Don’t expect to get pregnant in your 40s

Women in their 40s who are still trying to figure out whether to have children are not going to like this post, but they need to know the facts.

A reader sent me a comment today that fit right in with a recent news story I was planning to share. She’s 42 and has a child from a marriage that went sour. Now she’s dating a 28-year-old man she calls her soul mate. At first he said he didn’t want children, but now he does, and she’s stewing over whether or not to have a child for him. Read the whole comment here.
The thing is, she’s not likely to get pregnant at 42, even if she decides she is willing. Check out this article at “The‘Big Lie’ in putting off pregnancy” makes it clear that while today’s 40-year-olds may be as youthful as yesteryear’s 25-year-olds, their eggs are old-school. A lot of the reason more than twice as many women age 40-44 are childless as in 1976 is that they’re delaying parenthood while they build their careers and enjoy the unfettered life. Meanwhile their eggs are going stale. By the time they think about having children, it’s too late.
The article notes that a woman in her 20s has a 20-25 percent chance of conceiving naturally per menstrual cycle. In her early 30s, the chances are 15 percent. After 35, it goes down to 10 percent. After 40, the number falls to 5 percent, and after 45, it’s only 1 per cent. It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the way it is.
Well, you can just go to the doctor and start fertility treatments, you say. Unfortunately, most of the women who go that route do not successfully conceive. They spend thousands of dollars, experience lots of disappointment and sometimes several miscarriages before they give up. Sure, we hear about celebrities and others having babies in their 40s, but for most of us that’s not going to happen.
Last night, I lay in bed running the numbers. During my first marriage, I was in my 20s, but my husband wasn’t ready for children. When I married Fred, I was 33. I had time, but not much. Scary.
A lot of readers who comment here are in their late 30s or early 40s, still trying to work out the baby thing with their mates. I hate to put more pressure on you, but there’s no time to waste. Men can wait, but women can’t. In your discussions, show them the numbers. Maybe they’ll get the point.

21 thoughts on “Don’t expect to get pregnant in your 40s

  1. Yup Sue, this does interest me. Sort of. At 39 I know my fertile years are in decline. The numbers don't lie. Still, I don't read facts like this and think – “opps, I better do something – fast.”

    I'm not sure why but in this area of my life I behave almost like an innocent bystander. I have unprotected sex with my husband on a mostly regular basis. If it's going to happen – it will happen. If it doesn't, then I probably won't be a mother.

    The lack of burning desire confuses me. Maybe I know that I don't have it in me to go the fertility route. I know I would never do in-vitro (no judgement – just not for me). I'm in debt and have no savings. How would I afford these sorts of avenues anyway?

    We have almost 30 nieces and nephews. Many of whom we are very close to. Maybe that is enough for us? I'll probably be relieved when these “maybe” years are over.

    But there still feels like a piece missing. Maybe it's because society tells me it's odd for me to not have children in my family centered small town. Maybe I feel I've disappointed my parents. Maybe I'm just sad that I won't ever know what a child of mine would look like or behave.

    Sometimes I see a photo of my brothers children and I feel a thrill when their smile or a bit of their profile looks like me. I'm shedding tears as I type (quite unexpectantly) so there is something that bothers me and I continue to look for that “I'm okay – I know I'm okay” moment.

    Anon S


  2. Anon S, maybe the lack of burning desire is a protective mechanism. In my experience, the hardest time is where you're at, the “maybe” years. Once it's over, it's easier to relax. The tears will still come at unexpected times. Sometimes I get angry. But most of the time it's okay. And who knows? It's not impossible to conceive after 40, just a lot less likely.


  3. Yeah, Sue it could be. For the most part the time when I wish I had a child are mostly self serving. Example, wish I had a little girl and I throw the sweetest birthday parties (because I'm creative and fun and would do a really, really cute one). When photographers post those super cute family photos. Christmas morning. Taking kids to get ice cream. I welcome all this FUN stuff.

    I've found that tagging along at a nieces birthday party I'm happy when the younger sister wants to hold my hand. Or dinners out with my brother-in-law feels good when the kids fight to sit next to me. Random hugs from my old niece are great. I love talking to all these children. I truly enjoy watching their excitement, joy, whatever.

    A few times my heart pulls. When a favorite niece doesn't want ME but her mom when she falls down. That is when I know I'm just a beloved aunt and nothing more. Maybe that is enough.

    I certainly don't mind my child free life when they pull out of the in-laws driveway with howling children in the back seat. Or people post, on facebook, issues with their children. I don't mind getting to do lunch and a movie whenever I want. Sometimes even the dogs weigh me down. So maybe I'm okay just as I am. Maybe.

    Anon S


  4. I just love these fear monger articles. I think they are just trying to scare women more than infirm them. We live in an age where women have made progress. They no longer have to live like our grandmothers. It seems having a child has taken priority over a steady relationship because you better not delay or else. Yes there may be a few more risks at advanced maternal ages, but what about the overweight drug addicted 20 somethings? I would rather gamble with my fertility later in life than take a chance being a terrible patent. I think this generation is being encouraged to marry and have kids early like no other options exist. It just burns society for some reason that more women and staying single and child-care free. I feel sorry for these baby obsessed women. I was that woman once and finally realized I can live a happy life with no kids. Women don't need children to be women. I just wish people would put more thought into having kids if they want to do so.


  5. Roddma, I really debated about approving this comment because it's so mean-spirited. I think you're not quite getting the point about having babies after 40. The eggs are gone. You have nothing left to make a baby with by your mid-40s. That's not fear-mongering; it's fact. Also fact is that fertility treatments don't work in the majority of cases.
    Should people think hard about having children and make sure they and their mates are in the right space before they do it? Absolutely, but I will not accept people bashing people who want children in this blog.


  6. First I was not bashing people who want children. I wanted them myself, but learned I am still a complete woman. Women are still pressured to have kids and I just think it's sad. Second, this article blames fertility solely on women. A woman can indeed be fertile in her early 40s. I have read other articles that refute older motherhood myths. Note they never address the positive outcomes. Halle Berry had her first child at 43 and another recently at 47. Yes she's an actor, but she is much better shape than most 20 somethings. Add Madonna and Lucille Ball to the list too. Also, they fail to address the 20 somethings who need fertility treatment . I am probably done with this blog. Even if we want or wanted kids, not everyone has baby hunger. And childless women are the most bashed people.


  7. Roddma,
    I'll be sorry to lose you. We need people who are willing to speak out and offer different points of view. People can get pregnant in their 40s,as you say, but you can't count on that happening. Most women are getting pretty low on eggs by then. And yes, even younger women–and men–can have fertility problems.
    Not everyone has baby hunger; that's true. Many of the readers here are in the throes of trying to decide what to do about babies, but certainly I know lots of childless women who are completely at peace with not having children. To be honest, if you handed me a baby now, I would not be thrilled.
    I wish you all the best.


  8. I doubt Halle Berry used her own eggs at forty seven, to be honest. The fact is is that it IS much harder to conceive AND carry to term after forty. The miscarriage rate is much higher, too. I don't see this as fear inducing but factual.


  9. I believe that women have been deceived by media into thinking that they TOO can be “like the stars” – talk to any reputable ob/gyn and he/she will tell you point blank that the chances of a woman conceiving naturally AND with her own eggs at the age of 47 are essentially a million to one. Clearly there are rare cases of “change of life” babies but they are the exception and not the norm. The chances of conceiving each month at the age of 41 are 5% – and that is not even allowing for miscarriage (which is higher) – so essentially, it's a gamble to wait.


  10. I don't see it as being decieved by the media. There does seem to be a stigma against older mothers. A 50 yr old man picking his five year old at daycare is cute while it is not cute for a woman of the same age. My husband's aunt had a child naturaly conceived at 42, no issues!She is 82. While yes it may be harder, it does not mean you have nothing left. It reminds me of an old saying about age' just because you have snow at the top doesn't mean there is no fire in the furnace”


  11. Sue, I did get pregnant at age 45 via donor egg, and honestly I didn't consider roddma's comments to be mean-spirited. I feel that I'm giving my child a MUCH better life than say my husband's niece who had her baby out of wedlock, has always fought the baby daddy to deny him custody or visitation, and has collected money from the government. Sorry, but that's not mean-spirited at all. JMO. And to the other Anonymous, so what if Halle Berry didn't use her own eggs at 47?


  12. I will politely post another point of view. My MD told me that women -can- get pregnant, right up until menopause. It is more difficult, yes, but possible. If you still get periods, you can still get pregnant.

    That being said, many women that wait until their early 40's and struggle with infertility would have also done so in their early 30's. They just didn't know it because they never tried before.

    I am at that early 40's, no child point. I have done my homework. I have had all the pertinent testing done, and do indeed still have healthy eggs.

    What I struggle with are the 'down the road' numbers. I look and feel much younger than I am, probably as I have not had children as yet. But then I do the math. At 42, my parents are 70 and 72. I am still very close to them, and both need and want them in my life. If I were to get pregnant tomorrow, when my child is 42, lord willing, we would be 85 and 88. Is that fair? is it right, is it good? I know having kids young is no guarantee you'll be around for them, but having kids old is almost a guarantee you won't.

    That being said, people are living healthier, longer. Could that compensate for waiting so long? In theory, my child could have 20 or more years with its grandparents, which is more than I got, even though they had me at the 'right' time. (My parents both still work full time by choice, not need)

    Incidentally, late births run on both sides of my family. Prior to birth control, women commonly had babies up until menopause. I have a grandmother that had her last at 44, and great aunts that had babies at 45, 46 (x2) 48 and 50. The latter two thought they were in menopause and…uh…oops?

    I guess my point is, that while there is no guarantee you will be able to have children in your 40's, there is no guarantee you won't, either. Life works out the way it's meant to. In my case, it wasn't putting off motherhood in my 30's, it was circumstances that prevented it, and choices I made at the time, some of which I regret now. But I did the best I could at the time.

    And, the MD that advised me? Had her two, naturally, at 43 and 46. Like me, she didn't want to wait that long, but college, med school, internship, setting up practice, then meeting an appropriate guy and having a solid relationship took time. Also, I have read that Halle Berry stayed in shape, controlled her blood sugar (she is diabetic), and prayed for a sibling for her first. She was 'surprised' by the pregnancy, but actively trying. It is very possible it was her own egg. Maybe not, but not impossible either. Thanks for letting me post the 'other side of the argument'.

    Anon E


  13. Anon E, Thank you for posting this comment. It really does give another, more hopeful point of view. The bottom line is that we're all different, and people do indeed have ability to get pregnant in their 40s. I don't think we should count on it, but then again, you can't know for sure if you can do it even at 20 or 30. All you can do is hope and pray. And yes, you should do the math, and see if it will work for you, not just now, but as the child grows up.


  14. Roddma you are a smart woman and your right. There are women who have children in their forties healthy children. It is nonsense that out of the 100,000 eggs left at 40 you can't get pregnant.


  15. Anonymous reader it does seem to be a stigma against older mothers and it pisses me off. Not everyone wants to have a baby at 12.


  16. I am a 34 year old male who will not be ready for children for about ten years. I gotta get my life in order first. I wasted my twenties doing stupid stuff and now am going to be ready to start dating in about 5 years. When that five years passes I will have been single for 22 years. I refuse to be a step parent and have to marry a woman who has never been married and doesnt already have children. My question is should I not even consider women that are my age and only attempt to date a woman that is 15-20 years younger than me being that this is what I want? Or, would a woman my age still be something to consider? Like I said step parenting is NOT an option for me. please email your thoughts to thank you!


  17. David,
    I'm posting my thoughts here. I think a lot of women are not going to like your comment. You can't usually order your life like a meal at a restaurant: a burger, a side of fries, salad with no croutons . . . What about love? What about finding a person you will want to be with for the rest of your life? If you do find that person, she will have needs and desires. She might even have kids. I don't think age is really relevant here. More and more women are not having children, so you will probably be able to find someone who won't burden you with stepchildren. If you find someone your age five years from now, she will be near the end of her childbearing years, so hey, no problem. I'd love to know if you get any responses.


  18. I got pregnant within 3 months, the fIrst time i ever tried. That was 3 months after my 40th birthday. Completely natural and healthy conception and delivery. I'm not gonna lie: the pregnancy was a little rough on me. But I was healthier than I had ever been in my life before so there's no way to know if it would have been different earlier. What would have been different earlier: motherhood. It would have been VERY rough. My life was full of obstacles and tragedies, largely in the form of bad relationship choices with fear based thinking men. I met the love of my life the day after my 40th birthday. So. …it happened at the right time. ..for ME. Another thing: i won't be middle aged till my 50s. Women in my family who have had babies in their 40s trend to live past 100. We're a bunch of badass bitches. 🙂


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