Like a growing number of women, I waited until I was in 35 to start trying for a baby, until my husband and I were "ready" — emotionally and financially. I figured it would take a month or two, but I wasn't too worried about it. I was only 35, after all.
But a few months in, I noticed my menstrual cycles were getting shorter and shorter, and I had a gut feeling something was off. My doctor ordered a couple of tests to measure my egg supply.
Days later, I got the call that almost killed me: I had diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), a condition whereupon a woman's egg supply is dwindling faster than it should, and I had about a 2 percent chance of naturally conceiving a baby.
I practically dropped the phone.
"I am only 35!" I exclaimed. "How can I need fertility treatments?"
I had thought age 35 was supposed to be the absolute deadline for getting started, before my fertility really started to decline. Also, so many celebrities I read about — Marcia Cross, Kelly Preston — were getting knocked up deep into their 40s.
Fortunately, I got lucky. At the last minute, right before my husband and I were about to put down $15,000 for my first non-insurance-covered IVF treatment, I got pregnant. It's important to mention that I still paid about $5,000 on ovulation kits, visits to specialists and medications prescribed by my doctor to "prevent miscarriage." The one thing I didn't pay for was a cooperative, willing husband.
But many couples and single women in their 30s and 40s who are trying to get pregnant aren't so fortunate. When deciding on when to start trying for a baby, it's common for couples to push back the process because they're not financially ready. Perhaps that's why there is such a high volume of "Can You Afford to Have a Baby?" journalism. This is understandable. We live in a lackluster economy and the thought of somehow coming up with more money and supporting a child can be stressful.
But waiting too long to have a baby could cost you more than several years' worth of diapers and daycare — and you might not have anything to show for your efforts.
Big misconceptions and big costs
Most people have heard that infertility — which is defined as the inability to conceive a child after one year or more of unprotected sexual intercourse — affects about 15 percent of all couples across the board, but usually increases with a woman's age, says Dr. Alan Penzias, a reproductive endocrinologist at Boston IVF.
A woman's fertility starts to decline noticeably at 27, and more steeply at age 35, and even more steeply at age 40. While a man's fertility doesn't decline at the same rate, there is growing evidence that the quality of sperm degrades over time — and recent studies have linked children of men age 50 and above to a higher risk for autism. What people don't assume is that they will need fertility treatments — or that it will be as expensive as it is.
"Nobody feels like they're getting less fertile," says Penzias, who is also an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School. "The biggest alarm bells aren't biological, they're chronological. I see a lot of people age 29, 34, and 39 coming into the office, fearing their 30th, 35th, and 40th birthday. Some societal message says, 'when I hit that next seminal birthday, that's when I see fertility decline.' It's more emotional."
What Hollywood has to do with it
Sometimes husbands or boyfriends are responsible for a couple's decision to wait, rationalizing the decision based on media images of Halle Berry pregnant at 46. But what celebrities don't tend to publicize is the expensive fertility treatments they may have used to get pregnant.
"At 46, for a celebrity who's going to have a baby, I'm going to think a donor egg is very highly likely there," says Penzias.
The average cost of one non-donor fresh IVF cycle is about $12,400, according to the American Pregnancy Association. And the chance that an IVF cycle will create a live baby is about 40 percent for women age 35 and under, according to 2011 data from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Success rates drop to an average of 32 percent for women ages 35-37, and 22 percent for women ages 38-40.
Plan B: Should you put your eggs on ice?
As a backup plan, some women opt to freeze eggs and put them in reserve for future use. The cost of IVF for egg freezing varies. Frozen embryos are another future option for women who have spare embryos available at the time of a fresh IVF cycle. The price of a frozen embryo transfer also varies; sometimes it's as low as $1,000 to as high as $3,500, based on an internet price search.
IVF with donor eggs, which some couples decide to use after one or more rounds of unsuccessful IVF with their own eggs, costs about $15,000-30,000 and has a 50 to 65 percent success rate.
It's easy to see how many couples can rack up debt of $30,000 or more — and even adoption costs about $30,000.
Many insurance companies don't cover fertility treatments, which is why so many IVF centers offer financing plans. (Check with your insurer to see if they do.)
Currently only 15 states have laws requiring infertility coverage, according to RESOLVE, The National Infertility Association (look up yours here). And oftentimes there are strings attached. My 40-year-old friend Francine* got her $5,000 intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatments covered, but when she switched plans, because she was over age 40, coverage for IVF was denied and she and her husband paid $15,000 for one cycle. At least one other friend of mine has paid three times that amount.
Looking back: What would I have done differently?
I'm so happy with my 11-month-old son that it's hard to say if I would have done anything differently.
However, I wish someone had told me at 25, or even 30, to freeze my eggs. It costs about $10,000 to $15,000 to harvest and freeze one batch (not including storage fees), but it would be such a relief to know that if all else fails on my quest for baby #2, I'd have good, young eggs to fall back on.
I have suggested to my friends in their 30s who aren't planning on having kids anytime soon to put theirs on ice, too. Many have rolled their eyes. No one wants to believe that they could be financially or physically challenged when it comes time to conceive a child — whether that's at 35, 40 or beyond.
No one should ever feel rushed to have a baby. But if money is the biggest roadblock, those who strive to be parents should try to look at the bigger picture.
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