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Jan. 27 2010 - 4:47 pm | 325 views | 1 recommendation | 6 comments

Ladies: Extreme new perils for your (in)fertile self

This Darwin Private Hospital handout photo tak...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Remember, there’s always adoption.

That’s what the woman of the house might want to be telling herself, if she’s been taking note of the newspaper’s health section this week. It’s bad enough that one of the only reasons I ever considered pregnancy – the excuse to smoke excessive quantities of controlled substances, “for my cramps” – has gotten negative press for apparently stunting fetal development and leading to cognitively delayed kids (to which I say: whatever, the pot-babies are just really mellow, alright?). To make matters worse for women of reproductive age, though, another host of new studies are making me suspect that my own ovaries are already shriveled into tiny, infertile raisins.

One study, reported with a large photo of a ticking clock by the always-sophisticated Daily Mail, concluded that a woman’s egg supply actually dwindled much faster than science once thought. In fact, the average 30-year-old will have just 12 percent of her eggs left and rarin’ to be fertilized. “By her 40th birthday the situation is even more bleak,” the Mail warns ominously. By then, only 3 percent of her eggs remain alive and well.

But perhaps the most depressing part of this study is the reaction of the doctor behind it. “There are women waiting for the next promotion, or waiting to meet Mr Right,” scoffed researcher Dr. Tom Kelsey, of St Andrews University. “Women often do not realize how seriously ovarian reserve declines after the age of 35. Every year that goes by you are losing a big proportion of your ovarian reserve.”

Trust me, Dr. Kelsey. WE KNOW. That’s why so many desperate 20-somethings keep signing up for The Bachelor.

Then there’s the delicious news out of UC Berkeley, where researchers concluded that standard household cleaning products can slay a woman’s fertility by 50 percent. Flame-retardant chemicals, called PBDEs, are found in such things as furniture and drapes. “The good news is these chemicals have or are being phased out,” said lead study author Kim Harley. The bad news is that you’ve probably been exposed to a fair share of, you know, furniture, in your lifetime. In fact, 97 percent of Americans have detectable levels of PBDEs in their bloodstream. With a statistic like that, I’m wondering how any woman, living in a furnished indoor space, has even been impregnated in the last decade.

If you do manage to get knocked up, good luck with the crippling depression. A preliminary study suggests that women who stick with anti-depressants have a risk of delayed lactation that’s twice as large as that of women who don’t medicate. Ironically, pregnant women are at the highest risk for depression in their third trimester or right after giving birth – exactly when lactation should start kicking in.

“These women need to know that delay doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen,” points out study author Kathleen Kendall-Tackett. Maybe, but you only have a few months of teat-bonding with your newborn. If you don’t breastfeed, your child has a greater risk of illness, asthma and obesity, along with reduced cognitive development.  Can you imagine how you’d feel if your own mental health problems led to a sickly, asthmatic adult offspring?

It’s all enough to make you want to light up a joint. Oh. Wait.


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  1. collapse expand

    “Trust me, Dr. Kelsey. WE KNOW. That’s why so many desperate 20-somethings keep signing up for The Bachelor.”

    Hilarious! I totally love it.

    For those of us who may have delayed lactation, here’s one piece of good news. All that stuff about breastfeeding being so amazing that if you don’t do it your child will obviously turn out to be a neanderthal? Not actually true. Here’s Hanna Rosin’s article in the Atlantic, “The Case Against Breast Feeding,” http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200904/case-against-breastfeeding

  2. collapse expand

    Thanks for the link! Very interesting.

    And the Bachelor? Seriously. Those women are really, truly remarkable examples of fertility panic.

  3. collapse expand

    Hahaha. Since I’m already at the ripe old age of 25 with no mating prospects in sight, I guess I’m pretty much a lost cause. I’ll take a puppy instead.

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    About Me

    I'm a full-time heath & science writer at Sphere and a contributing editor at True/Slant. I also contribute military health news to Danger Room at Wired.com, and have recently written for Marie Claire, World Politics Review and Next American City.

    My first foray into journalism came in middle school - at a French-speaking plaid-kilt-wearing educational institute somewhere in the Canadian tundra. It was there that I decided to start my own newspaper, to disseminate my sarcasm and attitude problem among my peers. We lasted three issues.

    From there I started to freelance, and when I became a medium-sized fish in a small Canadian lake, I decided to move to New York, and become a spore in a vast journalistic ocean. The adventure continues.

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