A woman is born with what seems like a lifetime supply of eggs--about a million or so--that begin to develop around the 10th week of fetal-gestation. By the time a typical female hits puberty, about 300,000 eggs remain. That sounds like a lot of eggs, and it is. But what we take for granted is that those eggs remain healthy and in-tact. Not always the case.
Things like alcohol consumption, drugs (not just the recreational kind) and smoking can effect every cell in our bodies...especially the single largest: our eggs. On average, a woman will ovulate about 450 eggs in her lifetime. But that's just an average. What happens when, in that lifetime, a woman has to endure chemotherapy or radiation? Most doctors advise women who are about to go through cancer treatments like chemotherapy to avoid future pregnancy because even if you can get pregnant in the future, your eggs, containing half your DNA, may be damaged by the toxic chemicals--which is a bad thing. Every egg contains a kind of protein-packed yolk that feeds an embryo for the first several days after fertilization. Try exposing a chicken egg to radiation for 30 hours or soaking it in a chemotherapy-cocktail for six weeks--how do you think the yolk will be effected? Guess what, gals, it's the same for us.
But there's hope! A woman has multiple (if not costly) options to try to save her fertility if having a baby by 32 isn't in the cards, like having your eggs frozen for later use. BUT...there's always a catch. The chances of a frozen egg yielding a healthy baby are about 50%. You might think that a 50/50 chance is great odds--but to put that in proper perspective, would you choose to perform a life-threatening activity if your odds of survival were only 50/50? Probably not.
By the time a woman is 35, her risk of infertility can be as high as 25%. It might be worth the upwards of $15,000 to have your eggs "harvested" and frozen if you feel you're not yet ready. The caveat is, you may hear statistics like "90% egg-thawing success-rate" but that does not translate to a 90% success rate that those same thawed eggs can produce healthy babies. And in terms of the all the Hollywood-hype surrounding the egg-freezing craze, only about 5,000 women have actually had it done--and just so you know, there are more than 150 million women in the United States alone.
Why such a small number? Egg-freezing is invasive. It's costly. And it's by no means a guarantee. Especially if you're already in your mid-late 30's.
The fact remains that women's fertility is not on par with men's. Men's sperm, though equally effected by things like smoking, alcohol and drugs, can still be viable for decades longer than female eggs. Tony Randall comes to mind here. And though It may sound unfair, you can't argue with biology.
Girls, if you want to have children, you can't wait until you're 40 to start thinking about it. Twenty-first century life does not lend itself easily to this invisible deadline. By the time people complete their educations--now usually requiring not only a 4-year college degree but also some kind of graduate degree as well--and begin their careers, and finish paying off student-loans, and buy a house, and get married (not necessarily in that order)--a given individual could be 35 or older. Yikes!
The latest technique for egg-freezing is called vitrification. It uses a kind of high-potency freezing chemical that can be toxic to the egg but using a new freezing process, crystals do not generally form--which can destroy an egg--more common to previous freezing methods. Only several hundred pregnancies have come from vitrified eggs--a small percentage given the number of collected eggs.
Typically, once your eggs have been frozen, you can use something called In Vitro Fertilization or IVF to become pregnant. Again, this is an invasive and costly process that is by no means a guarantee. Celine Dion used IVF to bare her recent twins, but the fine print there is--it took her FIVE tries. At $15,000+ a pop, that's more than the average woman's annual salary. And you may have heard about E!'s Guiliana Rancic, and her Apprentice-husband, Bill's, recent attempts at pregnancy through IVF. The saga was played out on their reality show in 2010. The couple made two attempts--and unfortunately, neither were successful.
Of course, there are other options, like hiring a surrogate; Sex and the City's Sarah Jessica Parker and husband, Matthew "Bueller" Broderick recently used a surrogate to have their own set of twins. There's always adoption as well. The most famous celebrities to use this method of family-building are Hollywood's power couple, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
Though clearly influenced by the simulacra pop culture provides, we should not allow that distraction to influence future family-planning. For most of us, things like vitrification and IVF--even adoption--may be outside of our financial wheelhouse. The best way to insure that your future plans for a family are successful, is to know the facts about women's fertility. Understand the realities of female fertility after age 30, 35 and 40. Don't rely on statistics. Talk to your doctor. Or better yet, learn more TODAY at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine:
The single largest cell in a woman's body is, ironically, taken for granted...and not just by women, but men, too. It's often hard for men to understand that a woman may not be able to easily conceive in her mid-late 30's. The deceptive thing is that women in their 30's and 40's are progressively looking younger--a contributing factor to the illusion that our fertility matches our wrinkle-free faces. And there are always the stories of this-relative or that-friend who had a baby at 39 or 45...which is great, except, it may not be true for you.
The human body is no longer a mystery in the 21st century--the same should be true of your fertility....