Many Underestimate Fertility Clock's Clang A new survey finds that while women understand that fertility declines with age, they dramatically underestimate by how much. Infertility experts say the increasing number of older women having babies — often through extensive fertility treatments — can provide a false sense of comfort.
NPR logo

Many Women Underestimate Fertility Clock's Clang

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Many Women Underestimate Fertility Clock's Clang


Now let's talk about Americans who are just at that age where they're beginning to notice that they are getting little older. A new survey finds a problem. The age that women think they can conceive a baby is far different from what their bodies are actually capable of delivering. This poses an increasing problem as more women wait longer than ever to have children. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Kate Donnellon Nail never imagined she'd have trouble conceiving. For one thing, people always tell the San Francisco musician she looks much younger than her 43 years.

KATE DONNELLON NAIL: I work out regularly; I have a personal trainer; I do yoga - I've been doing yoga for 15 years.

LUDDEN: Nail's grandmother gave birth at 42, so she figured she was predisposed to fabulous fertility. Doctors say there's no such evidence. But Nail is healthy, and makes a point to eat well.

NAIL: Unfortunately, that doesn't always translate to those little eggs in your ovaries. They're not getting the message.

LUDDEN: When she was nearly 41, Nail and her husband went to a fertility doctor, who laid out the stark stats for someone her age.

NAIL: They put them out on a piece of paper on the desk right in front of me, and I was like, whoa. It just seemed so fashionable to have kids in your 40s these days.

LUDDEN: It is. And according to a recent poll, it also seems so easy. The survey, funded by the biopharmaceutical company EMD Serono, finds women dramatically underestimate how much fertility declines with age.

For a typical 40 year old, many assumed up to a 40 percent success rate in one try. It's actually less than 10 percent. The survey finds women also think you can get pregnant more quickly than actually happens. And while many do realize some older moms used fertility treatments, they overestimate their success rate.

BARBARA COLLURA: The first thing they say is, why didn't anybody tell me this?

LUDDEN: Barbara Collura co-authored the survey and heads Resolve, the National Infertility Association. She laments that no federal agency pushes this issue. And neither women nor their OB/GYNs tend to bring it up, though Collura admits fading fertility is a hard message to deliver.

COLLURA: Let's be honest, women don't want to hear that they can't have it all. We can have a great job, we can have a master's degree. We don't need to worry about child-bearing because that's something that'll come. And when it doesn't happen, women are really angry.

LUDDEN: After all, everywhere you look these days, the message seems to be women can have it all.


MARIAH CAREY: (Singing) No one can take your place, there ain't nobody better, oh, Rocky, Rocky...

LUDDEN: Mariah Carey's among a wave of 40-something celebrity moms. She recently showed off her twins to ABC's Barbara Walters.


CAREY: He's just very mellow...

BARBARA WALTERS: Look at that, look how he looks at you.

LUDDEN: Carey did admit to fertility treatments. But many do not. Then there was this summer's "Real Housewives of New York." Fifty-three-year-old glam mom Ramona Singer confided to a friend she'd missed a period.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Are you pregnant?

RAMONA SINGER: I might be.

LUDDEN: That's right, a woman who's 53 - around the age most enter menopause - assumed she was pregnant.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You know, Dr. Bramer just told me I have a very young uterus. You must have one, too!

LUDDEN: Needless to say - or is it? - Singer was not pregnant. So we need a public awareness campaign, right? Well, it's tricky.

MONICA MINGO: I just feel like it's just something else that they lump onto women that we have no control over.

LUDDEN: Monica Mingo has blogged about her decade-long effort to conceive. She says the real issue is society at large, which is pushing back the age people are expected to settle down and have kids. Mingo didn't even meet her husband till she was 32.

MINGO: You tell us, oh, your fertile years rapidly decline in your mid-20s. Well, if I'm not dating anyone and I want to have a family, what's that information going to do for me?

LUDDEN: A decade ago, a fertility ad campaign on public buses in several big cities sparked a vicious backlash. It featured a baby bottle shaped like an hourglass, to warn women their time was running out. But women's rights groups called it a scare tactic that left women feeling pressured and guilty. Another ad campaign? Sure, says Mingo.

MINGO: And it needs to come on at times when men are paying attention. Heck, put it on in the middle of a football game or something, I mean...

LUDDEN: The ticking biological clock, she says, is not a burden women should bear alone.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.