Your Fertile Years: What You Need to Know to Make Informed Choices by Professor Joyce Harper, Sheldon Press, 2021.
Back in 1969, Dr. David Reuben published a little book titled Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. People couldn’t wait to read it because frankly they were afraid to ask. Joyce Harper, professor of Reproductive Science at University College London and a longtime fertility researcher, has written a 2021 version that includes everything a woman or man could possibly want to know about sex and reproduction. Loaded with research and study results, it’s not easy reading, but here are the facts about menstruation, fertility, how to have good sex, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases, how a baby gets made, egg freezing, in vitro fertilization, menopause, and the future of reproductive science–artificial wombs that could be implanted in men?!!! Everyone with reproductive parts should have this book on hand.
Harper, who has three children conceived by IVF, is very frank about age and reproduction. Men are blessed with millions of sperm and keep making them throughout life. Women come with a limited supply and a deadline. If you want to get pregnant the natural way, she says, you should do it before age 35. In your 20s would be even better. To make things worse, she cites studies that show fertility begins to decline at a younger age for women who have not had children.
She writes: “In my view, women need to decide if they want a family in their late twenties to early thirties, and, if they do, they need to make some important life choices. If they have a willing partner, they can decide to start trying soon, or if they have decided on solo motherhood, they may wish to start donor insemination An expensive alternative is to have their eggs frozen. Or they could decide to wait, in the hope that they will be one of the lucky ones.”
Worldwide, young people are delaying childbirth. They are anxious to finish their education and establish their careers. They want to be in a stable relationship, preferably with the house and the picket fence before they attempt to get pregnant. Totally understandable. Times have changed and women have more options, but their ovaries have not changed. Even those who decide to freeze their eggs in the hope that they will find the perfect partner later on are encouraged to do so in their 20s, when their eggs are the most healthy and plentiful.
“Freezing eggs gives women more time to try to find Mr/Ms Right, rather than rush into a relationship with Mr/Ms Second Best. Some of those women who have a partner freeze their eggs to take the pressure of the relationship These women are usually older than the ideal age to freeze eggs, with the majority being over 35,” Harper says.
Couples who run out of natural options can turn to Assisted Reproductive Therapy (ART), which includes IVF, donor insemination, and other techniques. It’s stressful, expensive, and frequently not covered by insurance. In her book, Harper describes all the options in detail, along with the side effects and the odds of success. It’s not something you want to go into without thinking hard about it. How much is that baby worth to you?
Circling back to our theme here at Childless by Marriage, ART is not even an option if your partner doesn’t want a child in the first place.
The biggest lesson of Your Fertile Years is that you need to decide early how important it is to you to have children. If you can’t imagine life without them, you need to take action, whether it’s convincing your partner that you can’t wait, finding someone else to donate sperm or egg, freezing your eggs, or ending a childless relationship in the hope of finding someone new who wants to have children as much as you do.
This book goes way beyond having babies. Even if you decide not to have children, it offers extremely useful information about periods, PMS, birth control, STDs, and more, all that stuff your mom probably never told you. I know mine didn’t. Thank God for books.
My interview at the UnRipe podcast with Jo Vraca is online now. Listen to it here. Jo asked some hard questions. At the end, you hear a woman singing in the background. That’s me.
Our Nomo Crone Childless Elderwomen fireside chat last Sunday went very well. We are some rowdy ladies, all proof there is life beyond age 55, even if you never had children. Here’s the link to listen to the recording.