Wow, I haven’t written in quite a while. I’ll get my excuses out of the way. Starting in roughly August of 2016, I entered medical treatment for infertility. It’s an interesting situation. I am by medical definition infertile because I have been unable to get pregnant after 6 months of trying. It’s a pretty broad definition. Realistically, I didn’t come to the place in my life to start a family until 39 through a series of life choices. A few of those choices turned out to be quite poor in reflection, but I hold no regrets for the choices I’ve made (okay, maybe one or two where I was just being plain stupid – but I’ve learned my lesson). Despite no specific medical condition contributing to my inability to get pregnant, other than age, it’s been a long journey so far. Friends and family close know all the nitty gritty details and probably way more about the reproductive process and statistics than they care to at this point because I am always a geek and love that kind of stuff. It’s also my coping mechanism for dealing with the unknown… RESEARCH! Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) is an amazing science moving at a rapid pace and still extremely new in the grand scheme of things. Knowing what I know now, I’m surprised that anyone actually gets pregnant naturally. It’s quite the complicated phenomenon. Statistically, 1 in 7 deals with infertility so behind the general social view that it’s “easy” is a lot of shame, guilt, and things not said or talked about. If I could share just a few things that I’ve learned through this ongoing process it would be this:
First off, IVF (or ART in general) is not the magic cure! I mistakenly thought that since I had the ability to afford IVF that I’d be good until 42, maybe older. I could just throw some science at that shit and… BABY! That is NOT true! IVF success rates continue to drop significantly after 35 and by 40-42 goes from feasible to pretty much impossible if using your own eggs/genetic material is important. All those celebrities getting pregnant after 42 are 99.9999% likely using donor eggs. Cue the social taboo not to talk about such things. Statistically, Intrauterine Insemination (IUI or “the turkey baster”) is only 20% successful each cycle/month under THE BEST situation. Also statistically, it will take three rounds of IVF to have one successful pregnancy (not live birth, pregnancy). And the odds after those three rounds still varies significantly by age, medical factors, AND technology used. There’s a great calculator here, that is considered the standard. It does not take in all factors since not all are reported on.
Secondly, you should ADVOCATE for your reproductive health and ability to plan a family if you should choose one. Our medical practices in this area are seriously lacking. There is a simple blood test (referred to casually as a “Day 3 test”) that tests your estradiol (E2 aka estrogen), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), prolactin (PRL), thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), and anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) levels. It’s done on day 3 of your cycle. These are KEY indicators about the current and future state of health for your reproductive system. With this information you can get the “hey everything is peachy” or “Houston, we might have a problem”. This is combined with an antral follicle count (AFC) scan. The scan is a vaginal ultrasound where they can visually count the number of sleeping egg follicles. The number visible is an indicator of the number available to be recruited in a stimulated cycle (like IVF), but obviously a below average number would indicate that your reserves might be in jeopardy for natural conception. These tests are SIMPLE, relatively inexpensive (~$500) and in my perspective, it’s something that should be done as part of a typical woman’s wellness exam! The number of women in my infertility support group that waited until they found a partner, then tried the “old-fashioned way” without success and were often BRUSHED OFF by their doctors as “too young” to need help, only to find years down the road then they are finally tested that they have premature ovarian failure (POF) or unexpected diminished ovarian reserves (DOR) is astounding and heartbreaking! Knowing this information earlier on means you have the option to consider egg freezing (while the eggs are still fresh), rethink your plan for offspring, or just plain come to terms with it.
So that’s my soapbox at this point. If you think you might ever want to have genetic advocate for early testing, and take a hard look at the statistics for success (natural or ART) for you personally.
In reflection, the information about ART success rates would have encouraged me to look more closely at my reproductive health at a younger age and more seriously considered the options available to me. For now I’m still “old” and throwing all the science at this shit 😊
Despite all of this going on over the last year I’ve still been working, going to school full-time, and traveling. So it’s also not the end of life as you know it either.