by Karen Karimi (TDS 2014-15 Donor Ambassador)
Looking to your future family is aspirational for most young women, but can be more of a dream rather than a concrete future goal. Getting a college degree, landing a top job – these goals are much easier. Maybe not easier to achieve but there is a much clearer road map toward reaching them. Thinking about one’s future family is often more of an abstract idea that is based on happenstance rather than working hard towards a goal, something that is ingrained in many of us at birth. Therefore, it is often pushed aside and we don’t think about how things we do when we are younger could affect this later time in our lives.
Women in their twenties are having fun, going to parties and hanging out with friends often while also working or studying very hard at the same time and not necessarily worried about their ticking biological clock. Having a healthy social life and nightlife is a big focus and partying translates into promiscuity, which if not using condoms and using them correctly, can lead to contracting a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). For example, if left untreated, chlamydia can spread to your uterus and fallopian tubes and cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID often has no symptoms and can “silently” do permanent damage to your reproductive system making it almost impossible to get pregnant. Gonorrhea, another STD, can also cause PID. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 2.86 million cases of chlamydia and 820,000 cases of gonorrhea occur every year in the U.S. and most women show no symptoms. Both of these diseases are treatable and curable if you are tested and diagnosed quickly. Our demographic gets sick of hearing about safe sex and regular STD testing, I know, but almost never equates STDs with destroying chances of having children later in life.
In our twenties, we often feel young, vibrant and indestructible. This can mean we neglect getting regular checkups and are not as in tune with our bodies. Many women who are diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) have had it for years without recognizing the symptoms and thus greatly delaying treatment. PCOS causes your body to not produce hormones correctly, which harms its ability to ovulate. There is no cure for PCOS but the symptoms can be managed and over time, your ability to get pregnant can improve.1 However, if you are not diagnosed early enough, you might not have enough time for management of the disease as it relates to getting pregnant. There’s that ticking clock again.
Finally, women at this age often think they will wait until Mr. Right comes along only to get to advanced fertility age, 35-40, before deciding to freeze their eggs. Egg freezing has come a long way since 1986 when the first live birth from a frozen egg occurred, and now is mostly done in conjunction with IVF, rather than electively as “fertility insurance.” In fact, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) has not yet endorsed freezing your eggs solely for this purpose. Statistics on the success rates of live birth from a frozen egg are hard to get but some experts think there have been about 5,000 births worldwide. Regardless, if you go this route, egg quality is vastly better in your 20s and experts recommend freezing them before the age of 35. So, if you have any inkling now that you might be putting family off until later, now is the time to explore freezing your eggs. But it’s gonna cost you. Recently, Facebook and Apple announced that coverage for egg freezing will be included in their employees’ health plan benefits, sparking a great debate about how our jobs are influencing women’s family planning decisions. Still, most businesses do not cover this and it can cost about $10,000 to freeze your eggs, plus about $500 per year to store them.2
As we go about our busy lives and pursue our educational and professional dreams, there are ways to protect our fertility now that can safeguard the families we aspire to have in the future. Arming yourself with information about family planning options, getting regular checkups and STD testing if you are sexually active, and staying generally healthy and in tune with your body are necessary even when we are young. Your older self will thank you one day.
What are you doing to preserve your future fertility? Do you think about preserving your fertility for a family in the future?