Your Ovaries and You

A friend of mine posted a recent Washington Post article on Facebook, about the terror-inducing rate at which women’s fertility declines, to the point that by age 30 we’re a mere 30,000 eggs away from barren. Or so the tone would have you believe. It’s every stereotypical mother
who’s ever berated her daughter for not giving her grandchildren. So,
in addition to worrying about an unplanned pregnancy and whether I’ll
be able to get an abortion, I’ve now reached the ripe old age of 30 (ok
32) and find out that I only have 10% of my eggs left? When did under
planning pregnancy enter into this? Female fertility has become a
schizophrenic mine field. We have to convince teenagers of their
ability to get pregnant and why they shouldn’t, when in actuality they
are at their most fertile, only to spend our 20s trying to finish the
growing up we putt off in our late teens, and reach a point where it’s
actually responsible to have a child, and then hit 30 and realize we’re
late to the parenting party. What does that say about our world where
we seem to have evolved in so many ways, constantly extending our
youth, that we have almost missed the mark on reproduction? Is this
really possible at the same time that we are still experiencing
overpopulation issues globally?

As a former Planned Parenthood employee I’m leery of any article that suggests that women – and their partners – rush into parenting. Something that complex and life-changing shouldn’t be rushed into. Of course women deserve to know all the facts, so if this study holds up to further analysis and replication, then women should certainly be made aware. I just hope it doesn’t result in decisions made for manufactured reasons. There’s
already so much societal pressure to have children that it seems almost
cosmically unfair to add biology to the mix. Especially since this study not only reinforces the societal message, but gives it a validity that can only be matched by religion. Clearly, we were meant to breed as early as possible. Never mind the graduate degree, or even the undergraduate degree if you want more than one normal and healthy child. Our real job is to create the next generation. As for how well we raise them, how safe and clean we leave the planet for them, or anything else, well that’s secondary. Hopefully our children will
figure that part out.

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  • crowepps

    If a woman’s fertility drop precipitously at 30, why are 25% of abortions done on women over that age? According to the scare stories, it should be impossible for them to get pregnant.

  • feminazi

    I’ve read that these studies are true, but only when you take into consideration the fact that human females are born with millions and millions of eggs, most of which have been absorbed or otherwise disappeared before any of us even start our periods for the first time. More scare tactics by the establishment desperate to get women to stay home, clean house, cook, and make babies instead of getting out into the world and changing it.

  • elyzabeth

          All of my repro experience is with cows, but it works pretty much the same in humans.  A fetal heifer starts with about 7 billion eggs.  By the time she is born, she has about 7 million.  By the time your heifer hits puberty and is ready to breed (about 14 or 15 months), she only has 700,000 eggs left.  Now, each time she cycles (comparable to a human menstrual cycle) her ovaries recruit a few hundred eggs to start developing.  However, all the eggs but one die off.  That one egg then ovulates and can potentially get fertilized. 


         The reproductive system is mind-blowingly wasteful compared to any other system in the body, and we still do not know why it is so inefficient.  Why do so many billions of our eggs die when we are still in utero?  Why do hundreds of eggs start developing and then just die each month when we really only need one? 


         If we understood reproduction better, we would be able to lengthen women’s reproductive years.  Until then, I wish our society had a better system for helping women either complete their educations before their clocks run out, or had some system to facilitate going back to school after having children. 



  • crowepps

    The reproductive system is mind-blowingly wasteful compared to any other system in the body, and we still do not know why it is so inefficient.

    The thing that I find really puzzling is that this scientific fact is a basis of our biology, every biologist and doctor knows this, and yet there is a huge proportion of our population who think ‘insert sperm’ leads inevitably to ‘healthy baby’.


    When people are totally unaware of how the reproductive process works and the wastage naturally built into it, you get totally clueless statements like “I think (no matter when in the pregnancy it occurs or what the problem is) they should be able to save both lives.” Well, here in the tiny village of Realityville, that isn’t possible and there is no reason to believe it will be possible any time in the foreseeable future.


    As my Grandpa used to say, “Wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one gets full first.”

  • elyzabeth

    Agreed.  I’m  just flipping through my notes from my last genetic class, and I found two more pertinent facts.  Apparently, 12.5 percent of all fertilized human eggs have some sort of chromosome abnormality.  The vast majority of these simply die within the first few cell divisions.


    The second figure is in livestock species (this is difficult to study ethically in humans) only 52% of fertilized eggs live long enough to be born.


    It’s sort of scary to think that the average woman may have had several miscarriages and never even noticed since there is no possibly way to detect an embryo at such an early state of development.

  • crowepps

    It’s my understanding that pretty consistently the percentage of zygotes which are unable to develop into blastocysts when created for in-vitro fertilization is closer to 25%.


    I wouldn’t consider that failure to develop a ‘miscarriage’ however, because to me a miscarriage means the pregnancy actually started and then couldn’t continue. A failed attempt to create a germ cell isn’t the same thing as the start of a pregnancy.


    No pregnancy could be detected because the failed germ cell didn’t even develop long enough to signal the body to develop an endometrial lining in the uterus. The woman’s body didn’t react to the presence of the failed attempt in any way so she never became ‘pregnant’ in the first place.  A germ cell discarded because it failed to develop isn’t much different than one which was never fertilized in the first place.   It’s a little hard to figure out why you think that’s ‘scary’ – it happens to be the way human reproduction has always worked.