This past weekend my son Charlie turned 5 years old.
I’ll be 49 in April. You can do the math.
Charlie was conceived a month before my 43 birthday, after a roller-coaster ride of miscarriage, doctors visits, testing, lots of negative pregnancy tests, and an emotional maelstrom during which I cursed myself for not trying to have a baby when I was younger.
My doctor never said the words, “you’re too old” but it was implied when he explained that I didn’t have many eggs left because I was over 40. When he said that the eggs that I did have were of “compromised quality” and that’s probably what led to my miscarriages. When he predicted that it was highly unlikely that I’d get pregnant with my own eggs and that donor egg IVF was my best chance of having a baby.
Conventional wisdom drives the doctor’s analysis and you’ve heard all this: women are born with all the eggs that we’ll ever have and through 30+ years of having periods, as well as the natural ageing process, cause our fertility to begin to decline in our early 30s, and take a big dive after age 35.
By the time we’re over 40, our fertility has practically fallen off a cliff. By the time we hit menopause, we may not have run out of eggs but the supply is scant and we’re no longer ovulating.
My test results bore this out. My Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) was high at 16.4, indicating that my ovaries had to work harder to stimulate follicle growth (and egg maturation) than the ovaries of a younger woman.
My Anti-Mullerian Hormone, which measures ovarian reserve, was very low at 0.15 and indicated “undetectable” egg supply. My Antral Follicle Count, which counts resting follicles in the first few days of the cycle and indicates how many follicles may have the potential to grow that cycle, was never higher than 5 (a “normal” or “good” is between 15-25).
My doctor looked at all of these numbers, and that information is what drove his diagnosis of my condition, and his grim prognosis for my success.
The reality, though, is that we are about so much more than our numbers.
If it were just about the numbers, all the women with strong numbers would have their babies, and the women like me with sub-optimal numbers wouldn’t. And we just know this is not the case.
Here’s what we know: fertility does decline as we get older. And that’s all we know.
Luckily, we “older” women can have some tools in our arsenal to help us get pregnant and have a baby, if that’s what we want.
Here are some things to keep in mind, as well as some tools for your toolkit, if you’re trying to get pregnant at an “advanced age”:
You do have time
While age is correlated with fertility, it’s not like the minute you turn 40, or 35, or another age, you all of a sudden aren’t able to get pregnant. Fertility is more of a continuum.
Time may be of the essence, and you may need to act quickly, but you do have time.
Fertility in your 40s is going to look different than it did in your 20s
You are not the same woman, physically, emotionally or spiritually than you were in your 20s. Like the rest of you, your fertility has changed too. For example, it’s common as we age to produce less cervical fluid than we do when we’re younger. Cervical fluid is important when trying to get pregnant, especially when trying naturally, so it’s important to be aware of.
In any area related to your fertility, you need to be able to do your research and find ways to mitigate the situation to account for your age. This is true regardless of your age, but especially if you’re over 40 and trying to conceive.
The tools in your arsenal are even more important when you’re older
On your fertility journey, you’ve probably heard that the following things are important:
- Knowing how to track your fertility signs and your menstrual cycles
- Stress reduction
- Mind/body connection
These things are crucial for anyone on a fertility journey, regardless of age and whether trying to conceive naturally or through treatment. Being the healthiest you can be will help you achieve optimal fertility. This is especially crucial for you if you’re at an advanced age.
If you’re trying naturally, it’s important to keep in mind that generally speaking, middle-aged couples tend to have intercourse with less frequency than younger couples. In trying to conceive, you don’t have to have intercourse all the time, but you do need to have it at the right time, and knowing your cycles will help you pinpoint with laser accuracy when that time is.
Managing your stress will help you endure the trials and tribulations of fertility treatment, and cultivating a mind-body connection will help you silence the negative self-talk that tells you you’re too old or that your time has passed.
The fertility journey can really mess with your physical body and your mind, and it’s important to have the tools to fight back. My Big Little Fertility Toolkit gives you the exact tools that I used on my own successful fertility journey.
Listen to your intuition
When my doctor told me that I likely wouldn’t get pregnant with my own eggs and that donor egg IVF was my best option, I didn’t disbelieve him. I knew my numbers; I knew the situation was bad.
But I also knew deep down that donor egg IVF wasn’t the right path for me to become a mom. This wasn’t based on any hard facts; I just intuitively knew that intrauterine insemination would work for me. I knew that I had a good egg somewhere in my dwindling supply and that it was up to me to find it.
I encourage you to learn how to listen to your own intuition. You’ve been with yourself every second of your life. YOU know yourself better than anybody else. The answers are already within you, and when you take the time to tune in to yourself and to listen to what your intuition is telling you, those answers will always come to you.
Always keep in mind the end goal
In our quest to get pregnant we can sometimes lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is not necessarily to be pregnant but to be a mother.
Motherhood can come in many shapes and forms – donor egg, sperm or embryo; surrogacy; adoption. As we get older, it’s increasingly important to keep all of those options in mind if your own natural fertility is compromised and the wellness tools in your toolbox aren’t helping.
It’s a process to work through your feelings and emotions around the other avenues to motherhood, and it may take some time to do that. But it may become important to do so if you need to let go of the idea of a traditional pregnancy. We’re fortunate to live in a time with so many options for parenthood!
A good mantra to keep in mind for your journey is:
“Somehow, some way, I will be a mother.”
You have power over your journey
I know it may not seem like it, but you do. You may be acutely aware every day of your age, and, if you’ve already experienced some setbacks in your fertility path, these weigh on you.
While there’s so much that’s out of your control – like age, biology, egg supply, there’s still so much you can control. Things like:
- How you eat
- How you move your body
- How much you sleep
- How you choose to manage your stress
- How you interact with others
- How you show up in the world
These things impact your fertility and your well-being.
Another good mantra to keep in mind for your journey, and to help you feel and own the power that you have is:
“I am more than my numbers. Infertility does not define me.”
Because there’s a huge grey area. And while there have been so many medical and scientific advancements in the areas of fertility, pregnancy and birth, the reality is that there is still so much that we don’t know.
And it’s this grey area, this area of the unknown, where magic can happen.
Baby dust to you! xo