The Fertility Denial Complex

On one hand, we're practically beaten over the heads with the idea that eventually our ladygrapes are going to run out of juice. On the other, a poll suggests that women seem to be in mass denial of — or improperly educated about — the fact that fertility, like all things, must come to an end. How can the medical community make facts about infertility stick? Incessant nagging sure isn't working.

NBC reports that the level of fertility ignorance exhibited by women of childbearing age is stunning. Despite the fact that literally dozens of movies starring Diane Keaton have made jokes about the decline in fertility after age 35, women who participated in a survey thought that a 30-year-old woman had a 70% chance of conceiving after a month of unprotected sex. In in reality, it's more like 20%. Respondents also thought that a 40-year-old woman having a month's worth of procreative sex would successfully conceive 60% of the time; in reality, it's 5%. It's like all those jokes about grandmothers from the Old Country telling 18 year olds that they better get married and start having babies soon have fallen on completely deaf ears.

Doctors have noticed that mass denial or mass ignorance has prompted many women to wait too long, and these women are surprised when they find, in their early 40s, it's too late for many of them to conceive, even with several rounds of IVF. Some in the medical community blame older Hollywood moms —many of whom are having children well into their 40s — for giving people the impression that it will be a piece of cake to overcome age when it comes to conception. After all, we've invented Botox injections for the face; how long can it be before something similar is invented for the ovaries? Surely by the time I hit 40, right? Right, yeah!

Acknowledging that only so much can be done in overcoming biological reality is not an issue of putting women down; it's simply acknowledging facts. A woman who wants to be child-free in her 20s and 30s is risking that she may never be able to carry a pregnancy. It sucks, but it's true. Not that this reality excuses the ceaseless media nagging about how it might be too late, so you better hurry up — it's just interesting and/or frustrating that the message, however annoying it may be, isn't sticking.

Our mass refusal to accept the dwindling of our eggs may be due to the fact that, as of right now, we are generally able to do what we want with ourselves, and it's hard to imagine otherwise. It's massively unpleasant to grasp that in spite of all the social advancements that women have made in the last 50 years, our reproductive systems still think it's 1946 — the anachronism is hard to swallow. Moreover, no one wants to consider the fact that they're going to get old and that their ovaries are going to go from being a bountiful bread basket a crumbling water cracker sans cheese.

To further complicate matters, men are hardly blameless for infertility. Experts estimate that anywhere from 20 to 50% of infertile couples can blame what's going on in or around the testicles. Age, weight, drug use, laptop placement, and diet can cripple or supercharge a man's juice. Doctors are even recommending that couples thinking about getting pregnant test the man before even trying, because his balls might not be up to the task.

Maybe doctors can find a happy medium between not talking about it and varsity level lady-specific guilt tripping, and so can the media. Hell, so can schools' sex ed programs. Hand-wringing and concern-mongering aren't working; doctors need to be realistic and straightforward, which is absolutely possible without finger-wagging, and women need to accept our own biological limits. Either that, or we can plan for a dystopian future where being pregnant is exclusively outsourced to the young.

Fertility Math? Most Women Flunk, Survey Finds [NBC]