Women are creators. We are blessed with the ability to produce life, and for many of us, having and raising children is a priority. But it’s not the ONLY focus of our lives. In the 1970s, the pioneers of the Feminist Movement taught us all that women are fully capable to be more than just nurturers (i.e., mothers, teachers, nurses), as had been the traditional female role in society. They had us burn our bras and open up to the reality that women are equal to men, and can and should follow their dreams to pursue the education and career paths of their choice.
Your Biological Clock
However, having it all or doing it all does not mean it is easy, nor is it a blueprint for success. Our biological clocks, set firmly at a prime point of 20-35 years old, have not changed despite the shift in our culture.
And so, the burning question becomes this: How do I honor my body’s natural timeline and my eventual desire to be a mother when today, in this moment, my waking hours are devoted to nurturing my career?
Some women are ready for family and children in their early-to-mid 20s, so for them, age-related fertility is not an issue. Still, it doesn’t mean that their decisions aren’t fraught with trade-offs. By putting off or even forgoing education and not getting started on a career path early on, down the road, these women may have limited options. And going back to school or launching a career later in life is not so simple.
Many women want to finish college and get through grad school, then start on their career paths before diving headfirst into having a family. There is only so much time in a day… to nurture a career may require many hours of study or travel for work, and this is definitely not easy with young children at home. Recognizing that fertility has a finite timeline, many women pursue a family in their 30s. For some it means taking a full-on break in their professional lives, and for others it means temporarily grinding their career path to a halt while they have children. Either way, there is sacrifice on both ends of the spectrum.
And then there are women who remain single in their 20s, 30s and 40s …sometimes by choice, and others by happenstance. Nowadays, the options are dynamic; some wait to start the more “traditional” path at a later date, while others choose to pursue single motherhood. Being financially able to support a family in a solo situation may take a long time – to garner the social support and pay for the fertility treatments to make the dream a reality.
No Perfect Time to Start a Family
And so, there is no “perfect” time to start a family, and thanks to modern technology, women have a greater variety of choices today than ever before. Still, our ovaries don’t necessarily follow our brains and our desires – they work on their own timeline. The endocrine timeline is genetically predisposed. It can also be adversely affected by outside forces such as surgeries, infections, endometriosis, and fibroids. Moreover, illnesses and cancers have a way of screwing up even the most perfectly navigated, well-planned course.
The bottom line in today’s world is know your ovarian age. You may be blessed with well-endowed ovaries (who knew that the size of these tiny walnut-sized organs may be more important than the B – or C-cup we longed for as a teen!). If you are blessed with many eggs, then fertility may be a non-issue through age 35. For most women, we see a dramatic change in the slope of the fertility curve after age 35. The rise in miscarriages and Down syndrome babies is exponential after that age. On the other hand, there are some young women who have low ovarian reserve – while they are not necessarily infertile, their trajectory on the fertility curve may be different. They may choose to adjust their goals and plans once they are informed and advised.
Talk to a Fertility Specialist
In the end, as a fertility specialist, I encourage women in their 20s to get comfortable with starting the process of planning their lives. I recommend that you figure out your ovarian age. And, if you decide to postpone childbearing, consider freezing your eggs. Studies suggest that if you engage in human oocyte cryopreservation, the maximal increase in birth rates is seen in women who freeze before age 34. Many women don’t present for egg freezing until their late 30s and early 40s, which decreases the chances of a positive outcome.
The Bottom Line
Bottom line: I advise that you get in touch with the realities of your body, while checking the desires of your mind. Find out who you are, and what your priorities really are. And then make thoughtful decisions as they apply to your career aspirations, as well as your desires to have a family.
By carefully considering all the options, and all the angles, I am confident that you will be able to set a course for success: in the business world, and as a potential parent. Consult your fertility specialist as you make these time-sensitive decisions.
And don’t be afraid to state your pie-in-the-sky case; today we have more options than ever before, and all you have to do is be honest about your goals and aspirations.
Together We’ll Find A Way
To learn more information about fertility preservation, egg freezing and your ovarian age, please contact the West Coast Women’s Reproductive Center.