment. She notes that older women, including women in their late 30’s, don’t respond as well as younger women to fertility medications. I’m realizing that I am seeing the women for whom treatment is not working—not the women who conceive easily on their own at 37 or 38 or on their first treatment cycle.

So what does this all mean to a Fertility Counselor? For one thing, Twenge’s article made me realize, all the more, how panicked many women are about fertility. It seems that the pendulum has swung from the not-so-long-ago days in which people didn’t talk about age related infertility (I used to see so many educated women who said, “No one ever told me” and “I had no idea”). Now we’re at the opposite extreme: the alarms are ringing everywhere telling women “not to wait.” I’ll admit that as the anxious mother of a 30 year old, I’ve joined the “don’t wait any longer” chorus.

Another thing I learned from Twenge’s article is truly believe my late 30’s clients who tell me that their friends are conceiving with ease. I’ll admit that I’ve taken some of these “everyone else my age can get pregnant” declarations with skepticism thinking that it can’t really be so easy for their friends. It probably is.

Although Twenge makes some compelling arguments for women in their 30’s not getting into panic mode about declining fertility, I am still someone who sees so many people looking back with regret. All too often they say to me, “if only we had started earlier?” “ if only we had tried to have a baby when we were still young.” Where I come out is where it’s usually a good place to be: advising a balanced approach. There are all sorts of life circumstances that prompt women to postpone pregnancy. Women in these circumstances should accept them and not try to rush things. However, for those who can try to conceive in their early-mid 30’s –or before—why wait?


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