Stopping the (Biological) Clock

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sarah Elizabeth Richards, science journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It(Simon & Schuster, 2013) explains the science behind freezing eggs and tells the stories of four women who tried it, including herself.

from: Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing And The Women Who Tried It

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Simon & Schuster


There was one time in my life when I was grateful for the biological clock. I was thirty –two years old and summoning the courage to leave a relationship. After nearly eight years of living with a man I deeply loved, I wasn’t miserable. I just wasn’t happy.

We had been doing the stuff advice books say you’re never supposed to do. We punished each other with silence, criticized each other’s driving, made separate holiday plans, argued in public, and butted heads so fiercely about meals, budgets, sex, housework, exercise schedules, movie choices, and vacation destinations that it became easier to spend most of our free time apart.

We tried the standard fixes: we went to couples counseling, swapped lists of behaviors we were willing to change, and spoke in “I feel” statements. There were brief improvements, but the tension always returned, and I became increasingly certain that I did not want children with him. How could we agree on how to take care of another human being if we couldn’t decide when to do laundry? I made sure never to miss my birth control pills.

I knew we had no future, but I also felt no urgency to overturn my life with a crushing, consuming breakup. There never seemed to be a good time, either. Who wanted to be alone during the holidays, the Fourth of July, the first day of fall? I would give it six more months, I told myself. Maybe we could read more books. Maybe we could try a new therapist. Maybe we could go on a long vacation. It wasn’t all bad, I reminded myself.

Then that terrifying book came out. In the spring of 2002, Sylvia Ann Hewlett was detonating bombshells on nearly every talk show with Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children. The message was clear: your fertility fades much sooner than you think; your eggs deteriorate dramatically after thirty-five and are pretty much fossils by your early forties. So listen up, all you clueless careerists! You’ve got to make having a family a priority. You’d better think twice about all your indulgent plans for advanced degrees, foreign postings, and after-work cocktails. Otherwise you’re going to break your heart and the bank pursuing futile in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments in an attempt to “snatch a child from the jaws of menopause.” That’s not to mention the increased risk of having a baby with Down syndrome if you manage to get pregnant.

I joined my generation in a collective gasp. “Now?” I whined to myself. I had just finished graduate school and was trying to launch my career as a freelance journalist. Plus, I still had to break up, grieve, find a new apartment, move out, lose ten pounds, acquire new relationship skills, and try to meet someone else. Then I had to get engaged, marry, and make a baby. That left very little contingency for rebounds, bad judgment, and trouble becoming pregnant.

If everything went as planned, I could have my first baby at thirty-seven and maybe fit in a second by thirty-nine. “My God!” I exclaimed to my girlfriend over the phone. “I’ve already lost my third child!”

Before Hewlett’s book, I had assumed that I would be a mother, just as I knew I would marry, buy a home, and at some point fit into those Oshkosh B’Gosh short overalls I bought two seizes too small in college. I sleepily went about my life and took comfort in the pleasant stupor that was someday. I had little sense there was an actual deadline and that it was looming. Life was challenging enough without God suddenly setting a timer.

Without knowing it, I had become a Clock Ticker, and my pleasant stupor was replaced by the loud hum of the clichéd biological clock, which began to torment me like a clunky old air conditioner. My friends started having babies, and I was suddenly behind. I overheard my parents making excuses for me to their friends: She’s busy with her job. She’s a late bloomer. She’s picky. In the most discouraging sign, relatives stopped asking me when I planned to get married and start a family, as if I had been relegated to being the Crazy Aunt at family gatherings.

There were statistics to prove you were not alone, and that you were a member of a swelling demographic of women who had delayed marriage and motherhood. Supposedly one in five women was waiting to start her family until after age thirty-five, a percentage that had increased nearly eight-fold since 1970. And for the first time in history, more children were born to women over thirty-five than to teenagers.

You saw enough older new mothers in your neighborhood to know the statistic was true, but secretly you still wondered if there was something wrong with you because life hadn’t worked out for you the way it had for Everyone Else. You told yourself that there was nothing wrong with being the Last One Left. You were simply on a different path and would make good decision for your future. But you still felt a little twinge of sadness every time you saw your single-line listing on a family reunion attendance list. Or shopped for boxed Christmas cards of New York City snow scenes because it seemed ridiculous to write a holiday letter about yourself. Or realized that you were one of a few friends from high school holiday get-togethers available to go out after 8 p.m.

I wish I could say that I trusted everything would work out and that I carried myself with a Secret-like confidence that made me wildly attractive. I didn’t. I spent the majority of my thirties alternately freaking out and talking myself down. I paid thousands of dollars for therapy, drank too much wine, and harassed my busy friends and family with distraught phone calls. I often repeated their encouraging words in my head before I went to sleep: I still have time. There are lots of good guys out there. I am in a better place now to choose a mate than I was in my twenties. I have learned a lot of relationship lessons. I still have time. But only one thing gave me real comfort. If I actually did run out of time, I had a list of motherhood options taped to my desk lamp: donor eggs, foreign and domestic adoption, other couples’ leftover IVF embryos, stepchildren. I knew the alternatives came with their own complications, but I thought they were ones I could live with. And if I had to live with them in the same house as my fabulous new husband, all the better.

So why did I still feel so awful?



Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Comments [37]

p.s. I left out certain specific stories out of respect for the privacy of the children -- not the privacy of the parents, many of whom deserve no privacy.
Adoption -- that is something people should look at. I am so glad people have brought that up. One couple I knew only went that route after IVF just didn't work for them. And, just to show how the underlying deficiencies were just waiting to happen either way, and began to manifest after the child turned about 4, that child moved out as soon as humanly possible and never looked back.
A word to those who are willing to listen.

May. 10 2013 12:50 PM

A few CRITICAL points about 1)freezing ova, and 2)becoming a parent at 40 or so:

1) When you get "advice" from fertility specialists, remember it is a BUSINESS!
2) Even if you go the adoption route, REMEMBER, your heart is set on "being a parent" and "having a BABY". There are too many cases where by the time the child is no longer a "baby", EVERYTHING CHANGES. I won't even relate the details of one particularly bad case. But some don't realize a baby is not a puppy. Too many people never think more than 1 year ahead. Life is not the TV show they imagine. A very bad case with irresponsible parents, but where there is one case there must be others.

And, to be realistic, we are designed to become parents in our 20s, perhaps early 30s. It's not impossible after that, but it does become more difficult -- especially in our society. Incredibly difficult, physically draining in ways one cannot truly foresee. It calls upon a part of us that diminishes with age, physiologically, psychologically, emotionally. I've known wonderful people, wholeheartedly devoted to their kids, but there was no denying the fact that a kid of 8, 10, 14, etc., needs things that a 50+ or 60+ or even 70+ parent often cannot provide, much as they want to. Anyone can get sick at any age, of course, but the odds increase with age. Life, after all, is a terminal condition.
SOMEONE should counsel prospective parents on having a teenager when they are 55 or 60. It is NOT easy -- and the effects on the kids can be profound.

It's too bad Ms. Richards completely omitted this aspect of parenthood (at least on Brian's show).

I am not saying "don't do it." Just "have a little foresight." You are not buying a car or getting a puppy. (And these same people seem far more aware of the transience of "puppyhood" than they are of human infancy.) Babies are HUMAN BEINGS, completely helpless human beings (the most helpless of all babies in the animal kingdom and for the longest time). They have ABSOLUTELY NO SAY IN THE MATTER. They will grow and develop in ways that are uniquely individual and thoroughly unpredictable. Remember that you -- the prospective parent -- will be changing also. Some of us change more than others, but age changes all humans. It is not something people want to anticipate -- who would want to? But it is very real -- and completely unavoidable. It is beyond the scope of modern medicine.
Would you want your 20-year-old dealing with complexities of a 70- or 80-year-old parent?

Sorry to be such a downer. Just a taste of reality, having seen some who "managed", and many (many!) who failed miserably.

Ms. Richards may make some money from her book. I hope it'll be enough to take care of her child when she, herself, is on life support or in need of other serious care. (Unlikely. The book will probably be remaindered in a year. Call her back in a year, Brian, and see how she -- and her book -- are doing. It's your obligation.)

May. 10 2013 12:45 PM
The Truth from Becky

JBUZ -Your such a tool, I am glad she hurt you, whoever she was or Lay on that!

May. 10 2013 12:20 PM
Stefanie Weiss from West Village

I appreciated Betsey's comment about adoption, and wanted to follow up on this and the first-worldism of the premise of this book. Why is our society so obsessed with the idea of the "barren woman"? I wonder if any of the women that pursue IVF have asked themselves the question -- "Do I really NEED to have biological children, or do I just think I'm SUPPOSED to?" I feel these women see themselves as less fully human because of a cultural narrative about what makes a woman, not because of who they truly are. If one has deep longings to be a mother -- and I grant that this is a natural instinct -- there are millions of children that need mothers, desperately. And the costs of adoption can be mitigated if you're willing to adopt domestically, there is also foster care, etc. Just some things to think about. I decided to adopt in my mid-thirties, realizing that my heart was big enough for any child that needed me -- and not being so attached to the idea of a genetic replica.

May. 10 2013 11:55 AM
jgarbuz from Queens


Why don't you call yourself "Lies and Lays from Becky," just so there be truth in advertising?

May. 10 2013 11:50 AM
The Truth from Becky

FYI JBUZ.....JK=just kidding!

I have followed you here enough to know, this is a very touchy subject for you. You're such an easy

May. 10 2013 11:49 AM
Jen from astoria

"The cost of claiming the assumed right to a baby is an extravagance and luxury in a world at war with itself."
Jeremy, I agree with you, and I am female listener and a mom. Sadly, women do have a natural window for fertility and healthful pregnancies, and if you miss it, well, sorry. . .

May. 10 2013 11:46 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Truth from Becky

Yes, one night stand is fun, but about the biological father of that planned accident of yours? He has no role in anything? Oh yeah, you'll need to squeeze the poor sap for money for years for one night of "fun" with you :) I say we need legalize prostitution and make things fairer for men.

May. 10 2013 11:44 AM
The Truth from Becky

Whaaaat?? you found the right guy??? Then what the hell are we talking about??? I'm done.

May. 10 2013 11:42 AM
Bob from Brooklyn

LOL. He's a good sport.

We'll see....

May. 10 2013 11:42 AM
Jennifer from midtown

Kat from Tarrytown,
At some point you're going to have to put your career on hold if you want to be a mom.
-From a 36 year old mother of two

May. 10 2013 11:42 AM
Jeremy from Brooklyn


Can we start calling these conversations and topics what they are: Biological Materialism aka 1st World Problems...framed as such by mostly white women.

The cost of claiming the assumed right to a baby is an extravagance and luxury in a world at war with itself.

Let's talk about that...if we're not afraid of being bullied by your majority female listenership.


May. 10 2013 11:41 AM
The Truth from Becky

$9000, PMS for how many months???AND you may NOT get a baby out of it? Better off doing a one night stand...same as donor eggs and a lot more fun!


May. 10 2013 11:41 AM
Lisa from Brooklyn

Egg sharing idea is interesting. But I wonder if women will be upset later if they shared their eggs, and then can't get pregnant but know or suspect that someone else has had a child with their eggs.

May. 10 2013 11:41 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Those who cry "adopt" are idiots. To adopt, unless the child is a total orphan, means taking someone else's child away because they are poor and need money, or whatever. Adoption is obviously no solution to the looming problem of too many old people and too few young people to work and support them. In time, technology and socioeconomic requirements will lead to the "Brave New World" eventually. We are over 1/3rd of the way there right now. Yes, we can romanticize about love and family, but let's face facts. Those are increasingly obsolescent sentiments from the past.

May. 10 2013 11:40 AM

I've heard that by 45 a woman basically cannot make any more eggs. How long is she able to carry a child before that "biological clock" runs out so that the pregnancy is not very complicated?

Women please comment on why it's so important to have a baby from your own body? I raised my one biological child and an adopted child and I can assure you that I feel the same about both of them. Parenting is so much more important than motherhood or fatherhood.

May. 10 2013 11:39 AM
Brock from Manhattan

How long before feminists attempt to get this procedure government funded in the name of "equality" with men?

May. 10 2013 11:39 AM
Kat from Tarrytown NY

Thank you for this segment. I am 30 and have been contemplating going through this procedure since I was 28. I am career driven at the moment, but know I want to be a mother. I have researched and really appreciate the information given.

May. 10 2013 11:38 AM
pete from Detroit

OMG! There are way to many of us here already! Make love for fun and get a rescue pet :)

May. 10 2013 11:38 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Technology and the social requirment to regulate the supply of young consumers, workers and soldiers will make all of this nonsense of "love," marriage, and family antiquated relics within a century or less.

May. 10 2013 11:37 AM
The Truth from Becky

Frozen donor they sell these at dunkin donuts?! GROSS!!

May. 10 2013 11:37 AM
Bob from Brooklyn

ADOPT! you selfish jerks.

May. 10 2013 11:36 AM
Bob from Brooklyn

Babies over love. How romantic!

May. 10 2013 11:35 AM
Maaza from Johannesburg

"Retrieval surgery" sounds intense. And $50K is pretty pricey. How difficult/painful was the process? And how viable are frozen eggs?

May. 10 2013 11:35 AM
Lisa from Brooklyn

I'm wondering if we have data on the number of women who have used their frozen eggs. What are the success rates? The author emphasizes hope, and hope is important, but is it real or false hope?

May. 10 2013 11:35 AM
janny1006 from jersey city

Everyone deserves the right and opportunity to determine their own biological destiny. More power to her. But the thought of having a 5 year old at age 50 makes me want to lay down for a looong nap :)

May. 10 2013 11:35 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

kthmcgv from nyc

We can get and freeze sperm, or even create sperm artificially, and get eggs from young females and freeze them. There is no need for "family." I believe we'll be able to artificially create fetuses outside the womb in short order. Or maybe in animal wombs. Just as technology ended the need for slavery, so technology will end the need for "marriage" and "family."

May. 10 2013 11:35 AM
Nancy from NYC

Whatever you want to do with your eggs is your choice, of course, but just be aware that kids require a hell of a lot of energy and the older you when you have them are the harder it will be to keep up with them.

May. 10 2013 11:35 AM
John A

Assisted Reproduction oversold. But very lucrative for the seller. No better reward for your child than for you to be young and vital.

May. 10 2013 11:35 AM
The Truth from Becky

Unfair to the child to do this on purpose...if you have a child late in life naturally is one thing but to intentionally decide to be a doddering old fool by the time your child graduates high school is just asinine! Limited physical activity, falling asleep at school plays etc...just plain foolish.

May. 10 2013 11:34 AM
Laura from Brooklyn, NY

THis doesn't account for male sperm which also degrades with time! (unless you're going to the sperm bank)....

May. 10 2013 11:34 AM
The Truth from Becky


May. 10 2013 11:32 AM
Bob from Brooklyn

Are fertility drugs more dangerous than marijuana? Inquiring minds would like to know...

May. 10 2013 11:28 AM
kthmcgv from nyc

@jgarbuz : technology has not liberated women from needing a man. We need men to create the sperm (plus all the other great things they bring to life). Sorry to break it to you!

May. 10 2013 11:08 AM

How do we judge a society with such hatred and contempt for children and the family? We judge ourselves.

May. 10 2013 10:59 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Marriage should be abolished and children produced in factories as soon as technologically possible! Men have a "biological clock" too, and often marry a woman just to have children as well. Very few get the glamorous, attractive, sexually interesting, or successful mate we imagine. Monogamy was a social regime that forced the rationing of mates in an egalitarian method, but it goes against nature. Now that technology has liberated women from the need of having a man to have a child, increasing number of men are left out in the cold. The right of biological fathers to their children has been killed and buried in feminist law. This imbalance and unfairness can only be rectified by legally eliminating the nuclear family and producing children the same way we produce cars or race horses. Since the government already takes care of children in "schools" and women in particular cry for more government aid in raising "their" children, it shouldn't be too hard to just have government take over the entire process of bearing and raising children altogether ala "Brave New World." That way, the relationship between men and women will become purely professional, and sex will never lead to pregnancy nor marriage.

May. 10 2013 10:43 AM
Bob from Brooklyn

Thank god we have moved past the mid-20th century nuclear family ideal. And now, as we move through the tail end of the delayed motherhood fad and into the No Kids reality, maybe things will slowly get better on spaceship earth. There are so many issues associated with overpopulation, pollution and the slave-wage economy that will be directly linked to the puritan work ethic and non-stop baby making. The earth science is finally catching up with selfish procreation at all costs.

May. 10 2013 09:26 AM

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