It's rough, it's unfair, but it's the truth -- as we women age, our chances for conceiving a child become smaller and smaller. A woman's ability to get pregnant begins to decline as early as her twenties and it gets more and more difficult with time. The earlier women become aware of this, the better their chances are of conceiving when they are ready.
A big question younger women often ask is, "How many eggs do I have left?" The truthful answer to that question is more about quality and not quantity. Unlike men, who are able to make new sperm throughout their lives, women have the same eggs they've had since they were born. As women age, the quality of their eggs falls and because of this decrease in egg quality, they subsequently have a more difficult time conceiving. The medical industry doesn't fully understand why this is just yet, but we understand the statistics. A woman in her twenties has about a 20 percent chance per month to conceive; at around 35, she has a 10 percent chance. By the age of 42, a woman's chance to conceive falls to just one percent per month.
The decreased quality of eggs is why we see an increase in the number of genetic abnormalities such as Down Syndrome as women age. For women 35 and above, the risk of having a child with a genetic disability is 1 in 200; at the age of 42 the risk is 1 in 10.
Thanks to medical advances, there are a number of tests that can tell us about a woman's egg quality, but we always stress that the tests only take a snapshot of the egg quality at that particular point in time. If, for example, the testing looks suspicious for a 36-year-old woman and her egg quality is declining, we'd tell her that she should start attempting to conceive. The longer she waits, the more difficult it will be for her. If testing comes back relatively normal, we can say, "At the moment, things look good."
What about my health? Will having a child in my thirties put me at risk?
There is a concern that women in their thirties and forties may be putting their personal health at risk by getting pregnant. We only see this for women over 35 who have existing medical problems such as diabetes and heart complications. Unless your doctor tells you that your personal health is at risk, women in this age group should feel just as comfortable attempting to get pregnant as anyone else.
Above all else, the struggle with age-related infertility is an emotional one. Usually, the group of women who are battling age-related infertility is comprised of individuals who, for one reason or another, were not able to conceive when they were younger. The struggle for them is often their biological clock -- the internal panic button that is pressed by friends, family and social interactions. Some of my patients have told me they've thought to themselves, "He's just around the corner. You know? My guy." Because of pressures to find a partner so they can conceive in a two-person relationship, many of these women take on an added sense of anxiety, which heightens their stress levels.
The same high levels of anxiety can be seen in women who are actively trying to conceive (TTC) and are finding it difficult. Understandably, TTC women and couples in this group are more than eager to determine if they were successful in conception. There are so many emotions riding on the results of their pregnancy tests; I've seen women literally hold their breath waiting for their results.
If I am TTC, what's the best way for me to be testing?
A number of pregnancy tests on the market right now boast the ability to produce the earliest and fastest results. The problem with many of these early results pregnancy tests is the room for error. If you take a pregnancy test too soon, you can receive a false positive or a false negative, which can be emotionally devastating.
For the best, most accurate results, wait until after a missed period to use an at-home pregnancy test and choose a brand like e.p.t that is known for its accuracy. Not many people know this, but the technology behind the e.p.t home pregnancy tests is identical to that which we doctors use in-office.
Getting pregnant isn't always easy for everyone and that's OK. The most important thing for women to remember as they travel on this journey is that they aren't traveling alone. There are support groups, family planning options, doctors and organizations like The American Fertility Association at your fingertips to help. Women trying to conceive also have a variety of tools at that their disposal like ovulation calculators that can serve as a guide to help you track your ovulation to help with conception. You may feel alone at times, but there are plenty of people who are eager and happy to help.
Dr. Bohn, Dr. Hill and Dr. Park are chief medical consultants for Insight Pharmaceuticals, parent company of e.p.t. The advice and opinions expressed in this article are their own.