Everyone talks about her biological clock ticking but how do you really know when it rings, or more specifically, how many times you can hit the snooze button?
Last call came for me in a tearful visit to an OB’s office. Fresh from a break-up with an on-again, off-again boyfriend of three years, I booked the appointment to discuss freezing my eggs. Supportive girlfriends always offer that “you can always freeze your eggs” advice when a relationship fails to someone who has hopes of becoming a mother.
Dr. Pequeno asked why I was there. “I want to add to that.” I said, pointing to the bulletin board of babies and birth announcements of her patients. “Mr. Right hasn’t shown up yet, so I want to talk about putting my eggs on ice.”
“You’re how old?” She asked skeptically.
“Forty-two,” I said.
First, she informed me I couldn’t freeze an unfertilized egg. I mean, you can, but the odds of the egg surviving the thaw and implanting are less than 1 percent and those are with young twenty-something-year-old’s eggs, not my decrepit forty-something ones. “The odds are a bit higher with freezing embryos, but if you don’t have a partner you might as well just go for it now,” my doctor advised. “If I were you, I’d sperm-bank it,” she said, matter-of-factly. “You don’t have any more time to waste.” As if I was just loafing around, letting my eggs rot.
She handed me a flier for the California Cryobank, and she added, “Here are a few referrals to some REs. You’ll want to start with day three blood work for an FSH count. You can try IUI before moving to IVF but I wouldn’t spend too much time with that route.” Acronyms and fertility lingo clouded my head.
I got to my car numb, mouth agape and called my mom sobbing. “How did this happen?” I’d had my share of boyfriends over the years. It just so happened in the musical chairs game of romance, the fertility music was about to stop and I was going to be left standing without children.
During my writing group later that week, I mentioned this OB’s seemingly outrageous advice and one of my writing pals, Wendy responded, “Well, that’s what two friends from my church (Catholic, no less) did. They belong to a group called Single Mothers by Choice. You should check it out. Heck, I’ll be forty next year and if I’m still single I’m doing the same thing.” (Wendy now has a four-month old baby girl).
Single Mothers by Choice sounded to me like a bunch of man haters, or women you’d take one look at and think well no wonder they couldn’t find anyone.
I agreed to go to a meeting and to my surprise, they were mostly attractive professional women who you’d actually think, man, if she couldn’t find someone—really nice women that just weren’t paired up when their biological clocks rang. There was also one woman divorcing her husband because he’d decided he didn’t want children.
The group was divided by Thinkers (like me), TTCers (Trying to Conceive), Pregnant, and those with children already. It was less of a formal meeting and more of a get-together. Women ranged in age from early thirties to mid-forties: the Thinkers tentatively asking questions, a TTCer might be crying on someone’s shoulder because a recent effort failed, pregnant women aglow, mothers with new babies beaming, and other moms with toddlers milling about. The atmosphere was celebratory and supportive.
Some moms brought bags of hand-me-downs. Others drank coffee, nibbled on the healthy snacks, and compared notes on pre-schools, nannies, or potty training. It seemed like a lovely choice for these women.
I, on the other hand, set out for one last-ditch effort to pull out all the stops at finding Mr. Right. If my “Hey, if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen” approach was too carefree, this effort would bare no such criticism.
With the determination of a cave woman going out to club someone on the head and drag him back to her cave, I enlisted the help of the book Finding a Husband Past 35 (Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School) which suggests notifying everyone in passing that I’m available to be set up on dates. I shamelessly told all my friends, acquaintances—even my dental hygienist and a headhunter. That yielded one measly date. It was through the headhunter. Even if I hadn’t minded the circa 1983 feathered-back hairdo, diamond-studded earring, paunch, and the fact that he was considerably shorter than me, he announced he didn’t want or even like kids.
I also signed up for a couple of Internet dating sites. I had no shortage of first dates, yet few that I wanted to go out with on a second date, much less bear children and spend the rest of my life with. “Maybe you’re being too picky.” Married people loved to say. Down the bar lowered. As did the expectations.
I’d try and look at these guys as someone who just might have decent enough genes to make for an amiable ex. But when I’d graciously say, “You know, you’re a really great guy but I don’t feel that spark of something that tells me we’re a match.” I’d encounter angry guys from whom I’d have a hard time getting a sweater back had I left one in their car. If the sweater was our child and we had to share custody of her/him, these guys would be impossible. I felt like I was shopping more for an ex-husband than a lifelong mate.
During this time, I had five girlfriends across the country going through divorces. One woman’s husband changed his mind about wanting children, another woman’s couldn’t endure the stress of fertility efforts, another woman’s husband’s financial irresponsibility bankrupted the family, two other husbands cheated. The message seemed to be, even if I found someone that week, there’s no guarantee the relationship would last long enough to get pregnant, much less a lifetime.
Back to the SMC meeting I went. I was now halfway to being forty-three and the first Reproductive Endocrinologist I went to had shown me the stats on the chart. Age forty-two fell to somewhere under 4 percent odds of getting pregnant naturally and half that by age forty three. If I enlisted certain fertility measures like pumping up my follicles with fertility drugs, I could increase my chances to some degree but it was still no guarantee.
To think all those years I spent trying not to get pregnant. I was ready to make the plunge from Thinker to thinking I’d better get on it and TTC ASAP. I met two other TTCer friends at SMC a few steps in front of me. They had already picked out their donors from the sperm bank assuring me as soon as I covered that end of the equation, stepping off the fertility high dive would become so much more palatable.
The three of us would go hiking together and pass men on the trail. “He’s SW, one of us would say.” Suddenly men were categorized as sperm-worthy or not. I freelanced at an ad agency with an ample supply of SW-looking men—too young to date, but perhaps if they wouldn’t mind taking this plastic cup into the men’s room… Clearly, I needed to start shopping the sperm bank catalogs.
Read Part Two
photo: Classic Kids Photography