Infertility Over 35:
If you are reading this, you may be experiencing infertility over the age of 35. Or perhaps you are the friend or a family member of someone in this position. Infertility for this age group takes on a different perspective. Infertility at any age is an extremely rough andpainful road, however the infertile woman at 35 or 38 or 41 has another foe to fight:
Each day that passes brings a slight increase in pressure to resolve the infertility, before time runs out. The clock ticks louder. She wonders how much time she really has to have her own biological child. She lies awake at night with fears more easily ignored during a busy day, and wonders if she EVER will. Who hasn'
t heard the questions?
- "So,how about you two?"
- "It's your turn now!"
- "About time you started a
family! You're not getting any younger, you know!"
- "I'm waiting for those grandchildren!".
A missed treatment cycle feels like months. Each unsuccessful cycle is one step closer to the end of her dream. Her body begins to work against her, heeding some deeply hidden biological program to halt her ability to reproduce. There is a fear that at any given visit with the doctor, she will say "There is nothing more I can do" because of age.
When I was asked to write a short article about infertility over age 35, I had plans of writing a very factual and informative description of the issues that couples of this age group face. I marshalled my facts, created an outline, and sat down at the computer, armed and ready. Nothing. Over the next eight weeks, I had a similar experience. Nothing. Blank screen. No flashes of inspiration to share. So, instead, I have decided to write the story of one person's journey.
The Road I Have Travelled
I was 20 years old when I entered my first serious, long-term relationship. It was a relationship that would last 5 years and take me from my home state of Illinois to Wisconsin and Missouri. At the time, it was a good relationship, or it seemed so. However, we both felt young, too young to be parents. We sensed in each other the need to mature before becoming responsible for another human being. We were young and we had time.
But, as with many things, we changed and so did the relationship. When I was nearly 26, we parted ways. I had a strong desire to obtain a Master's degree, to do work which would make a difference in the world. My plan had always been to return to school, so I followed that path. I spent the next two years in graduate school. I studied. I worked. I didn't have time or energy for another relationship. I felt I needed to grow, to mature, to find out who I was. At 28, I returned to Illinois and found a job. I settled into an apartment and re-connected with old friends. Most of my friends were married, and some had children already. I now felt ready for a relationship, but not quite ready to be a parent. But I had time.
I work in a female-dominated field, therefore I found few opportunities to meet anyone to date. At the age of 30, a friend of a friend and I found we had something in common. Though we had known each other for awhile, something clicked. We spent as much time as possible together. Phone bills skyrocketed! But we both knew we had found what we were looking for. We married when I was 31 and he was 32. We both wanted a family, but decided we would wait for a year or so. We wanted to travel, learn about each other, grow together, experience new things together. And we had time.
We started to prepare to begin our family. We bought a house with bedrooms for the children we would have. When we put in our flower beds in the back yard, I said "Be sure to leave room to play!", thinking of the football games and birthday parties we would have there. I happily noted toddlers and babies around us; our children would have friends. And next door, a potential babysitter. I made sure I took my folic acid every day. We stored up vacation time for maternity leave. We gladly took the donations of baby items from friends who no longer needed them. I was given a copy of "What To Expect When You're Expecting" by a friend, and it sat on my nightstand. I would eagerly peruse it, waiting for the day I would be pregnant. My mother moved to our town to be closer so she could help with her grandchildren. We planned how we could make it one salary, or if I worked part-time. And we waited.
At my routine check-up with the OB/GYN, I mentioned my concerns about not being pregnant yet. I was 34 years old. He suggested I wait for 6 more months. I was uneasy. Though we had not be trying to conceive actively until fairly recently, I thought something was wrong. I waited a few more months. I voiced concerns to my friends, who told me I was worrying for nothing and my fears were all in my head. On a day in June, two months after my doctor's appointment, I sat down at my desk at work. I signed on to the Internet. In the search box I typed "infertility". I read the RESOLVE web site with a pit in my stomach and tears running down my face. I knew for sure at that moment there was a problem. I went to INCIID. I went to Fertile Thoughts. Each new site bringing a fresh wave of pain and a glimpse of my future. I referred myself to an Reproductive Endocrinologist the next day.
I will be 36 shortly, my husband is 37. The baby things are hidden in the basement and in closets. I do not read "What To Expect When You're Expecting" anymore. I read infertility books. Our friends have at least two children each. We do not have any. As of this writing, we have had five failed IUIs. We have poor insurance coverage and do not know how long we can continue. We are considering IVF and adoption. Our infertility problem lies with me. There is not a day that goes by when I do not have that stab of pain when I realize I may never see my husband's dimples on our baby. I would do anything for my husband, but I cannot do this one thing for him. My mother watches as her only possible chance of having grandchildren fades.
The Road We Share
Couples who are 35 and over who are infertile must face a variety of hurdles. Often their friends and family have children or are pregnant. And, unfortunately, the infertility can become a barrier between a couple and their friends. Possibly even a barrier between the couple and their family. And, sadly, often a barrier between the couple themselves. The stress of infertility on a relationship is well-documented. The possibility of facing a future without a partner and without a child as each approaches mid-life can be a frightening prospect. There may be feelings of guilt or regret about the past, about decisions and choices made long ago. The couple watches co-workers, friends and family members get pregnant. They feel left out and left behind. And they feel empty.
For all us facing infertility we must find creative ways to leave work for tests and procedures. We hunt for private phones at our job sites to discuss lab results and treatment plans or fight with insurance companies. We struggle to maintain some control when hormones make us feel like strangers to ourselves. We cringe at the baby shower invitation in the mail. We cut short visits with friends and family to avoid their probing questions. We send a gift to the two year old's birthday party because attending is an all too painful reminder of what we don't have. We find we are now part of a fight to educate the public as well as those in our personal circle about infertility.
There are no standard, pat reasons for being 35 and facing infertility. Often there is an assumption that a woman was 'too busy' to have children, as if having a career is a sin. Or the couple delayed family building to enjoy a freer lifestyle. These are the easy answers, the superficial reasons, and not always true. Perhaps it took longer than expected to find the 'right person.' Perhaps the infertility problem was known for years due to a medical condition. Perhaps job instability or finances impacted a couple's decision to have children. There are a myriad of reasons as well as myths.
I hope that all of us facing infertility find resolution, either with healthy pregnancies, adoption, or choosing to live child-free. Whenever possible, educate, educate, educate!! The media is sensationalizing infertility treatments and accurate portrayals of infertility are few and far between. Legislation is pending in many states for insurance coverage for infertility treatments. Advocate for this legislation, so we all may benefit. And so those who follow us down this road may have a few less bumps along the way.
Finally, young women are tragically unaware of the reproductive aspects of their bodies. I am sad to say I did not know that fertile cervical fluid was not a sign of a yeast infection until I reached the age of 34. It has been at least five years since I have seen any. Could I have addressed this sooner, had I known more about my own body?
If you are over 35 and fighting infertility, try to find the joy in life as hard as that may be some days. Never lose sight of the love you have with your partner. As painful as this infertility journey can be, we must continue to grow and develop. Life is, quite simply, too short. If you are supporting someone in this situation, please be kind and patient. Understand how very difficult this road is for them and ask them what you can do to help. They will deeply appreciate your love and concern, and they will appreciate your support on their journey.