Last month, a shocking study came out: Almost one in five women in America between 18 and 29 believes she is infertile. That's almost 20%.
In reality, only 6% of women in this age group are actually infertile.
Why do so many women think they can't have kids?
Young women aren't any less fertile than they used to be, but more women may be struggling to conceive: Women in the U.S. are waiting longer and longer to have children; the average woman's age at her first birth has gone up almost four years since 1970. And fertility does generally decrease with age.
There are many reasons women are waiting to have kids, not least because many of us are choosing to achieve success in our careers before starting a family. We have longer lifespans than our ancestors, so putting off childbirth for a little while may not sound so bad. If only our bodies could see where we're coming from!
Most young women not trying to get pregnant wouldn't think about getting their fertility tested, but family planning is a big component of our plans—financial, career and emotional plans alike. Knowing at 25 that you're at risk to become infertile could lead to a host of decisions, from freezing your eggs now ('cause hey, better to take the most youthful eggs possible) to reconciling yourself early to not having biological children and focusing on your career.
Today, we'll explore the controversial question: Should young, otherwise healthy women get their fertility tested?
Whether you're already a mom, plan to be one in the future or don't want kids at all (like this woman), we hope you'll find something interesting in our exploration of this highly emotional issue. In the process, we'll discuss the prevalent myths about fertility, and how to overcome them.
The Biggest Myth About Infertility
We spoke to John S. Rinehart, MD, PhD, JD and president of the Reproductive Medicine Institute in Chicago, Illinois for advice on what all women should know about their bodies, their health and their fertility.
According to Dr. Rinehart, one of the most pervasive myths about infertility is that it can be caused by oral contraceptives. 10.7 million women take the Pill in the U.S., so lots of women may worry their fertility has been affected. But Dr. Rinehart is adamant that there is absolutely no connection between the Pill and infertility. In fact, he says, the Pill can help improve fertility, as it may protect against ovarian cancer and polycystic ovarian syndrome, both of which can hurt your chances of getting pregnant.
So, what can affect fertility?
As we mentioned before, age is a biggie. Dr. Rinehart says that 50% of woman will see a decline in fertility by age 31, and by age 41, 50% will be functionally sterile. Aside from age, two other big factors are smoking and being overweight. Smoking actually ages ovaries and can cause premature egg loss; being highly overweight can lead to irregular cycles and polycystic ovarian syndrome, both of which can affect the body’s ability to get pregnant.
Should You Have Your Fertility Tested?
The majority of women between 18 and 30 shouldn't be worried about their fertility, says Dr. Rinehart. But in some cases, you might want to have your fertility tested ... even if you're not planning to conceive any time soon:
- You are 30 or older and haven't had a child--but want to someday. (Of course, if you plan to start trying for a baby in the very near future, you can just start without going through the process of being tested).
- You're under 30 but your mother went through menopause at 38 or younger.
- You have a family history of fragile egg syndrome or have an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis, which increases the risk of early ovarian failure.
- You're overweight or a heavy smoker with no plans to lose weight or give up smoking.
If you're one of the 20% who fears you may be infertile or have trouble getting pregnant, getting an answer now can help you develop your long-term plan (should you include a baby in your financial roadmap—and when?), and, at the very least, provide you with the peace that comes with knowing.
The best test available, says Dr. Rinehart, is the AMH hormone test, which can help you figure out if you’re running out of good eggs. Because the test is fairly new, your regular gynecologist might refer you to a reproductive specialist to have it done. The test itself costs a couple of hundred dollars (check with your insurance provider to see if this can be covered) and can be done at any point in your cycle.
The average woman in her early 20s would score a two on this test. Anything above two is an excellent indicator of fertility (a "two" indicates that you have many viable eggs remaining), while any score below one indicates a fertility problem.
If Your Score Is Normal (or Better)
Even if you meet some of the qualifications above for potentially compromised fertility, you can probably wait before reviewing other options if you receive a two or higher. Taking the test yearly and comparing results will show you if your fertility begins to falter, at which point you can reevaluate.
If Your Score Is Low
If you receive a score in the abnormal range and are not in a position to begin trying to conceive immediately (say, you’re 24, single and at the beginning of your career), you might want to consider freezing your eggs. This is a big investment, though: Egg freezing generally costs between $13,000 and $20,000, and the success rate is not perfect.
But if you're certain you want a biological child at some point, freezing your eggs early on preserves them at their healthiest point, and finding out that you have compromised fertility early on can help you make saving for the costs associated with egg freezing and motherhood a priority at an earlier stage in your life. Meanwhile, in-vitro fertilization, a method you might use later on if you were having trouble conceiving, costs even more: about $12,000 per cycle (and up to $30,000 if you need to use a donor egg). That said, these expenses are covered by certain insurance policies, so you should check with your provider about your personal financial costs.
In contrast, the simple blood test to evaluate your fertility is only a couple hundred dollars--which, for peace of mind, may just be something worth budgeting for.