How to take your reproductive future into your own hands

What would you do with your life if you knew that you had all the time in the world to create a family?

By Lauren Schiller

Published February 15, 2018 6:58PM (EST)

 (Courtesy of Rachel Lehmann-Haupt)
(Courtesy of Rachel Lehmann-Haupt)

How does anyone ever know when it’s the “right time” for a woman to have children?

I mean, we know the wrong times. We know when we definitely don’t want kids. Usually when we’re too busy or single or financially strapped.

But our reproductive systems don’t care about our looming deadlines at work or the due date on our electricity bill. The female body has its own deadline for procreation. And despite women choosing to have kids later in life, our biology has yet to extend the deadline.

When you’re pregnant after 35, they refer to you as an “AMA:” Advanced Maternal Age. Every appointment involves some kind of test in which they calculate the percentages of risk.

What it all adds up to is a constant wag of the finger: While you took your sweet time building a thriving career and pursuing a life of fulfillment, there’s a good change your eggs went past their expiration date.

But what if you could put a pause on that race to stay ahead of your biological clock? What would you do with your life if you knew that you had all the time in the world to create a family?

My latest guest on my podcast "Inflection Point," Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, spent years researching and writing about reproductive technology. Then, at age 37, her own self-imposed pregnancy deadline came and went. She had the difficult conversation with her boyfriend at the time, that so many women in long, going-nowhere relationships have.

“We're sitting on the couch and we've been dating a year and I say to him, ‘I'm starting to feel like we need to figure out where this relationship is going,’” Rachel told me in our conversation. “And he got really upset with me and he said ‘I don't understand, why can't you just let our relationship take its organic course.’ And I said ‘because I'm 37 years old and my clock is ticking.’ And he said to me ‘it's nature's cruel joke against women.’ And then he called me hysterical.”

So . . . yeah. That wasn’t going to work out. They broke up.

Being an expert on reproductive technology, Rachel took the next practical step: She had her eggs frozen.

“They put the eggs in a Petri dish and then they put the eggs into a process called vitrification where they freeze them really quickly and they're frozen forever,” she said. “And then you just store them until you're ready to use them. And the idea is, you know, maybe women don't want to necessarily use them — that you want to get pregnant naturally — but you have it as a backup. It's an insurance policy. And for me, it was the ultimate psychological relief. I didn't have to feel this sort of desperation to find a partner.”

Rachel isn’t alone in her motivation to keep her reproductive options open. More and more women in their 30s and 40s are choosing to freeze their eggs for a variety of reasons, but the number one reason is a lack of eligible partners.

The question is, are partners even necessary to procreating? In Rachel’s case, no. After freezing her eggs, and after a few failed relationships, Rachel took her procreation into her own hands and went to a sperm bank.

“I wanted to have my family just be me and my kid.” Rachel told me. And now she’s the mother of a five-year-old boy.

Hear more about what happens when women take control of their reproductive destinies, and what it means for the feminist movement, by listening to my conversation with Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, author of “In Her Own Sweet Time: Egg Freezing and the New Frontiers of Family.”

Lauren Schiller

Lauren Schiller is the creator and host of Inflection Point, a podcast and public radio show from KALW and PRX featuring stories of how women rise up. For more rising up stories, follow Lauren on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to the podcast on Android or Apple.

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