Infertility and the Media: Friends or Foes?

Recently a very close friend left me a lengthy voice mail after she returned from her honeymoon. In a whirlwind year she had finally met the world’s most amazing man and married him in a surprise ceremony after a storybook nine month courtship. She breathlessly recounted the events of the honeymoon and then got right down to business. “We want to have a baby,” she said. “I’m not sure if I should be worried, but we haven’t used any birth control in the past few months and so far, nothing. What do you think?” I should also mention that like me, my friend is in her mid-forties. She’s an educated, technology-savvy professional. I immediately realized that our next conversation would be a difficult one, and I also realized that I felt pretty guilty about it. How had I, who for over 10 years has been immersed in the world of third-party reproduction allowed one of my very best friends to escape her mid-thirties and into her forties without understanding the rules of diminished ovarian reserve and advanced maternal age? The answer is an uncomfortable one for me. I had assumed that she knew, just as I assumed most women my age know that a woman over 40 has a 1 in 3 chance of conceiving normally and a 35% chance of miscarriage and that these rates increase dramatically with each passing year. When I spoke with my friend later that week she said, “I feel so stupid- I figured it would just take a few injections and everything would be fine.” Heartbreaking.

The truth is, despite this post-modern era of magic injections to make fine lines disappear, diet and exercise routines to ensure us of everlasting youthful appearance, and our collective rejection of aging as an actual phenomenon, our ovaries have been left behind and startlingly few women realize it. It doesn’t matter how diligent you are about taking your vitamins, or how many times you make it to yoga each week. Each of us is born with a finite time in which we can produce viable eggs, an “egg-timer”, if you will. While infertility can be treated with a high degree of success, the fact that the message becomes even more clouded by an seemingly endless supply of media stories featuring 70-year-old women giving birth, and images of pregnant 47-year-old celebrities. While many of us realize that these stories are made possible by a little (or a lot) of help from fertility specialists, egg donors and surrogates, many more do not because, through the media they are presented with a distorted version of what is possible and what isn’t. The necessary information is not making it through to those who need it.