Now, no one’s crying for me—I have six magnificent children and an extremely happy and fulfilled life. But I wish I’d known my years were so numbered. My pregnancies were hard, my babies were hard, but about 4.5 years ago we decided we were ready for another baby. After my mother’s death, a new baby felt even more urgent. We’d name her Zoe; Mary would have a sister. Or we’d be equally thrilled with a baby boy.
Anyone who knows our family, and surely those of you who know us only through this blog, have witnessed our love of babies, toddlers, little people. At church, Gabe scans the pews to choose a “baby hot spot,” at the neighborhood party, Hans befriends a two-year old named Benny, we plan outings and game nights with families with small children just to get our baby fix (and we like their parents too).
So I‘m not surprised when friends (and strangers) quip, “It looks like you need another baby at your house.”
I’m writing the truth I wish I’d heard five years ago: you don’t have as much time to have children as you think.
In an age where the tabloids show women in their mid and late forties snuggling newborns, infertility treatments abound and ‘forty is the new thirty’ I think we’ve forgotten the reality of the biological clock.
Here are the cold hard facts: a woman’s fertility peaks in her early twenties, declines in a gentle slope through our twenties with a slightly steeper drop in our thirties. But get ready for the nosedive at forty. The rates drop from 30% at age forty, to 10% at 41, 4% at 42 and 1.6% at 43 (even with every technique known to modern medicine). To quote SoCal, “Estimates from embryo biopsy reveal that at least 90% of a woman’s eggs are genetically abnormal when a woman is over 40.”
And yes, everyone believes they’ll be the exception to statistics. I certainly did.
But then my dad pulled his antics and I lost my emotional footing. For two and a half years I fought just to stay above water; adding in a pregnancy and a baby seemed insane. But last winter on my 43rd birthday we went back to the round of doctors. I knew I wasn’t quite emotionally stable (will I ever be?), but I also sensed I was running out of time. After three sets of doctors (the first two pretty much laughed me out of their office) the test results came back, “I don’t ever want to say there’s no chance,” the doctor began, “and I’d love for you to prove me wrong. But statistically, we’re looking at 0%.” He went on to explain most women my age having babies are using egg donors. “That’s what you’re seeing in the tabloids.” There are the exceptions, and I certainly thought I’d be among them, but the doctor said he sees hundreds and hundreds of women in their early forties who feel sure they too, will be the exception.
But if hundreds of women are feeling this way, how come I’ve never talked to more than one or two? A few guesses: 1. these decisions are extremely personal—both the choice to have another child and the choice not to. It’s taken me 9 months (just saw the irony in that) to speak out loud. 2. It feels unsavory for me to whine about my over-40 infertility when so many young people are struggling to have babies.
And while babies are lovely little creatures, no family should feel pressured to have more, more, more. Ever family has a unique mix of strengths and weaknesses, abilities and disabilities; marriages are fragile, bodies age, older children need and deserve a lot of attention and I scarcely need to mention the expense of raising a child.
But if you do want another baby, if it feels right for your family… maybe hurry your plans a long a bit? You likely don’t have as much time as you think.
As for us, we’ll hold your baby at parties, admire their pink cheeked faces bundled on a winter day and play peek-a-boo over the bench at church. If your child throws a fit in the grocery store, know we aren’t judging your parenting but admiring your toddler’s dark curls and silly antics. And if you have an extra baby around the house, just give me a call; we’ll happily take him or her off your hands.