Waiting to Get Pregnant and the Reality of Infertility


The infertility community is watching the push-back over Jean Twenge's article in the Atlantic unfold with a whiff of amusement.  There's Margaret Wheeler Johnson from Huffington Post questioning whether the whole article was just a matter of giving women what they wanted to hear vs. the truth.  Or Amy Klein in the New York Times pointing out that getting pregnant isn't the same thing as giving birth.  And then there's us, the women who landed on the wrong side of that 82%, who are infertile and find these articles about how long you can wait pointless: you simply don't know if you will be in the 82% or the 18% until you start trying to conceive.  And what are you going to do if you find yourself with that infertility diagnosis where your age really does matter when it comes to success rates?

pregnancy test

Image: Allyson via Flickr

Because all of those statistics are meaningless when you're on the other side of the statistics fence. Twenge, a psychology researcher, writes, "82 percent of 35-to-39-year-old women conceive within a year, compared with 86 percent of 27-to-34-year-olds." And that is well and good, except I have never been part of that 86% or that 82%. I am part of the 14% or the 18%. And from here, I think we're too wrapped up in a numbers game. A game where there are no guarantees, and we don't even really know the odds since we're all individuals inside a general population. And those statistics are only speaking about the general population.

That is the place where I agree with Twenge, who states that the research is lacking to make any sort of firm statement about fertility decline. That we need to stop thinking that we can control this because there simply isn't a concrete answer we can arrive at and feel comfortable setting in stone. She recommends, based on her research, for women to wrap up by 40. But if we accept her argument -- that the research isn't strong enough to direct us toward a cut-off age -- I'm not sure why she negates her own argument and provides one.

This is what these article should say: Have children when you're ready to have children because there is no controlling for infertility. It's not advisable to try to procreate before you're ready emotionally or financially to raise a child just because you're worried about age-related fertility. And it's foolish to believe that because an 82% statistic exists that if you wait, it's pretty much a sure thing that you'll be able to have children. You don't need a magazine article to tell you what you know in your heart: that life, health, and bodily functions are finite, and we need to balance that reality with our needs and mental preparedness. Plus there's that other reality: infertility exists, and not all of it is age-related.

All in all, the article was fine. It contradicted itself a lot, and it was no more helpful than that ad in England. But it was food for thought, and if all she says is true, then more research should definitely be on the table.

The place where I find Twenge smug and unhelpful is when she recounts the Saturday Night Live sketch at the end of the article and points out that "Eleven years later, these four women have eight children among them, all but one born when they were older than 35. It’s good to be right." Good to be right? About what? That all five of you randomly support your thesis? And if they hadn't supported your thesis, that story wouldn't have appeared in the article at all?

And then I remember that these articles don't apply to me. They are for the people who believe they are in the 82%.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.


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