The question hit me hard, especially coming from someone I met less than 15 minutes prior. I had recently changed jobs and had a new insurance carrier, causing me to go to a new gynecologist. Though educated, highly rated, and female, this doctor irritated me. More so, she scared me. Sure, I was single at the time, but I was also only 27 and not necessarily concerned with my fertility. The thought of my ovaries already giving up on me was terrifying. Did I really need to consider stowing away my reproduction for a rainy day?
I explained with certainty that I was in no rush to start a family, and she smiled at me, almost earnestly, while encouraging me to think about it. Now, at the age of 30 and in a happy relationship, I’m still not thinking much about it. But the articles circulating the internet every day, all discussing “the rise of infertility,” admittedly cause moments of panic. Like many female entrepreneurs, I love the work I do. I also never settled in the dating world, instead waiting until I felt like I found my match — and trust me, he was worth the wait. Still, I couldn’t imagine never becoming a mother; a family is something I’ve wanted just as fiercely as I aspired to be a journalist.
So, like any modern-day Lois Lane, I decided to tackle my fears surrounding infertility head on —separating the facts from fiction (or as we say these days, “fake news”). If you’re anything like me and find yourself under pressure to freeze your eggs or rushed into pregnancy planning because you feel as if you’re running out of time, rest easy. Here, gynecologists and fertility experts officially release you of the top reproductive fears.
“I’m afraid if we don’t start trying now, I will never get pregnant.”
Many newly married or engaged women automatically start thinking about their reproductive futures, says Zaher Merhi, MD, director of research and development in IVF technologies at New Hope Fertility Center. Even though he does note that 1 in 8 couples will deal with infertility — in some way and varying in severity — fear isn’t a reason to speed up the process. Instead, he recommends chasing information, not the clock. “A basic work-up, including blood and ultrasound for you and semen analysis for your partner, can help alleviate the worries,” he explains.
“My chances of getting pregnant after 35 are slim.”
Blowing out the candles on your 35th birthday does not extinguish your chances of having a child. While 35 years old is considered an “advanced maternal age,” there are plenty of women who conceive healthy babies after this, says Jessica L. Bauer, MD, MS, FACOG, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at Conceptions Florida. “It’s important to realize that after the age of 35, egg quality and quantity does start to decline at a rate faster than it did at the age of 25; however, the rate at which this happens is different for every woman,” she explains. Getting an evaluation of your fertility, or ovarian reserve, will help predict your pregnancy potential.
“But what if I’m still single?”
First and foremost, there is no need to settle into a relationship out of pressure of becoming a parent. Though plenty of people do this, Maria Costantini, MD, PhD, FACOG, from the Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey says women in their 30s should explore all options available to them. This does include egg freezing if you decide to go that route, but it could also involve fertility testing to understand the quality of your eggs and your health. “It is essential to dismantle any myths and give hopeful yet realistic expectations of what medical treatments are available,” she says. “Information is power, and women should never be afraid to empower themselves.”
“I’m afraid I won’t get pregnant because I didn’t on the first try.”
Sure, that friend-of-a-friend on Facebook got pregnant the second she got married. And your other pal? She didn’t even mean to start her family — it happened out of the blue. When you’re attempting to conceive and you feel like everyone but you is seeing success, it’s hard not to stress or feel some level of fertility jealousy. But Paula C. Brady, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Columbia University Fertility Center, stresses that women getting pregnant on their first try is pretty rare. It takes up to six months for roughly 50 to 60 percent of women in their 30s to become pregnant, she says.
“If I cannot get pregnant, I have failed.”
Dr. Merhi explains that far too often when women see a “negative” sign, they instantly start feeling self-doubt. Though dynamics are starting to shift, infertility is still considered somewhat taboo, causing many women who struggle with it to feel as if they have failed. Dr. Merhi notes that infertility is actually labeled a disease by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. “People are not embarrassed to talk about their diabetes or hypertension, so they should not be embarrassed to talk about their infertility,” he says. “Women who have been through infertility treatments should be encouraged to share their stories with other women and open up about their previous challenges. This will alleviate a lot of the fears that women have about their own infertility.”
“I have endometriosis, so I probably can’t have children.”
While every case and diagnosis is different, just because you have endometriosis, cysts or fibroids doesn’t mean you’re infertile, says Janelle Luk, MD, the co-founder and medical director at Generation Next Family. This is why staying on top of your medical journey is essential. “Blood tests and ultrasounds can be beneficial for patients looking to learn more about their bodies, allowing them to make informed decisions on what steps they would like to take,” she explains. “With proper monitoring and treatment — both non-invasive and minor surgery — we see patients with these conditions not only understanding their bodies more but successfully getting pregnant.”
“I’ve heard so many awful things about IVF.”
It’s painful. It makes you gain weight. You need a regular menstrual cycle to pursue it. Or, worst of all: It’s dangerous — for you and the potential baby. Founding partner and practice director of CCRM New York, Brian Levine, MD, explains there are so many rumors surrounding in vitro fertilization — most of which are inaccurate. For example: “There is no evidence to support that people gain weight because they are doing IVF. Sometimes people feel emotional as a result of the hormones through the process, which may increase their appetite but there’s nothing we can give you that makes you gain weight,” he explains. And though you should be mindful and critical of who you choose as your doctor, Dr. Levine says IVF isn’t inherently dangerous, either: “As with any medical procedure, complications can arise, which is why I always tell patients that where you go matters.” IVF is not without risks, but your doctor shouldn’t be willing to expose risk for benefit, he adds.
“I’m healthy but still worry about infertility.”
According to Dr. Levine your dedication to your wellness and your daily choices contribute significantly to your ability to conceive. Generally speaking, managing your weight, remaining active, and stressing less are some of the best steps you can take. “Living a healthy lifestyle is the most positive thing that someone can do to impact their fertility outcome,” he shares. “It’s been demonstrated in numerous studies that having a balanced, normal diet can impact cycle regularity, which is the best predictor of someone being able to get pregnant on their own without assistance.”
“But I read this article online that said…”
Repeat after Dr. Merhi: Google is not a doctor. Much like the deep hole that is WebMD, not all information you find online about fertility is accurate. He says many women will stumble upon something online, take it as gospel and rush into his office, feeling pressed for time to conceive. This is a dangerous territory since the only source of credible information is a doctor you trust and who is aware of your unique background. He challenges women (and men) to ask questions, talk through options, and when you can, trust the process that’s guided by a medical professional — not some random blogger.
If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this: “Fertility is not a progressive slide like everyone thinks it is, with a peak in your 20s and raisin-like ovaries in your 40s,” says Dr. Levine. Because it is so individual, what you should do is be proactive when it comes to yourreproductive health and educate yourself with the best options available for you.