Age and Declining Fertility

There is a certain sort of person who will read a post and then, without previous connection, put significant effort into emailing the blogger. This is a little difficult for me to understand these days since I can’t even manage to promptly reply to email from immediate family. I am incredibly impressed with the generosity and kindness of others.

Sure, some of the random emails are freaky, but others are brilliant reminders of the goodness of so many strangers who happen to read my words.

A few of the nicest emails I have gotten have consisted of thoughtful urging to consider having a baby ASAP. Because these people seem so very concerned about me I cannot help but feel a little badly for them for being so worried about me. It does not matter what I am or am not going through or choosing to do, what matters is that they think that I am oblivious to the reality of declining fertility.

That could not be further from the truth. It isn’t just that I was raised to obsess about this sort of thing, or even that I went to a college where the probability of having to undergo fertility treatments was discussed in economics class. As a woman who practices fertility awareness, I quite literally watch my fertility decline.

People like to talk about fertility issues in terms of a woman’s 30s, but that is not the whole story. While fertility does start to decline much more sharply as a woman approaches her mid-30s, it has been dropping for over a decade, even without extenuating fertility issues.

As a 20-year-old I puzzled over how women could expect to have such low pregnancy rates with only a week or week and a half of abstinence. I knew that fertility would decline, but it just did not seem real how much it could decline so quickly. While a 25-year-old may not have a significantly reduced chance of pregnancy in any given month, she may have to, how shall we say… try a little harder than a 20-year-old.

Six years later I am very aware of how old I am and what my reproductive status is and is not. This too is one of the gifts of being in tune with your body. Perhaps this subject is not talked about much because so few women track their fertility during their early 20s without adding in the additional factor of a pregnancy or two. But for those of us who pay attention it would be incredibly difficult to not be aware of declining fertility.

At what point did you first consider declining fertility? If you have not yet, do you think it will be significant to you at some point?

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14 thoughts on “Age and Declining Fertility

  1. Katarina

    At what point did you first consider declining fertility?

    When i met my husband and started seriously considering marriage seriously and children.
    I had sort of never thought about it but i figured it was going to have to fit in my life somehow
    The thing am yet to figure out though is how to resolve the conflict that the most fertile years overlap the early years of growing our careers

    1. Rae Post author

      I wish that our world could figure out a way to get itself together and allow women to develop careers in a way that fits in with fertility. ::sigh::

  2. Mandi

    I”ve always wanted a large family (and thankfully, my husband feels the same), so for me I was always concerned with starting a family now so I could have several children before declining fertility became an issue. Since most women (at least in my experience) seem to want smaller families of 1-3 kids, they aren’t concerned until later, so I think that worrying about declining fertility is very personalized to your own experiences and desires for your family.

  3. Tienne McKenzie

    I’m coming from a slightly different angle, in that I am blessed with high fertility but difficult pregnancies. I haven’t really considered a decline yet, because we conceive so easily, and because we would be content not to have another pregnancy. So I view the eventual decline in my fertility with mixed emotions. Every one of my three children is a joy for me, and I would welcome another child, but I dread another pregnancy. At the moment, my fertility is an obstacle to marital unity since we are both afraid of conceiving while our youngest is still so dependent on me. I would welcome some decline…but I have the privilege (and I am very aware of it) of speaking from the other side. I am 35 and have three children. God has been very generous with His gifts.

    Also, I know too many women with large families who are having babies well into their forties. “Decline” is a relative term, after all, and a drop of 10% doesn’t seem like much when conceiving is still a very likely scenario for me.

    1. Rae Post author

      Such a good point about it all being relative! Considering the fact that both my mother and grandmother had bonus babies in their 40s. It is funny when you have to avoid with the assumption that you are very fertile, even when you can’t ever really *know*.

  4. Maggie

    It was probably about three years ago when my mom and I were talking about women’s health issues and she mentioned that she hit menopause quite early- in her early 40′s. Awhile after that I was talking with my older cousins and some of them had also had early menopause. So of course, I am afraid that will happen to me. I’d like to have a large family, so I guess “timing” is important if I want to space and all that stuff. But I guess right now my feelings are that it will all work out how it is supposed to. A large family might not be in the works for my husband and me. I’m not constantly looking at my husband with a look of “I want your spermies” and want to cram all the children I possibly can in my fertile years.

  5. Michelle

    I have to admit that I considered it first when I was 33. We hadn’t had any trouble conceiving when we desired, but the thought was there, that now that I was “in my 30′s” that I might not be as fertile as I was in my 20′s. I’ve had three babies in my 30′s…one at age 32, one at age 35 and one at age 37. we conceived our first open opportunity for the baby I had at age 32. For the baby I had at age 35, it took three open cycles. For the baby I had at age 37, it took 5 open cycles to conceive.

    I’m not sure how significant it is to me now that I have five children. I always hoped we’d be blessed with enough children that each girl had at least one sister and brother and each boy had at least one sister and brother. Amazingly, my hopes lined up with God’s plan for our family.

    Some days I think I will be perfectly fine if we are not blessed with any more children. other days, it really freaks me out and brings me down to think that I’ve carried my last baby in-utero and been through the birth process for the last time and might be going through the newborn phase for the last time. I can’t really explain it.

    1. Rae Post author

      That is another one of those things that I *know* but cannot really *understand* at this point in my life. All I know is that everyone has to have a last baby at some point. And it was apparently a tremendous source of grief and profound disturbance for my parents in the way that people only recognize with empty-nests. Perhaps we should talk about empty-cradle syndrome.

      1. Mandi

        I have heard a lot of women mention the anguish that came along with knowing that a pregnancy was or might be their last. But it really isn’t something that is talked about much main-stream. I wonder why that is?

  6. Mama Kalila

    To be honest here, this wasn’t something I really thought about until a month ago or so. After my first was born my cycles came back 14 months pp and went into a discernible cycle right away. I won’t say normal, because on average they’re like 35 days (vary quite a bit) and all that, but still… it was easy to chart. This time around… first it took longer for them to come back (tried not to worry then too, he’s a boob man and not slowing down lol) and then I had the craziest cycle I have ever seen. I know my hormones are off and that can be normal while breastfeeding and have nothing to do with my age, but the thought is there in my head. We hope for a large family, want a large family… Not ready to try again yet though so hopefully non issue.

    And yes I agree about the empty cradle syndrome thing… I can’t (and don’t want to) imagine that just yet.

  7. Jessica @ FPL

    Food for thought: Would the people who are so concerned about your fertility and pushing you to have a baby as soon as possible make the same suggestion if you were not married? I am guessing not.

    I say this because I think that too much pressure from well-meaning people talking about declining fertility and all that can be incredibly stressful for single women who don’t have a partner, but would like one. As if dating isn’t stressful enough, now you’ve got the pressure to hurry up and get married so you can start popping out legitimate babies before your biological clock runs up.

    My solution has been not to judge anyone for their decisions about when to get married, have babies, have a career, etc. :)

    1. Susan

      Jessica: I totally agree! Women are already bombarded with “your eggs are drying up” messages, including single women. (The dinner-party scene from Bridget Jones Diary comes to mind.) I’m not sure why some people think young women are unaware of their declining fertility. I can’t pinpoint the time I started considering this, there have been so many messages (from my OB-GYN, media, coworker saying his daughter-in-law shouldn’t wait too long to have kids, etc.).

      Whenever I start to panic about this, I have to remind myself that it’s far better to marry a good man and adopt a child than to rush into a marriage out of fear of not conceiving and then regret the marriage and possibly raise a child in a bad home environment. While women shouldn’t think they have forever to have children, they shouldn’t date out of panic either. “Popping out legitimate babies”—funny!

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