You can choose your seat on an airplane, the grind of your coffee, the ring on your phone or precious vials of sperm from the man of your dreams. The freedom of choice, or the burden of endless options has become an expectation. For gay woman in the process of choosing a known donor it may be time to allow paternal age to choose for you. Studies have indicated that men over the age of 35 may have a negative impact on pregnancy.
Though there is conflicting information on the specific impact of paternal age on pregnancy, the studies generally indicate there is correlation between age and decreased reproductive function in males. According to Reproductive Biomedicine Online, a study in France of over 17,000 IUI (intrauterine insemination) cycles revealed that paternal age (over 35) was equally important to the mother's age in terms of its negative impact on the rate of miscarriage.
As an acupuncturist practicing in Park Slope, Brooklyn I've worked with woman to encourage fertility and pregnancy for over a decade.
For my gay women clients trying to get pregnant, paternal age is not typically one of their first considerations. After their donor's sperm is tested and the results are passable, the conversation with their health care provider about sperm usually ends there. Despite such a large and conclusive study indicating the disadvantage of increased paternal age, the fertile burden continues to weigh disproportionately on women whose clocks are ticking.
In addition there may be an emotional barrier to changing to a younger donor. When my gay clients choose a friend as a donor it is for a host of excellent reasons, such as his intelligence, loving nature and physical appeal. He will be close to their own age in his late 30s or early 40s. They are decidedly not looking for a 20-something-year-old who's more comfortable in cyberspace than in conversation.
As my clients prepare for their IUI they work hard to balance their bodies by reducing coffee and sugar, increasing sleep and eliminating unnecessary stress. They are doing everything in their power to increase the likelihood of pregnancy. The process of conception is an emotional rollercoaster and having found a known donor they are happy with, changing donors is one factor they would rather not consider. Yet, they may be suffering a disadvantage due to their biological father's age.
When I've broached the subject with clients, due to the length of time they have dedicated to the process, some carry guilt about dismissing the friend who has changed and sacrificed aspects of his life to accommodate a fertility schedule. They may also feel a sense of personal failure, even if they intend to keep trying. Now they must maintain momentum while changing the image of their future child's biological father.
In Chinese medicine men's reproductive function has long been a consideration. According to Chinese medicine the kidneys are the source of reproductive energy. When we speak about the organs in Chinese medicine we are not referring to their western medical function. The kidneys in Chinese medicine refer to the energy, or qi of the organ. According to the classic Chinese medical text, Su Wen, or Simple Questions, male reproductive energy matures at puberty when the elements of yin and yang reach fullness. Men can preserve and cultivate this reproductive qi through proper diet and lifestyle. Yet this essential qi slowly declines with age. Women are not the only ones with their clocks ticking.
There is evidence indicating the benefits of using traditional Chinese medicine to increase fertility. A 2011 study from the University of Tel Aviv specifically targets the influence of acupuncture specifically during IUI. The results demonstrated that woman who used acupuncture and herbs undergoing IUI had a "significantly higher pregnancy and birth rate."
As an acupuncturist I believe there is a greater complexity to conception than science can quantify. Choosing the right known donor is based on much more than statistics. Yet for some women, especially those who have been trying to conceive for much longer than anticipated, paternal age is a critical factor to consider. If it's time to re-imagine your choices, a 20-something-year-old with whom you have nothing in common may be your perfect man.