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Tick ... Tick ... Silence

Tick ... I’ve never really been in a debate about the biological clock. I remember some very amusing Ally McBeal episodes where her biological clock was most definitely ticking, loud and clear, urging her to find a mate and have that baby, despite part of her not really wanting it. I’ve never had that. I’ve always ‘known’ I’d have children. I grew up around children; I babysat from an early age; I have taught children and adults of all ages; I have nieces and nephews; practically all of my friends (aside from those who are, like me, not having a lot of success at IVF) have children, if not two, then one, with the other sitting there in the glint in their eye. I love children, I get the most enormous kick out of helping unhappy children to understand something, to help them work out for themselves why things are as they are. I am desperate to do the same for my own child, coach her or him through life, letting them find their own way, but always being there to catch them. Having children is as natural to me as it is to all of nature’s animals.

Tick ... As long as I think I have the means to bring a child into a loving family and provide that child with opportunities to enjoy life, why wouldn’t I want children? I can understand why certain women may not want children—it may have something to do with their own upbringing—perhaps a broken family, an unhappy childhood experience—or it may simply be that they are being honest about not wanting to share the time they have with someone else (having children is a full time job, for a big portion of your life). I have great respect for people who have actually questioned it and concluded they do not want children. At least they have made a choice and can fulfill that choice. Whereas people like me, desperate to have children but without success, have a very different experience. We feel as though we are not allowed to choose, as though the one thing we really want is being kept from us; it feels like punishment but we don’t know what we have done to deserve such punishment; we want one simple chance at demonstrating that we can love a child and bring that child up in a sane, happy, healthy and fun environment. But we’re denied that opportunity.

Silence. The one thing I wish more women understood by their early thirties, is the complete misconception about modern medicine and fertility. We hear about the “miracles” in the news—the forty-nine-year-old who’s just had her first twin babies through IVF, or the fifty-six-year-old new mother. We don’t hear about the thousands of IVF failures every day for women in their thirties and early forties. We think that modern medicine can stay the decline of fertility, and that belief acts as reassurance in the backs of our minds as we put our careers before having children. It is unadulterated rubbish to believe that modern medicine will solve all our infertility problems. For particular infertility problems—blocked tubes, uncooperative sperm, hormonal imbalances, then yes, modern medicine can assist. Modern medicine can assist by harvesting several eggs one month rather than the usual one, and even by inserting the sperm into that egg. And these things are truly amazing, and help thousands of couples every year to become pregnant.

But. Always a but. Modern medicine cannot turn back the clock for you. Nothing can do that. If the clock has stopped ticking ... there is s-i-l-e-n-c-e. And what do I mean by that? The one single fact that biology teachers, GPs, the media all fail to tell us is that we are born with a finite (I’ll repeat that - finite; with designated end; not going on for ever and ever) set of eggs. We are not men. We’ve never really wanted to be, except when we have to go through painful experiences due to our physical make-up. Men can produce billions of sperm every month, and go on producing millions if not billions into a ripe old age. Yes, you can be a new dad at seventy, if you really want to. New mum? Are you kidding? When you are born, you are born with a set of eggs. When you are thirty, a whole chunk of those eggs have disappeared. The ones remaining are, not difficult to do the maths, thirty years old. So when you are thirty-five and at the top of your career and thinking about maybe having a child, the eggs in your reserve are a) dwindling and b) aging just as you are. Even if you don’t look thirty-five, even if you’ve never smoked in your life and don’t binge drink; yes, even then, those eggs are aging right along with you. They do not get created every month like sperm.

That is what I wish more women understood at a younger age. Because perhaps then they would realize the importance of having babies earlier in life. The mistake my husband and I made was to think that we needed to be a little more prepared before bringing a child into our lives. A mixture of my husband being unemployed and my not being in a job I enjoyed caused us to be concerned that it wouldn’t be the right environment. So I went off to do an MBA to launch myself further up the career ladder and then we started trying. And the rest is history. Three IUIs, one IVF, three ICSIs later and we are five years older (as are my eggs), a lot poorer (expensive little hobby, this one), and no nearer our goal than we were ten years ago. Or, actually we’re probably further from our goal than we were ten years ago, because if only we’d tried in our early thirties, well, maybe, just maybe, we’d now have a child.

My wonderful grandmother, who always had a little saying or sweet little ditty to accompany her wave goodbye, must have worried that I was leaving marriage and children too late. Many a time she would look me directly in the eye and quote the following words:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
Tomorrow will be dying.

How true.

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