Monday, October 13, 2014

Talking to Women About Fertility

I was scheduled to take part in a panel discussion this evening on (In)Fertility and Pregnancy; I organized the event for the local chapter of my alumnae group (Yep, I went to a women's college, one of the Seven Sisters). Instead the event was canceled due to lack of interest; not a single person expressed interest in attending. 

To say I'm disappointed is an understatement but not primarily because of the wasted time or effort. I'm disappointed that my fellow alumnae weren't interested. I don't think most women have given much thought to their fertility, and the media certainly doesn't help. Sure, you hear about the latest celebrity to undergo IVF or the new world's oldest mom or the birth of babies from transplanted wombs, but the overall cultural message is that you've got time - get your career established first, then take some time to enjoy being married before starting a family. To use my cousin's wife's phrasing "you've got all the time in the world." Except you don't. It's a huge lie, and one that hurts many women. Regardless of whether you believe mankind was created in God's image or is the result of random evolution, the biological fact is that a woman's most fertile years are in her twenties, and the older a woman is when she tries to conceive, the greater the probability that she will experience difficulties. Youth isn't a guarantee of fertility, but it increases your chances of success dramatically. It also provides time - time to identify and treat any and all problems, time to take a break when you can't handle another round, time to make good decisions. 

Certainly not all women meet their spouse when they are young. I would say that I didn't, except I did - we just didn't start dating until very many years later. And certainly circumstances play a role in when a couple starts trying to conceive; unemployment and a precarious financial situation meant that we weren't comfortable starting to try until we had been married for almost 3 years. But I hate that so many couples make those decisions ill-informed or misinformed. I had some knowledge of the limitations on a woman's fertility, but there is still so much more being discovered. Recent research has suggested that the major declines in female fertility start earlier than previously believed, around age 25. 

If it were up to me, women would start learning about their fertility in their teens, when they are developing their ideas of who they want to be and what they want out of life. If a woman doesn't want children, then she doesn't need to factor her fertility into her plans. But if she does, perhaps she should be open to marrying younger, to having children younger. With our increased life and health spans, we have countless years to make a career; the number of years we have to make a family are depressingly short. Some of the best professors I had in graduate school were women who had their children, then went back to graduate school and became research scientists. These were women at the top of their careers, winning major NIH grants and heading departments; their careers had not suffered for their late start. I followed the culturally advised path of college, graduate school, then marriage. We started trying to start our family a few months before I turned 33. I try not to wonder if things would have been different if we had dated earlier, married earlier, started trying earlier. There's nothing I can do about that now. But if even one woman can learn from mistakes, then it won't have been for nothing. And that's why I'm disappointed no one cared enough to come to tonight's talk.

Friday, October 3, 2014

"I Am a Doctor's Son"

I loved "Forever" from the first episode, but that line made me fall head over heels for Abe. If you're not watching "Forever," the background is that our hero, Henry Morgan, cannot die. Well, he can die, but only for a moment, then he comes back, naked, in a body of water. He doesn't know how or why he ended up this way. He's lived for over 200 years and has always been a doctor; he is currently a medical examiner in New York City. 

Through flashbacks we have seen Henry meeting his (late) wife during World War II; she was a nurse, and he a doctor with the US Army. In one scene, they are talking about an infant, rescued from the camps, for whom no relatives could be found. Henry asks "What will happen to him?" Abigail answers "Unless someone falls in love with him and adopts him, probably an orphanage somewhere." The shot then cuts to (adult) Abe, and you realize that he was that infant and that Henry and Abigail fell in love and adopted him.

Abe is now in his 70s, while Henry still looks to be in his 30s. In this most recent episode, Henry finds Abe's name on a client list at a sketchy youth and vitality clinic, sending Henry dashing to find out if Abe took the formula. Abe's response was (more or less) "Of course not! I am a doctor's son." As far as I can remember, this is the first time that either Abe or Henry has referred to other in father/son terms; they have mostly been shown living like roommates. In that same discussion, Abe says he worries about Henry and who will take care of Henry after he dies. It's an interesting take on familial relationships as one person ages and the other does not. But mostly I loved how solidly Abe identifies Henry and Abigail as his parents. There was no distinction that they were his adoptive parents; they were just his parents. Certainly adoption was different back then, but I still love Abe's response.

(Note: so far there has been very little reference to religion in the show, though Abe seems to believe in something greater. At one point when Henry is mourning Abigail and trying to figure out how to die permanently, Abe makes the point "What if you were made for something more?")