Last night, Sean and I decided not to try to have a kid.
The decision has taken nearly 15 years. It all started in 1999 when, after cancer treatments, I was told that the likelihood of becoming naturally pregnant was extraordinarily low.
I spent five or maybe even ten years trying to recover from that news. During that time, Sean and I met, fell in love, and got married. In the beginning, my lack of fertility wasn’t an issue; Sean didn’t want children at all, though he said it would be okay if it happened.
Obviously in my case it wasn’t going to just “happen”. I approached an endocrinologist fairly early in our marriage (we were still living in our first apartment, which was destroyed by fire in 2005) and started on hormone treatments, but all this did was allow me to have normal periods. We were in our mid-20s then. As time passed, more health issues cropped up for me, and I also started finding my career path. The fertility problem was put on the back burner.
Sean’s mind started to change around the year we turned 30. He started looking at kids with the sort of indulgent expression you see on daddies, and we’d talk about names we liked and how we’d raise a child. Eventually we decided that once my health issues were taken care of, we’d see if anything could be done fertility-wise.
That time is now. I’ve had surgery to help me lose weight, taking me out of obesity and ending my sleep apnea and pseudotumor cerebri. At this point I’m the healthiest I’ve been in years. I was all set to talk to my weight loss doctor on Friday about what I needed to know about trying to conceive.
Then, yesterday, I read a CNN article that reminded me of exactly what position I’m in. The article, entitled The ‘Big Lie’ in putting off pregnancy, discusses how fertility decreases as we age:
Forty may be the new 30, but our ovaries have not gotten the same makeover. Even with all the advances in reproductive technology, our eggs have a finite shelf life and the odds of having a child over 40 years old are shockingly slim.
According to the Southern California Center for Reproductive Medicine, a woman in her 20s has a 20-25% chance of conceiving naturally per menstrual cycle. In her early 30s, the chance of pregnancy is 15% per cycle. After 35, the odds of pregnancy without medical intervention are at 10%. After 40, that number falls to 5%, and women over 45 have a 1% chance of conception.
A 2009 report on Assisted Reproductive Technologies, or ARTs, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the single most important factor affecting the chances of a successful pregnancy through ARTs is a woman’s age. Selvaratnam reports that at age 40, the chance is 18.7%; at 42, it’s 10%; at 44, it’s only 2.9%.
Sean and I have been married since January of 2003, and from then until September 2011, when I had weight loss surgery, we never used any form of birth control whatsoever. Obviously conceiving naturally was never going to happen.
I’m now 35 years old, the age at which the chances of conceiving naturally have dropped by 10 to 15% in a normal person, someone who hasn’t had their ovaries damaged by chemotherapy.
We always knew that given my situation, there was a chance I had no viable eggs left. There’s a test that gives you an idea of that situation. When I was taking hormone replacement therapy in 2005 and 2006, my doctor said the hormones were meant to essentially jump-start my ovaries, but my ovaries never started working properly on their own. Without hormone therapy or birth control, I only have a random period every several months to a year. This doesn’t bode well for my eggs.
I honestly don’t know what other options there are beyond hormone therapy. I’ve heard of people getting shots, and of course there’s IVF. What I do know is that hardcore fertility treatments are expensive. The first time I approached an actual fertility doctor, maybe 2008 or 2009, I was told to prepare at least $10,000. (At the time I didn’t have that, so the issue was back-burnered again.)
While we are in the best possible place right now, both health-wise and financially, the other factors are huge: my age and dwindling fertility (if there was ever even any left), the cost, and the potential danger to the child. At this point, we would be putting ourselves through years of distress and heartbreak, and realistically we would probably just be throwing money away.
And so last night I told Sean that I didn’t think it made sense to even try.
As he always does when I discuss my body or health with him, Sean said, “Okay,” agreeing to my decision. But I pressed him on it. I said that the decision whether or not to have children wasn’t just mine. I asked him how he felt about it, if he would be unhappy or disappointed.
He responded that he would love to see me able to have a baby like I’ve always wanted. Hearing that meant a lot to me. He’s watched me struggle with this for the length of our marriage. It makes me so happy (and a little sorry) to have him empathize.
He also said that he likes the idea of having and raising a child, and that we are in a good position to offer a child a stable life. But he also concurred that chances are low and there are a lot of risks to the child’s health.
“It’s not something I’m set on having,” he concluded. And then he said, “It’ll just be us.”
I almost started crying at that point. It wasn’t sorrow, though. There was an aspect of mourning to it, but the flood of emotion was also an acknowledgement of everything we’ve gone through, everything we’ve thought about, and the fact that now we don’t have to worry about it anymore.
It’s decided. There’s no “maybe,” there’s no “you never know.” We know now. We’re not having kids.
There’s something amazingly freeing in finally being sure.