Chloë’s Story: Fertility and the Single Girl
I’ll be honest from the outset. I’m single, with no children, and I’m 40 in June, and I accept that this current absence of love for another person affects the way I view fertility. I’ve never been married, never had a relationship that has outlasted the return to the season in which it began, I’ve never lived with a boyfriend and my last fling was four years ago.
This has been a surprise to me. I have never stayed single for too long, always stumbling around a corner into the arms of someone, usually a 70:30 blend of unsuitable and sizzling chemistry. Not always a boyfriend, but always someone.
I was also in love for a long time. Perhaps ten years. He popped his head around the corner of my life every so often, and I would smile and invite him in. Fairytale thoughts got the better of me, I was dizzy on an Austeny merry-go-round that threw me off one day abruptly, unexpectedly, brutally.
This common, well-worn preamble of a tale is a clumsy attempt to illustrate that not all midlife women without their own families fall into the headline-friendly “life first, children second” category. Nothing has held me back from having children but the need for the “right” person to share it with, a principle that holds now as it has done since my teenage, hurdle-ridden love affairs. Standing by this principle has stopped me from being regretful. If I could live my 40 years again, I would still end up at the same point.
Having chemotherapy, finding the BRCA1 mutation, penciling in an oophorectomy, though – these things are life-changing. Fertility experts need to be suddenly consulted, opinions sought from across the spectrum of professionals and friends, convictions interrogated under harsh light. In the absence of all certainty, statistics must be the new stability and those statistics told me the following:
- Frozen embryos are much more successfully thawed than eggs
- Based on figures collected since 2009, only 70% of eggs withstand the thaw after vitrification at any age group
- Pregnancy rates following this procedure are low in the UK – according to HFEA, fewer than 20 children had been born up to December 2012 from 580 embryos created from frozen eggs (a 3.5% success rate, not even counting the eggs-to-embryos figures)
- At this age, there is only a 20% chance of a successful egg haul, and “success” would mean only 5 or 6 quality eggs
- The cycle to stimulate egg production pushes your oestrogen production to 7,000 (a level measured in picomoles per litre (pmol/l)), versus a norm of 400-500, so if your tumour is ER+ this could, in some cases, cause more cancerous cells to develop and reproduce (pregnancy itself boosts those levels to 3 or 4 times that again)
And there it is. The figures, for me, point in only one direction. The simple hope associated with cycles of IVF, to render a maximum of 5 or 6 viable eggs, reduced to 3 or 4 once thawed, which then need to be matched up with their male counterparts to ride the 3.5% chance of survival…oh my. It is beyond contemplation. And all this is without factoring in the genetic implications of having one’s own child, as a carrier of the BRCA1 mutation.
It is with a complete acceptance of these numbers and remembering very hard my original Significant Other policy, and only these things, that I have reconciled myself – happily, I might add – with the idea of adoption, or even becoming pregnant from a donor egg with my gloriously attractive, kind, funny, fertile future boyfriend. Happiness and love are key. The downsides are both physical and emotional, but in the face of everything else, also unavoidable.
There are bonuses. In this situation you don’t have to worry about time, or about the dangers to the child that come with pregnancy in women of a certain age. We live longer now, so having children in whatever fashion in your 40s means you will probably still live to see them reach well into that same decade, and even enjoy years of being a grandmother.
Which, let’s face it, does make that 27 year old I’ve got my eye on a surprisingly realistic prospect…
Chloë was diagnosed with breast cancer on 10th June 2014, a week or so before her 39th birthday. She lives in Gloucestershire, UK and blogs at my new chemical romance. She runs the BOGOF Poverty campaign, which aims to encourage people to use any unwanted extras gained from the everyday offers we see in supermarkets and high-street shops to supply food banks and other food redistribution charities, who are all in need of non-perishable goods. Visit http://bogofpoverty.com to learn more.