Women Greatly Underestimate How Fast They Become Infertile

Hour GlassLaura and I were among the first of our friends to get married, at ages 23 and 24, respectively. We also were among the first to start having kids, at age 30 and 31.

I never thought of ourselves as young for these life events, though we were certainly young compared to most in our close social net. What’s wrong with this?

Many women underestimate how fast their fertility declines, with many believing that childbearing in your late thirties, forties or even fifties is a common, low-risk and attainable option. It’s not. The result is a high rate of expensive fertility treatments, high-risk pregnancies, and often childless couples.

NPR highlighted a Harris Online Poll commissioned by EMD Serono underscoring this phenomenon:

What’s the chance a 30-year-old can get pregnant in one try? Many thought up to 80 percent, while in reality it’s less than 30 percent. For a 40-year-old, many assumed up to a 40 percent success rate. It’s actually less than 10 percent. And when you keep trying? The survey finds many think you can get pregnant more quickly than it actually happens. It also shows many women underestimate how successful fertility treatments are.

You can download the full report here.

Why does this happen? NPR’s story pointed to “women-can-have-it-all” societal expectations, and older celebrity moms who give a false sense of comfort in the mass media.

I’ve also long believed that many of my similarly aged friends and peers are entrenched in one of three mindsets that significantly delay marriage and subsequent childbearing. These mindsets are perhaps most common in my own demographic: of middle class, college educated, and hailing from major cosmopolitan areas.

  • The first mindset is an attachment to single life. Whether male or female, many people want to extend their single, independent status for as long as possible.
  • The second mindset is one of the perfect mate. Without getting into fuzzy philosophies of soul mates and compatibility, many people have an extremely rigid construct of what their spouse and childbearing partner should be — making a match a highly unlikely outcome, ever.
  • The third mindset I’ve observed is a combination of the above — people who long for the single life and have a rigid ideal of their potential mate.

To be sure, marriage is not a requirement of child bearing. And pregnancy often prompts marriage. Though for most in my social net, marriage is an intended prerequisite of childbearing. If marriage waits, childbearing tends to wait as well. And waiting longer to get married, or not getting married at all, is a growing trend.

There’s a clear mandate: society needs to correct its misperceptions of fertility. Women of childbearing age need to know the facts, immediately. Men, who are half the equation in childbearing, need to know the facts just as well. Most importantly, children and adolescents need education and conditioning so we can stop distorted expectations and unnatural lifestyles.

(Photo credit: openDemocracy)

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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  1. Max,

    I am an “old Mom” and feel lucky to have two beautiful, healthy children.  I didn’t set out to be an old Mom and was fully aware of what might happen the longer I waited.  For those of us women that do believe marriage is a prerequisite – we often have to wait until we meet the right guy, not just ANY guy.  That didn’t happen for me until I was in my mid-30s; we got married when I was 36 and immediately went to work on building a family.  We did experience fertility issues, struggling to conceive and experiencing several miscarriages.  I was 38 when I had my first child and 42 with my second which my doctors termed a “miracle baby”.  It’s not always a woman’s choice to wait and be oblivious to their biological clock – I heard it loud and clear, but had to fill that prerequisite first.

    1. Thanks for sharing your personal story. I think waiting for the right guy is the right thing to do. The important thing is you were educated and made a conscious decision given your circumstances and prerequisites. As the research is showing, there are growing misperceptions with couples learning too late.

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