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Hillary Clinton and the Great Biological Clock Debate

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright once said, “There is no formula for being a woman,” and in 2008 when a woman may possibly become the next President of the United States it seems that everything that the women’s movement fought for is coming to fruition. Women born in the sixties and beyond were told that they could have it all. They were encouraged to go to college, get advanced degrees, have careers, but there was a catch—they still had to fulfill their traditional role as wife and mother.

Imagine June Cleaver with a successful law practice, and you’ve got the picture. But how could it be logistically possible for women to have a family while trying to get their education and careers on track? Men do it, but they don’t know the existence of time. Does anyone need to see another sixty-year-old dad at soccer practice for that point to drive home? 

Women in their thirties and above are still today treated like pariahs if they don’t settle down by the eve of their thirtieth birthday. As long as I can remember people have asked me two questions: when are you getting married? When are you going to have kids? I looked at these people like they were from the Stone Age. I avoided my parents pleading to settle down at twenty-five, I remember telling them, “I’m twenty-five not thirty-five, don’t I have another ten years to get my career going?” I remember a desperate phone call from my brother when I was at the ripe old age of twenty-nine, telling me to hurry up and have a baby. “I just saw Sixty Minutes, they were talking about women and fertility and how it’s almost impossible to have a baby after thirty-four, and how if you do become pregnant later in life the incidences of down syndrome are greater.” He said this in an attempt to give me some brotherly advice, but at the time, I was still treading water in my career, I wasn’t married, and I didn’t even have a boyfriend.

Did I really need this to add to my stress level? What was I suppose to do, just have a kid with anyone and be a single mom at twenty-nine, go to a sperm bank, or settle down with Mr. Wrong just to get pregnant. I didn’t have many options, yet society was making me feel like it was entirely fault, and sadly, I wasn’t alone. Women everywhere feel this pressure. Biological clocks are constantly sounding off around the country. Pop culture even hopped on board and entertainment magazines routinely showcase photos of bloated celebrities and coin the pix as “Hollywood’s Baby Bump Watch.” Stars in their late thirties and early forties get plagued with the question that every other woman in America is asked “Are you ever going to have children? You don’t have forever you know.”

“They told us we could have it all, and we can’t!” That was the message, but it didn’t seem real to me.  After all, I knew plenty of women who had their first child in their late thirties even in their early forties naturally including my own mother. Why were people panicking?

We are an information society, and young women, and women of a certain age, turn to Google to uncover everything they need to know about fertility. There are a number of preconception Web sites with fertility calculators to track a woman’s cycle. There are fertility monitors, ovulation wristwatches, and thermometers to check your temperature which rises when a woman is ovulating. There are tests that can predict your pregnant five days before a missed period. Fertility vitamins, fertility tea, acupuncture treatments to aid in fertility y muchos mas!

OBGYN’s generally recommend that patients seek a fertility doctor after twelve  months of trying to conceive if you are thirty-four and under, and after six months if you are thirty-five and up. 

According to the American Pregnancy Association, women over thirty-five take longer to conceive. The average time it takes a couple over thirty-five to conceive is one to two years. Women ovulate less frequently, and there is a decline in egg quality after age thirty-four.

If a couple is infertile, this means that they have been unable to conceive a child after twelve months of regular sexual intercourse without birth control. Infertility affects approximately 6, 100, 000 individuals throughout the United States

Hollywood has taken a lot of slack for showcasing older stars who have conceived. The stories often omit that many of these women had IVF or donor eggs in order to have children. At the same time celebrities have made fertility treatment all the more popular and mainstream.

Dr. Lori L. Arnold of La Jolla IVF said that the number of patients seeking IVF treatment has tripled in her fifteen years of practice, and she’s seeing more patients in their twenties. “Ten years ago the average age of a patient was thirty-two to thirty-eight, now patients are in their twenties and forties.” Arnold credits the web, and recent media reports for educating the public about their options. Dr. Arnold said that there have been several advances in IVF since it began back in 1978. Pre-Implantational Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is a chromosomal analysis of an embryo before it is implanted in the mother. Only “normal” embryos will be transferred during IVF, eliminating any embryos with extra chromosomal material (as with down syndrome).

Dr. Arnold says the in vitro fertilization process takes about two months since several tests have to be performed on the male and female. Men have to undergo a semen analysis. Women undergo a litany of tests: an evaluation of their ovulation and a hormonal assessment of their egg quality, a hysterosalpingogram exam to see if their tubes are blocked, as well as a pelvic ultrasound test to evaluate the woman’s uterine health and ovaries. Dr. Arnold charges a modest fee of $5,900 for IVF, compared to other fertility doctors who charge up to $20,000 for the same procedure. Insurance typically does not cover fertility treatment and medication.

Dr. Arnold has delivered thousands of babies, and said the most important message for women of all ages is “ideally try to conceive before the age of thirty-five, and to never give up hope while trying.” The general rule of thumb is to seek a fertility specialist immediately if you’ve been trying to conceive without success for twelve months. 80 percent of infertility cases can be remedied. There are only a small percentage of people who cannot have children. It’s what doctors refer to as “unexplained infertility.” Infertility can be very isolating. Couples dealing with infertility find that their relationship is often put to the test. Friends with children may stray away from them because they have less in common. Holidays can be painful since they are centered on family and familiar questions come up like “What are you waiting for?” Some infertility counselors liken an infertility diagnosis with a cancer diagnosis, but the difference is that every month you’re on a roller coaster waiting to see if you’re pregnant only to be disappointed by a period and the darkness looms over you. Feelings of helplessness and suicide is not uncommon. Lucy age thirty-seven of Coronado says that she always thought she would adopt if she had trouble conceiving, but that changed after she fell in love, and got married. “I want to have a child that’s an extension of our love. I want to be able to look into my child’s eyes and see my husband, and my own smile and precious gifts that we’ll pass on. I didn’t know I would feel this way, but that’s how I feel.  Adoption isn’t out of the question for us, assisted reproduction is also an option we’re studying, but ideally we would like to have our child the old fashioned way.” Lucy’s eyes are so full of hope. I listen to her and suddenly I have a moment of ADD. I am reminded of eighty-one-year-old Hugh Hefner’s recent announcement that he wants to have a child with his twenty-nine year-old live-in girlfriend Holly Madison.

I’m willing to accept human biology that it’s harder to conceive past thirty-five, yet not impossible, but I think women should no longer take the brunt of the pressure. Maybe men should stop ignoring the alarm and hitting the snooze button, then we would all be on an equal playing field. Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama represent the dawn of a new age in America. Let’s take our opinions on women’s fertility out of the dark ages and into the twenty-first century. After all “There is no formula for being a woman.”

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