At 34, Liz Melchor, a journalist and photographer in San Francisco, was single and surrounded by babies. Her younger brother and sister both had little girls, and her Facebook newsfeed was filled with photos of her friends’ newborns.
Worried that her fertility was in decline, Melchor decided to freeze her eggs. A few days into the process, she met a man who’d become a serious boyfriend. Three dates in, she decided to have The Talk ― the conversation about her fertility and family-planning decisions ― with him.
“In the middle of making out, I remember saying to him, ‘Can I tell you something?’ And then I just blurted out, ‘I am in the middle of freezing my eggs.’”
Melchor was surprised by his reaction.
“He seemed to be unfazed, maybe even a bit relieved, because later I learned how much he wanted children, and we continued to kiss,” she said. “It wasn’t a typical way to start a relationship, but we ended up staying together for a year and a half.”
Melchor and her ex were on the same page about having kids, which was something she was concerned about before talking with him. It’s easy to run worst-case scenarios through your head before broaching the subject with your S.O. You don’t want to seem anxious or beholden to a biological clock.
Typically, the end of the childbearing years is said to be around the ages of 40 to 44. But the fertility rate has increased for women over 40 in recent years, so there often is more time than most people think. That being said, once you’ve reached a certain stage in your relationship, your concerns about fertility and smart family planning can be valid.
After all, nearly 1 in 8 couples in the U.S. are affected by infertility, and women’s fertility begins to decline significantly from ages 35 to 39. Men have a biological clock, too. Concerns about fertility shouldn’t fall exclusively fall on women’s shoulders.
“Tackling this complex subject can bring a couple closer together and help take the relationship to the next level.”
If conceiving is something that is extremely important to you in the future, having this conversation with a partner is vital, said Joshua U. Klein, a physician and the chief clinical officer at Extend Fertility, a full-service fertility clinic in New York City.
“Broaching the subject of fertility can be a great reality-check for a good relationship that is grounded in shared life goals,” he said. “Tackling this complex subject can bring a couple closer together and help take the relationship to the next level.”
Below, fertility experts and women who’ve been there themselves offer their best advice for broaching the subject.
First, consider a fertility assessment to get a better sense of your reproductive health.
Writer and women’s health advocate Jennifer Palumbo wasn’t shy about bringing up having kids or potentially freezing her eggs when she was dating in her 30s.
“With my now-husband, as soon as I started to feel he was, as crime investigators would put it, ‘a person of interest,’ I asked if children were something he saw in his future,” she told HuffPost.
But long before she’d met him, she went in for fertility assessment (or AMH test) to get a better sense of her reproductive health — namely, the quantity of her egg supply and how successful she might be if she decided to harvest her eggs for egg freezing or in vitro fertilization.
“Knowing some of this stuff will help you decide if you need to be more proactive either about pursuing treatment or having a conversation sooner rather than later with a potential life partner about all this,” Palumbo said.
It’s worth noting that some experts think the AHM test offers limited insight into your fertility, given how nuanced and complex getting pregnant can be. It is a useful tool to determine the chances of pulling eggs for IVF, though.
Be prepared to educate.
For the most part, public health education on reproduction in the U.S. has been geared toward contraception and preventing unintended pregnancy, not getting pregnant, Klein said.
“While well-intended and in many ways justified, this approach has created a huge public health vacuum when it comes to fertility, infertility and the biological clock,” he said. “This lack of awareness directly fuels the anxiety and fear that often surrounds conversations around fertility, age and family planning.”
Most people have limited knowledge of fertility, so be prepared to explain what it means to freeze your eggs, why you want to pursue it and what your general options are, Klein said. Explain, too, that egg preservation doesn’t mean you want to have kids now; it’s more just about trying to plan for the future.
Recognize that no matter the reaction, this is a productive conversation.
Knowledge is power. Only good can come of knowing if your partner is or isn’t on the same page about a family and what that means for your future, said Andrea Bryman, a marriage and family therapist who specializes in assisted reproduction.
“I’m a firm believer in direct communication. I don’t suggest addressing this topic in a sideways manner,” she said. “Deciding to have a family in the future doesn’t have to be something that one should be ashamed or embarrassed about. I think it is totally acceptable to say, ‘I’m not sure if or when I want to have children but I’m pretty sure I want to research what all my options are in the event that I do want them in the future.’”
Ultimately, the topics of family planning and egg preservation are a part of a larger dialogue about having kids. If you and your S.O. are completely at odds on the subject, you might need to reevaluate where the two of you stand, said Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, author of “In Her Own Sweet Time: Egg Freezing and the New Frontiers of Family.”
“Sometimes getting these issues off the table will give you the answers you need to make a smart decision, even if it means coming to terms with the fact that the relationship isn’t right,” she said.
Use your friend’s experience ― or a celebrity’s story ― as a jumping-off point.
As for how to broach the conversation, take a casual approach: Use an anecdote about a friend who froze her eggs or a celebrity’s frank interview about fertility as a jumping-off point, Palumbo said.
“The topic may come up organically, where you can get their opinions or thoughts on something you heard,” she said. “I think more and more, fertility, infertility treatment and family building is becoming a common topic, whether it’s a celebrity, relative or friend of a friend who has gone through egg freezing, IVF or surrogacy.”
Frame it as an “us” conversation, not a “me” conversation.
American women are waiting longer than ever to have children to pursue careers. Perhaps your partner did the same thing. In a genuine partnership, you both have a stake in each other’s career. In much the same way, you both also have a stake in your fertility and family planning decisions.
With that in mind, present the issue as a “we” topic, not an “I’m dealing with this myself” topic, Lehmann-Haupt said. (In other words, “We should talk about this if we’re serious about the future.”)
“If they respond to you with love and respect, it’s a good sign,” she said. “I had a boyfriend tell me I was hysterical about the issue, which did not feel good, and also told me that he wasn’t the right person for me.”
Plus, as Lehmann-Haupt mentioned, male fertility is affected by a man’s age, too. A 2004 German study suggested that as men age, the the volume, motility (essentially, the ability of the sperm to move efficiently), and structure of sperm all decline.
“They have biological clocks as well,” she said. “Since we’re all starting our families later, men need to become more sensitive and understanding around these conversations.”
“Living With” is a guide to navigating conditions that affect your mind and body. Each month in 2019, HuffPost Life will tackle very real issues people live with by offering different stories, advice and ways to connect with others who understand what it’s like. In August, we’re covering infertility. Got an experience you’d like to share? Email email@example.com.