Planning a Family
As Jeanne Meyers was growing up, she always assumed she'd have
children someday. But when she got married in her 30s, at a time when both she
and her husband had successful careers, they decided to postpone starting a
family for a couple more years. A family, they felt, could wait a little while
But before long, their plan of having children was turned
upside down. In her mid-30s, when Jeanne and her husband had finally made the
decision to become parents, she had difficulty becoming pregnant, month after
disappointing month. Finally, a reproductive specialist broke the news that had
seemed inconceivable to Jeanne earlier in her life: Her eggs had deteriorated
in quality as she had aged, presenting a major obstacle to pregnancy.
"We tried in vitro fertilization (IVF) when I was 37, and
while I did get pregnant, I miscarried, probably due to the egg quality,"
says Jeanne (whose last name has been changed in this article at her request).
"I used to work as a nurse in the fertility field, but I never thought I'd
be on the other side. I never imagined that I'd have difficulty having children
Jeanne, who now does medical-legal consulting in Atlanta, says
that she and her husband faced the facts: While she could probably get pregnant
again through IVF, the odds were good that she would miscarry. So they stepped
back, and decided to adopt children. Today, at age 40, she and her husband have
two sons who were born in the Ukraine.
For millions of Americans like Jeanne, the family life they've
given birth to isn't exactly the one they may have envisioned years earlier. In
fact, in America today, terms like "family planning" have taken on new
meaning, with couples often moving in unanticipated directions as they respond
to the hand they've been dealt.
Waiting Too Long?
As part of their family planning, more women than ever are
choosing to postpone childbearing into their late 30s and early 40s, due to
careers and late marriages. But as with Jeanne, many may have miscalculated
their ability to become pregnant. According to the American Society for
Reproductive Medicine, a startling two-thirds of women will not be able to
conceive spontaneously by age 40 due to factors such as changes in their eggs
and the way their ovaries function.
"Ultimately, age matters," says Ruth Fretts, MD,
obstetrician/gynecologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's
Hospital in Boston. "Women tend to not want to hear this. But the large,
well-designed studies show that women who delay significantly are going to have
an increased risk of infertility. Biology is sexist," adds Fretts.
"Biology just doesn't care."
At New York University Medical Center,
obstetrician/gynecologist Steven Goldstein, MD, says career women often come
into his office at age 38 or 39, perhaps having just gotten married, and
announce that they plan to wait a couple more years before having a baby.
"I find myself gulping," he says. "Particularly in women over age
40, physicians are nervous as hell that these women are flirting with disaster
by having waited. They may not get pregnant when they want to, not because they
aren't ovulating, but because the quality of their eggs has