As Cami's birthday approaches, I find myself feeling some sorrow that my baby is not a baby anymore. Sunrise, sunset, and all of that mushy stuff, of course, but this time, there's also some real heartache and sadness because for the first time, I have a baby turning two and I'm not pregnant. Actually, I've never had a child be 18 months old before and not been pregnant -- my biggest space between children is 2 years and 4 months between the twins and Eliza.
My kids are all close in age, and while that can be challenging, I have loved it. There are wonderful friendships that develop and great fun to be had. It's created a wonderful family dynamic and it's made it possible for me to have a large family and still feel young enough to enjoy them.
The difficult health problems I experienced after Cami's birth mean that she might be our last. If she is, while I grieve the loss of what might have been (I've felt for years that there was at least one more boy coming), I am grateful that I took full advantage of the time I had to bear children, even though it was shorter than I thought it would be.
Being able to have children is not something I take for granted. I've had friends and family struggle with infertility, and it's not an easy battle.
In our world of conflicting messages about having it all and "girl power," there's a whole lot of talk about choices and mommy tracks and birth control, but there's not much said about the fact that with all of modern medicine, sometimes the only control we have over birth is when NOT to have a child. We take for granted that we will be able to have children when we want them.
But the truth is, the window of fertility is small. I've written about this subject before, but it's been on my mind lately. Last summer, I read the book Motherhood Rescheduled, about the science and practicalities of the new frontier of egg-freezing and one thing that hit home to me was how in the fertility world, anyone over 30 is starting to be considered old and anyone over 40 is ancient. Women's bodies were designed for peak fertility in the 20s. Pregnancy postponed for various reasons -- needing to find a spouse (pretty important one!), wanting to be more established in a career, not feeling ready -- often means fertility problems and sometimes it means being childless, even after interventions and heart-breaking fertility treatments. The book was pretty optimistic about the options and doors that egg-freezing might open up, even while it was pretty clear that many women who froze their eggs in order to keep their options open were still unable to have the family they desired.
Recently, several experiences have helped me realize how fragile our control over this aspect of our lives really is. A good friend of mine is in her mid-30s has been trying for over a year to have another baby, and as the months pass, she has yet to realize her desires. Another friend is now halfway through a pregnancy with twins after struggling with infertility treatments and enduring three devastating miscarriages.
The amazing Michelle writes movingly of her struggle with age-related fertility in her post "should've had another baby."
"I’m writing the truth I wish I’d heard five years ago: you don’t have as much time to have children as you think.
In an age where the tabloids show women in their mid and late forties snuggling newborns, infertility treatments abound and ‘forty is the new thirty’ I think we’ve forgotten the reality of the biological clock.
Here are the cold hard facts: a woman’s fertility peaks in her early twenties, declines in a gentle slope through our twenties with a slightly steeper drop in our thirties. But get ready for the nosedive at forty. The rates drop from 30% at age forty, to 10% at 41, 4% at 42 and 1.6% at 43 (even with every technique known to modern medicine). . .
For two and a half years I fought just to stay above water; adding in a pregnancy and a baby seemed insane. But last winter on my 43rd birthday we went back to the round of doctors. I knew I wasn’t quite emotionally stable (will I ever be?), but I also sensed I was running out of time. After three sets of doctors (the first two pretty much laughed me out of their office) the test results came back, “I don’t ever want to say there’s no chance,” the doctor began, “and I’d love for you to prove me wrong. But statistically, we’re looking at 0%.” He went on to explain most women my age having babies are using egg donors. “That’s what you’re seeing in the tabloids.” There are the exceptions, and I certainly thought I’d be among them, but the doctor said he sees hundreds and hundreds of women in their early forties who feel sure they too, will be the exception.
I'm 36, which means I'm starting along the downward curve of fertility. If we decide to have more children, it's likely to take me much longer to get pregnant and my risk of miscarriage is higher. Of course, I could be an exception. But most likely, I only have a few more years of pregnancy and child-bearing left.
Age-related infertility isn't something you plan for or think about when you're young and 40 seems a long way off. I had a conversation with a friend back when I was first having children who saw no urgency in having children. "What's the difference?" she asked, "Five children now or five children later?" The difference, I think I'd say now, is that the longer you wait, the less likely it will be that you are able to have the number of children you desire. The difference, I'd say, might be "Five children now or three children later." Your circumstances may change and your health or age may preclude you from having the family you desire.
Whether I'm able to have more children or whether that chapter of my life is closed, I have no regrets about the way I've spent my life up to this point. If anything, I am even more grateful for the nine children I've been blessed with and the privilege I've had to be a mother.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject, even as I'm still sorting through mine. What has been your experience with fertility? If your family is complete, was the size of your family determined by choice or by circumstances? Have you felt the tug of 'what might have been' or experienced infertility? Did you have a hard time leaving behind the baby stage?