“Augh!!” she moaned, “One of my guy friends called me tonight to whine about this girl he’s dating. He really likes her, but he’s thinking of dumping her because as he said to me tonight, ‘Erin, she’s soooo old!’”
“How old is he?” I asked.
“Thirty-six,” she answered.
“How old is she?”
“Thirty-six,” Erin answered. “He really wants children, so he typically doesn’t date anyone older than thirty-one.”
Over the last ten years, there’s been a lot written on ‘older’ women and their fertility issues. For example, one fact these articles like to throw at you: the odds of having a child with Down Syndrome for a woman at age 40 are more than ten times that of a woman who has a child in her twenties. It’s totally true, of course, but you know what those articles don’t tell you? The chance of a 25-year-old woman having a child with Down Syndrome is 1 in 1250 or 8/100ths of a percent. The chance of a 40-year-old woman having a child with Down Syndrome is 1 in 100 or 1%. (Got those figures from the National Institute of Health, by the way.) Not only that, but those odds either increase or decrease based on your family history…so a woman at age 40 with no family history of Down Syndrome has a less than 1% chance of having a child with it.
As for fertility issues, there seems to have been a definite increase for both women AND men in the last few decades. And yes, a lot of women (and men) are waiting to have children until they’re older. My question is, how much of the problem has to do with age? We don’t eat like our parents did during their child-bearing years. Today food is a lot more processed, has more preservatives, and contains a variety of strange ingredients. We take a lot more medications than our parents did – from birth control to mood elevators to sleeping aids to dietary supplements. We work much longer hours than our parents did. We get much less sleep than our parents did. We likely have a lot more stress than our parents did, and many of us get less exercise than our parents did. I’m not saying that age isn’t a factor – I’m just wondering if it’s the only one that’s semi-trackable and therefore often receives the bulk of the blame.
Anecdotally, I will say this. Most of the people I know who have experienced infertility, have experienced it regardless of age. They couldn’t have children at 28 or 40. In my lifetime, I have met two people like this. You’ll often read articles stating that women have a better chance at a pregnancy later if they’ve already had one child at an earlier age, the recommendation being pop one out now and get your body in gear if you think you want to have one later. To me though, this suggests that age isn't the biggest factor for fertility. Instead it says, if you are fertile at 25, you'll probably still be fertile at 40.
For the record, I am 36. I've never taken any medications or drugs besides the occasional antibiotic. I walk several miles a day. I'm neither over nor underweight. I eat fairly decently, get a decent amount of sleep, and generally avoid the presence of chemicals in soaps, shampoos, make-up, lotions, and other toiletries. My cycle is regular, the length of it has never increased, and the last time I had a blood test my FSH levels (which if I remember stood for follicle-stimulating hormone and is somehow correlated with fertility) were smack dab where they should be for a person in their reproductive years. While I have never tried to get pregnant, my mother used to complain about how fertile she was, and after having her last kid at 35, moved into a separate bedroom. Suffice to say that although I won't be certain until I try, there's nothing physically or genetically going on to indicate that I couldn't get pregnant if I wanted.
So yesterday around noon, as a result of my call the night before, I shaved three years off my age in my profile…as an experiment. The results? Twenty four hours later, over 40 people have viewed my profile and five men (the oldest being 40) have emailed me. Insofar as I consider my ability to pop one out as good as the next thirty-three-year-old, I think I’m going to let my profile stay that way. And for all the men and women who think turning thirty-five marks the death knell for a woman’s ability to have (healthy) children, unless you really want one after thirty-five, I’d recommend that you keep with your practice of birth control.