Talk it out: Why you should stop putting off a fertility conversation with your doctor
When was the last time you talked to your doctor about your plans for having kids? If you’re a millennial woman, I’m going to guess the answer is never.
Research shows that women today are having kids — or planning to have kids — later than women in any previous generation. In fact, for the first time in history, more women in the US are having their first child in their thirties, rather than in their twenties.
It’s a big shift, and given the impact of age on fertility, it’s one that could necessitate more medical assistance with getting pregnant than ever. And yet, for all the clarity and confidence that millennial women bring to their career and family planning, their doctors have yet to be fully looped in.
When it comes to fertility, the past few decades have seen monumental strides in both technical and medical innovation, including the growing popularity of egg freezing and improved techniques used IVF procedures. These new technologies offer more opportunity to learn about, and potentially take control of, your reproductive health, but they can’t completely override your biology.
To truly take control over your fertility, you’ll need a plan. Think about it: We plan all sorts of things — vacations, career moves, dinners with friends — well in advance. The decision to become a parent is one of biggest you’ll ever make, so why should it be any different?
The answer is maybe right there in the question. The decision is so big, and it relies on so many variables, that planning for it can feel overwhelming. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be. A first step — one that can give you a lot of the information you need — is to talk to your doctor. So why do so many women avoid it?
If the thought of talking to your doctor about fertility makes you anxious, you’re not alone. According to a recent Celmatix survey with 3,000 millennial women, only a third of them had discussed their desire for children with their OB-GYN. Half of them had to bring it up themselves, which reveals another truth: your doctor is probably anxious about having the talk with you, too.
The reasons behind the anxiety are pretty clear. Even if you know you want to have a family one day, that goal is probably tied to other milestones such as your relationships, health, finances, or career. Doctors are very aware of these stressors, and are often hesitant to broach the topic of family-building for fear of triggering a difficult conversation, or worse, offending you by assuming that children are your top priority.
It’s a potential tightrope for all involved, but remember this: knowledge is power. In order to plan for your future, you need to know as much about your body as possible. Plus, part of a doctor’s job is to have uncomfortable conversations. While a great doctor can broach these topics sensitively, by asking questions rather than making assumptions, most can be guided into the kind of discussion you want to have if you’re clear about what you want to know, and why.
If you know you’re a ways off from having kids, your future fertility might be the last thing on your mind. But if you wear moisturizer with SPF to protect your skin, or pay for health insurance in case you get sick, or have a retirement plan that won’t benefit you for fifty years, you’re already accustomed to making decisions today that will help prepare you for an unpredictable future.
Talking to your doctor about your fertility doesn’t mean you want to get pregnant tomorrow, or even at all. It’s just a way of understanding your body so that you can get a greater sense of your options and prepare yourself for the future you want.
According to our survey, two-thirds of women have concerns about their fertility. Often, when we fear something, we instinctively avoid it. But while the idea of finding out that you may face fertility challenges is tough to fathom, ignoring the risk isn’t an answer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in eight couples has trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. The good news is that for those women who do struggle to conceive at the time of their choosing, there are more tools than ever that can help.
The even better news? New technologies can help women like you — women who aren’t ready to have kids, but want to be prepared for when they are — take proactive steps to achieve their family-building goals. Genetic testing, for instance, can help you understand your risk factors for various reproductive health conditions.The results of these tests may help guide you and your doctor towards technologies that may protect against — or work around — those risks. Egg freezing, too, can be a great option for women who want greater control over their timeline for having children.
By talking to your doctor, you’ll begin to understand which, if any, of these new technologies are right for you.
What to do next
Want to get the conversation started, but don’t know how?
First, learn about your family’s medical history, specifically with regards to reproductive health and fertility. This crucial information will help your doctor give you the best guidance possible.
Second, write down a list of questions that you want to ask your doctor and take this list with you to your next appointment. Here are a few questions to get you started:
I would like to have kids one day. Given my age, family history, and medical history, what should I be thinking about right now?
Should I consider freezing my eggs?
What do my hormones tell me about my body?
What clinical or genetic tests should I take to understand my reproductive health?
Finally, take a moment to ask yourself when you think you might want to have kids. Forget all the things you have to do between now and then, and try and remember that your answer won’t be written in stone. Worry about the finish line later. What matters right now is the start.