Like a growing number of women, I waited until I was 35 to start trying for a baby, until my husband and I were “ready”— emotionally and financially. I figured it would take a month or two, but I wasn’t too worried about it. I was only 35, after all.
But a few months in, I noticed my menstrual cycles were getting shorter and shorter, and I had a gut feeling something was off. My doctor ordered a couple of tests to measure my egg supply.
Days later, I got the call that almost killed me: I had diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), a condition whereupon a woman’s egg supply is dwindling faster than it should, and I had about a 2% chance of naturally conceiving a baby.
I practically dropped the phone.
“I am only 35!” I exclaimed. “How can I need fertility treatments?”
I had thought age 35 was supposed to be the absolute deadline for getting started, before my fertility really started to decline. Also, so many celebrities I read about—Marcia Cross, Kelly Preston—were getting knocked up deep into their 40s.
Fortunately, I got lucky. At the last minute, right before my husband and I were about to put down $15,000 for my first non-insurance-covered IVF treatment, I got pregnant. It’s important to mention that I still paid about $5,000 on ovulation kits, visits to specialists and medications prescribed by my doctor to “prevent miscarriage.” The one thing I didn’t pay for was a cooperative, willing husband.
But many couples and single women in their 30s and 40s who are trying to get pregnant aren’t so fortunate. When deciding on when to start trying for a baby, it’s common for couples to push back the process because they’re not financially ready. Perhaps that’s why there is such a high volume of “Can You Afford to Have a Baby?” journalism. This is understandable. We live in a lackluster economy and the thought of somehow coming up with more money and supporting a child can be stressful.
But waiting too long to have a baby could cost you more than several years’ worth of diapers and daycare—and you might not have anything to show for your efforts.
Big Misconceptions & Big Costs
Most people have heard that infertility—which is defined as the inability to conceive a child after one year or more of unprotected sexual intercourse—affects about 15% of all couples across the board, but usually increases with a woman’s age, says Dr. Alan Penzias, a reproductive endocrinologist at Boston IVF.
A woman’s fertility starts to decline noticeably at 27, and more steeply at age 35, and even more steeply at age 40. While a man’s fertility doesn’t decline at the same rate, there is growing evidence that the quality of sperm degrades over time—and recent studies have linked children of men age 50 and above to a higher risk for autism. What people don’t assume is that they will need fertility treatments—or that it will be as expensive as it is.
“Nobody feels like they’re getting less fertile,” says Penzias, who is also an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School. “The biggest alarm bells aren’t biological, they’re chronological. I see a lot of people age 29, 34, and 39 coming into the office, fearing their 30th, 35th, and 40th birthday. Some societal message says, ‘when I hit that next seminal birthday, that’s when I see fertility decline.’ It’s more emotional.”