Balancing family and career can be difficult enough for women. But when you throw infertility into the mix, it can be almost impossible. One in 8 couples in the U.S. experience infertility, and that can make achieving family-building goals difficult and frustrating. These numbers only increase as childbearing is put off by many entrepreneurs and career-focused women. And all the information available these days only makes it more confusing.
If you’ve had trouble starting or growing your family, it’s important to separate fact from fiction in order to increase your chances of achieving your goal. Let’s decipher the myths from the truth.
1. I can focus on my career until at least my mid 30s before I need to worry about fertility
Myth: Women’s fertility peaks in their 20s and starts to dip in the late 20s. Starting around age 31, fertility is reduced about 3 percent per year until age 35, when it starts to drop more rapidly. According to Dr. David Adamson, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “The average 39-year-old woman has half the fertility she had at 31, and between 39 and 42, the chances of conceiving drop by half again.” Furthermore, about 25 percent of women over age 35 have trouble getting pregnant, and the average woman can only have a baby until age 41. This doesn’t mean you should abandon your career goals and start trying to have a baby right away, but you want to at least have the facts so you can make informed decisions, such as considering freezing your eggs.
2. If I adopt, I may not be able to take maternity leave to have bonding time with my baby
Fact: Despite recent improvements in this area, as showcased by announcements from Paypal, Netflix and other companies that are extending their benefits, for many adoptive parents, it comes as a surprise that their company’s “maternity leave” policies do not extend to them. Historically, the paid six- or eight-week leave that a new mother gets falls under the umbrella of “short-term disability,” and it’s meant to give her the time she needs to physically recover from childbirth. There was never anything about it intended for bonding time with a baby. Since adoptive moms haven’t physically given birth, many are shocked to discover they receive absolutely no paid leave upon adopting. If they are lucky enough to qualify under the Family and Medical Leave Act, they have the option of taking unpaid leave, but that can be particularly difficult for those who have just spent tens of thousands of dollars on adoption.
3. If it comes to in-vitro fertilization, at least I can just pay for that — and it almost always works
Myth: And this one is a very common myth. By the time an infertility patient gets to the point of doing IVF, she has usually been through a lot of emotional, expensive and time-consuming treatments already. She often feels like, OK, I’m finally ready to bite the bullet and do IVF because at least I know that will work. Then then she is shocked when it doesn’t. In fact, according to the CDC, the national success rate for IVF is less than 50 percent. The numbers can be a bit better for those who use donor eggs or who froze their eggs when they were younger, as many career-minded women do, but IVF is still not nearly as successful as many people think it is.
4. It’s impossible for singles and/or older people to adopt
Myth: For private, domestic adoption, there are technically no requirements about marital status or age. Some agencies may impose their own restrictions, but those are not necessarily reflective of the law. However, adoptive parents do have to get selected by the birth parents, and it is more difficult for nontraditional families to be chosen. With that said, in my job as an adoption consultant, I successfully work regularly with many people from all types of family backgrounds.
5. Surrogate mothers do not have legal rights to the baby they birth
Fact: To clarify, we’re talking about gestational surrogacy, where the surrogate does not have any genetic tie to the baby. It’s critical that the proper legal contracts are in place prior to the pregnancy, but if that’s all done properly, the surrogate does indeed not have any legal hold on the child. She doesn’t have to sign adoption papers or anything like that. The intended parents should be fully treated as birth parents and usually are during the baby’s entire stay in the hospital, while the surrogate mom is treated more as a surgical patient.
Nicole Witt is the owner of The Adoption Consultancy, an unbiased resource serving pre-adoptive families by providing the education, information and guidance they need to safely adopt a newborn, usually in three to 12 months. She is also the creator of Beyond Infertility, a community support site and online magazine geared toward families experiencing infertility.