The “ticking clock” is no stranger to any woman. You know, the invisible clock that counts down the years and days until you are just too old to get pregnant. We put a lot of value in numbers (and this is coming from a type-A, numbers person). The magic number for fertility that is ingrained in our minds is 35. 35 years old. Most people think that as long as you try to get pregnant before the clock runs out, you’ll be golden. But what most people don’t know is that nearly one in ten women have trouble getting pregnant before the age of 35. As of 2002, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that 11 percent of married women under 29 years old experience infertility. There are numerous causes including polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, premature ovarian failure, and a blocked fallopian tube. And these are just the female factors. One third of infertility is caused by male factors including low sperm count and non-motile sperm (they don’t swim). Then again once all the tests have been run, there is a large percentage of couples labeled with “unexplained infertility,” meaning there is nothing that the doctors can pinpoint as the problem.
I used to be among those that didn’t realize the large number of young couples dealing with both male and female infertility issues. Then I went to work in a fertility clinic as a nurse coordinator–My job was to help couples navigate the confusing and emotional road that is fertility testing and treatment. I was shocked by the huge number of patients I had under the age of 35 – heck, under the age of 30! I bonded with them and my heart went out to them, as an under-35 female that always knew I wanted children.
Then it was my turn. My husband and I decided we were ready to start trying to conceive. After several months of trying we were lucky enough to conceive our first child naturally. A few years later came time for our second. Month after month went by without success. Finally I found myself in the same waiting room, undergoing the same tests that I had walked countless patients through. And I felt alone. Friend after friend conceived and delivered beautiful babies. It wasn’t fair. After all, I played by the rules. I was under 35. I was in good health. What more could my body, ovaries and all, ask for?
I remember when I first started working at the fertility clinic and telling friends about the large number of young patients I had. They were just as surprised as I had been, but several dismissed me, insisting that fertility treatment was only for women over the age of 40. That really stuck with me and thus when my husband and I were amongst those seeking treatment, I kept fairly quiet. Yes, I shared our journey with a few select people, but I felt very closed off about it. Protective of my privacy. Mostly because I wasn’t sure how people would react and I didn’t want to have to correct them and defend young women, myself included, getting fertility treatment. Perhaps I’m not giving people enough credit and perhaps they would have been very open to what I had to say. But I felt like I couldn’t risk it. After successful conception and delivery of my second son, when I was able to take a step back and look at everything more objectively, I realized that I wanted to educate people about fertility treatments in an effort to get rid of the stigma involved, especially for young women. I have a unique perspective to share after working in a fertility clinic AND having been a patient myself. I’ve seen both sides of it. It is my hope that other women don’t feel like they have to keep it to themselves. It’s perfectly fine to be young and have problems conceiving and there are many qualified people dedicated to helping make the process easier. If you are having trouble getting pregnant, know that you are not alone.