You know how the egg cartons from the grocery store have expiration dates stamped on them? Living alone, it takes me a while to use a dozen eggs. I usually ignore the dates and keep using the eggs until they’re gone. If it’s really getting dicey, I’ll hard-boil them for sandwiches because I don’t want them to spoil. Eggs cost money, and, judging by the noises my neighbor’s chickens make, they aren’t easy to lay.
But I’m not talking about chicken eggs today; we have to talk about our own eggs, the ones we women produce in our ovaries, the ones that occasionally hook up with our partner’s sperm and make babies. I’ve said it here before and you don’t want to hear it again, but our eggs have expiration dates, too. Sometimes you can stretch things out a bit, but the time will come when if you don’t use them right now, they’ll be no good.
A recent Radiant Menopause podcast made the human egg situation very clear. In a Nov. 23 interview titled “OMG, I forgot to have a baby,” Joyce Harper, a professor of reproductive science at London’s Institute for Women’s Health, gave us the depressing facts on eggs and fertility.
Harper spoke from experience. When she was 28, she was ready to have children, but her husband was not. After they split when she was 32, she got into a relationship with another man who was also not ready. At 35, with a new guy who was ready, they started trying for a baby, but nothing happened. Tests and IVF followed. Just before her 40th birthday, she gave birth to a son. They wanted more children and had twin boys via frozen embryo transfer two years later. Easy, you think? No. Harper did get her children but it took seven years of high-tech trying at great financial and emotional cost. The trauma of all those years when she couldn’t have a child will never go away, she said.
Fertility does not wait for us to be ready, warned Harper. She is on a crusade to make people understand the math. At 35, fertility dives and the chance for miscarriage rises. Most miscarriages happen because something is wrong. The baby wouldn’t survive due to chromosome abnormalities or other problems. The eggs decline in quality as we age, so we’re more likely to miscarry when we’re older. We feel young, but our ovaries act the same way they did a hundred years ago, Harper said.
Gateway Women guru Jody Day wrote on her blog, “Most doctors agree that by the time a woman is 40, her chances of getting pregnant each month are approximately 5 percent.” That’s pretty poor odds.
There are exceptions to every rule, but for most women, conception after 40 will be difficult if not impossible. Menopause may not come for another decade—51 is the average age–but the factory is already shutting down. The age when your mother hit menopause is a good clue as to when you will, Harper said.
Here’s something crazy and seemingly unfair. Men’s fertility only declines slightly with age. Normal ejaculate contains more than 100 million sperm. Women are born with 300,000-400,000 eggs, but by puberty most of them have already died. During a lifetime, we ovulate about 500 eggs; the rest just die and slough away. What was God thinking?
What can we do if our relationship situation does not allow us to get on with the baby-making before our eggs expire? Harper said more women are using donor sperm every year, but that’s not how most want to have their families. Freezing one’s eggs is a viable option. The ovaries may shut down, but the womb stays quite healthy. As you get older, pregnancy poses more risks, and you have to ask yourself whether you want to have a baby in your late 40s or 50s, but it can be done, just not in the usual way. When we hear about older women having babies, we can assume they had help. They usually have a willing partner, too.
According to an article in the AARP magazine (for people over 50), the majority of 50-plus women who become pregnant use donor eggs fertilized by sperm and implanted into a womb. It’s expensive, $25,000 to $30,000 for one attempt. You could put a down payment on a house for that. Insurance rarely covers it, and it rarely works the first time. In fact, Day’s post said IVF fails in 77 percent of cases. You cannot count on it. You may go through a lot and still end up childless.
Bottom line? You can’t just let the years go by and hope for a miracle. The eggs won’t wait.
Harper has a new book, Your Fertile Years: What You Need to Know to Make Informed Choices, coming out in April 2021. It’s available for pre-order at Amazon.com now.
Feel free to share this post with your partner. Listen to the podcast, buy the book, and make an informed decision.
I know this isn’t a happy story. But with eggs, it’s use them or lose them.
As you think about whether or not you’ll ever have children, do you worry about your age and your eggs? Do men really understand how this works? I welcome your comments.
The new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both will be here next week. I will offer the ebook for a ridiculously low price during December so you all can get your copies. All the info will be in next week’s post.