Ever since I got my period, I wanted to have my first child at 31. Before I understood the complexities of getting pregnant and naively thought you could plan the exact month and year your baby would arrive, 2017 was going to be my time. The idea came from my mum, who had me at 31 and took four years out of her career to look after me while also studying part-time to further her qualifications. What a great idea!
As I left university, ten years later, this ‘plan’ remained unchanged. So I cemented my 2017 baby milestone and got stuck into my own career, turning a blind eye to the barrage of celebrity pregnancies and fertility fixated media coverage.
It wasn’t until I decided to take a break from the pill in 2012, just a few weeks after my 26th birthday, that things began to unravel. After 12 months of my cycles refusing to settle down, I decided to go to the doctor to check everything was ok. Obligatory poking and prodding followed. “Everything seems fine” my GP reassured me. “It’s probably just that you’re not ovulating. I recommend you go back on the pill to regulate your cycles.”
“Hold the phone.” I said. Not ovulating? I knew enough about reproduction to know that no eggs meant no babies. I’d been with my boyfriend for ten years and we’d just got engaged. “If you’re telling me I might have problems getting pregnant, then I’ll start trying for a baby now,” I proposed. But the doctor wasn’t listening. “Your problem isn’t that you’re struggling to have a baby, it’s that your cycles are irregular. So the solution is to go back on the pill. You’d need to have been trying for a baby for a year with no success for us to investigate your fertility any further.”
I was dumbfounded. Sitting in this stuffy GP’s surgery, my life plan was falling apart. If I didn’t start trying for a baby until my 30th birthday and ran into problems, I could run out of time altogether. But on the other hand, if I started trying for a baby now, I could be a parent in nine months – something I knew I definitely didn’t want. I had so many questions and wanted advice, but within minutes I’d been handed a prescription for the pill and shuffled out of the surgery with a heavy heart.
By the time I got home I was furious. I threw the prescription in the bin and opened my laptop. Little did I know that I was descending into a vortex of information that would consume me for the next year. As I fervently Googled everything from ‘what to do if you’re not ovulating’ through to ‘having a baby at 27′ and ‘how to know if your fertile’, I not only learnt a lot more about reproduction than I ever did at school, but also managed to convince myself I was barren in just a few short hours.
Scrolling through the Mumsnet forums, I came across talk of a herbal supplement that might boost my chances of ovulation and within a few months of taking it I was back to a regular 30 day cycle. But my paranoia about infertility would not go away and neither did my obsession with searching for information and answers online.
Drawn into blogs, forums and news articles, each month I’d find a new problem. I self-diagnosed a short luteal phase, over-ripened eggs and hostile cervical mucus. I decided my progesterone levels were too low and if I ever did get pregnant I’d be sure to miscarry. I read up on how to conceive and was shocked to discover that you can only get pregnant 5-7 days of each cycle and that even if you and your partner are totally healthy, the odds are relatively low when it comes to your first try.
The ‘facts’ and anecdotal stories I found in ‘TTC’ forums were only made worse by endless news articles about female fertility and the dreaded ‘biological clock’. I would seek these articles out and sit for hours reading about how I shouldn’t leave it too late, that my fertility would fall off a cliff at 35, that I would be left childless if I didn’t get down to business now.
Confusingly, celebrities who themselves had delayed motherhood until post-35, like Kate Silverton, Natasha Kaplinsky and Kirstie Allsopp, preached from the headlines, telling young women to have kids now as “Nature is not a feminist!”. Meanwhile, no two women seemed to agree. Twenty-somethings with kids would chastise those who were delaying motherhood, while other forty-something mums argued their children were healthier and more intelligent.
I’d flit between being reassured that the statistics were outdated and skewed to scaremonger ‘career women'; to feeling as though I really would miss out on parenthood if I didn’t at least start trying now. At the peak of my paranoia, I bought a basal thermometer and starting charting my cycles simply to reassure myself that I was ovulating and that my cycle was as it should be.
Then one day, I realised. I had nearly Googled myself into having a baby. How many hours had I spent reading up on the subject and I wasn’t even having unprotected sex? Despite all my research and reading, my gut feeling about when I wanted to have children hadn’t changed.
Granted, my tumble into the online fertility frenzy has been informative. First and foremost, I’ve learnt that I can’t presume I will be able to reproduce, let alone plan exactly when said offspring will come along. Of course, there are many women out there who have struggled with infertility for years, and at all ages. These people may find the internet hugely supportive and I by no means want to belittle or discredit their heartbreaking stories. Afterall, I’m yet to discover if I will experience the same problems.
That said, I am tired of the media polarising women’s experiences when it comes to family planning in an effort to cause a reaction – be that fear, guilt, panic or smugness. Surely this is a reason why young people increasingly believe they are infertile when most healthy women should be able to conceive naturally within a few months?
With two years to go until my 30th birthday, I’m officially putting my basal thermometer and crazy time-wasting internet habits to bed – for now at least. In the same way that we shouldn’t let Kim Kardashian’s bum or hilarious cat videos distract us from actually living our lives, it’s time to stop asking the worldwide web to make decisions for us.