Thinking about Fertility, While Single

When my father picked me up at JFK on Friday afternoon, the first thing he did–after registering a couple of engraged complaints about the parking/traffic/bad driver situation, of course,–was ask me about the blog.

And then, he asked: “So, besides the blog, what’s new?”

I paused, worried that he meant what I thought he did. And then he did it: he actually asked.

“I mean, how’s your social life?” This, need I explain, is code in my family for “Have you met anybody?”

I tell you this not to make my father look silly, or point out–as I then did, of course–that when one writes compulsively on a personal dating blog, the state of one’s love life should be rather apparent.

My father realized the irony. But of course, he has hope. And it is with that spirit of optomism in mind that I will now ask to engage with you on the subject of fertility.

First, because–though I know I am young–it turns out that twenty-six is THE prime age of female fertility. So far I have felt a true, acute awareness of this exactly once; it involved chasing a curly-haired todddler in blue suspenders through much of Bryant Park and was scary on a number of levels we need not explore.

Second, and surely related, is that the subject keeps coming up with women my age. Yesterday, over tea with a few girlfriends from college, the initial subject–and the one they suggested I blog about–was the striking fact that the only couples we know who are currently serious about getting pregnant are lesbians. I’m not sure I have much insight into this, beyond the close-to-true statement that the only really secure relationships we know are lesbian, and the cliched stereotype that when two women get together things generally just move faster. It’s like Fox and Fox racing Fox and Toad: guess who’s gonna win.

Since the only wisdom we could glean from this was that we should probably also be lesbians, and we’re probably not, we quickly moved on. It may have been me who brought up the “Women’s Health and Reproduction” class a number of us took in college and the incredibly charming, warm and intelligent woman who taught it. (Girls I may have just remembered her name: Liz Jansen??)

Several things she said in that class have stuck with all of us in a major way. One, for me, was on food: “I always thought, as a student, that if food was free it didn’t have calories!” (I mean, right??). And the other was on the subject of getting pregnant.

She talked about the pyschological number that is done on women who try to get pregnant and can’t immediately: we are conditioned our whole young, sexually active lives to think that we are in control of our fertility–spending endless amounts of time, money and energy preventing a pregnancy. So imagine, she said, how difficult it is for women to accept when they finally want to be pregnant, that it it may not happen. Or at least, may not happen as quickly or easily as they’d like.

All of us remembered this speech. Because–as I often think about–what it makes you realize is that you have absolutely no idea how fertile you are–even, whether you are fertile at all–until you test it out. And that is a terrifying thing.

So terrifying, that I brought it up with my aunt A–a social worker whose patients often have fertility problems–at the end of Grandma’s party last night.

“Well if you really wanted to know…” she said. “Do you have a gynecologist?”

I nodded.

“Well you could go in and get your FSH levels tested. It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty good indicator. If it’s below a certain level you know that your ovaries are fine.”

My heart started pounding. And what exactly would I do if they weren’t fine??

A looked at me sympathetically, and then giggled.

“Hurry up?”

At which point I reminded her that I don’t even have a date–much less someone to hurry along in the reproduction process. I momentarily considered whether I could retract one of the emails I sent recently–to a guy whose extended lack of contact upset me but who I’m fairly sure would make a good child-rearing partner–and tell him, instead “Drop everything! Forget grad school! We need to have babies NOW!”

And then I decided that, as crazy as it seems not to know about one’s fertility before you try, it might be even crazier to actually know–before you’re ready to try.

NOTE: I’d love other thoughts on this. Would you single or unmarried twenty-somethings test your fertility if you could??



Filed under Love Life

9 responses to “Thinking about Fertility, While Single

  1. Anna

    I hope that replying while not being single doesn’t make me an asshole…I don’ t have anything deep to say, but I have often thought about how pissed I would be if, after all these years and dollars spent on birth control, I found out I couldn’t have children. I would demand a refund, goddamnnit.
    I dunno – I feel like checking your fertility before you want to have kids might be like jumping into the Delorean and going back to 1955 – no matter what you find out it could have life-altering consequences. But that could be good or bad, I suppose.

  2. Megan

    I am a twenty something (in the second half of the twenties) and while I wouldn’t personally get my fertility tested (mostly because I already worry enough), I do think that considering these things is important. I’m also single and don’t currently have a dating prospect in sight, but I often think about how I would like to have a family and how the older I get, the lower my chances will be (at least to have a biological child) and this makes me sad. If I could start a family now I would. I’ve talked to women my age and even older who seem to think they have an unlimited amount of time to have children and that sort of unrealistic optimism seems misplaced. We do have biological clocks ticking whether we like them or not! 🙂 So, I guess longwinded way of saying that the issues you raise in the post seem important (and I often think of them), but I personally wouldn’t get tested right now because I’d rather not feel the biological ticking any louder than I already do.

    • Megan: thanks so much for your thoughts. I feel the same way about knowing women our age and older who choose not to worry, and in some sense I admire that….but can’t get myself to take the same approach. I’m too neurotic, or maybe just so certain I want a family that it’s hard not to think pragmatically about it. I think you’re right though on the fertility test: sometimes more information is not necessarily helpful! And it sounds like both of us are hurrying things along as best we can…I wonder how things would change if men had to deal with these concerns, too!!

      • Megan

        Glad to know I’m not the only one! Some of the women who don’t think about it (not all) I think are under a false impression that they have limitless time. While I’m super grateful for the women’s liberation movement (now we can choose if we want to work or raise a family or try to do both) I think some women think it means you don’t have to choose. But I think we do have to choose to some degree. There is not limitless time (either years of life or hours in the day) and we have to focus our energies somewhere. Regarding men: I think it would be a LOT easier to start a family if men had that same biological clock ticking. I have talked to male friends who thought I was crazy about thinking about children at the age of 25. At the time I was in a relationship that had been going on for about a year and half and this was a mutual friend of ours. They just don’t get it. 🙂 Well, most of them anyway.

  3. Aunt A

    As “successful”,thoughtful, driven to succeed young women, I am very relieved to hear that you are aware that there really is a biological clock. I can’t tell you how many high achieving women come to fertility centers, somewhere around 40, and can’t imagine, now that they’re “ready”, that they won’t be able to get pregnant. And it is absolutely heart breaking for most of them when they find out they don’t have control over their ovarian reserve and no matter how much they want it, there is often a good chance that it may not happen the “regular” way. I am interested to hear more of your comments and thoughts and am heartened (albeit its so tough) by your appropriate worries.

    • Thank you Auntie A! (I told you your mention wouldn’t hurt, right??) I do think, by the way, that my awareness of these issues stems at least in part from hearing your stories. I do not want to go through the trauma that I know your patients have navigated. Now, to figure out how to avoid it…

  4. Good Web site! I was wondering if I would be able quote a portion of your pages and use a few items for a term paper. Please email me if its ok or not. Thanks

  5. Excellent reading here. I was very intrigued by the various responses by people on here. Fertility is a huge arena, and fertility centers are becoming more proficient at increasing women’s odds and hopes……

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