Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

The 'Big Lie' in putting off pregnancy

By Wendy Sachs, Special to CNN
updated 9:03 AM EST, Wed January 22, 2014
At age 45, <a href='http://www.people.com/people/package/article/0,,20364464_20364639,00.html' target='_blank'>Sandra Bullock revealed in April 2010</a> that she'd adopted a baby boy, Louis Bardo, from New Orleans. At age 45, Sandra Bullock revealed in April 2010 that she'd adopted a baby boy, Louis Bardo, from New Orleans.
HIDE CAPTION
Celeb moms older than 40
Celeb moms older than 40
Celeb moms older than 40
Celeb moms older than 40
Celeb moms older than 40
Celeb moms older than 40
Celeb moms older than 40
Celeb moms older than 40
Celeb moms older than 40
Celeb moms over 40
Celeb moms older than 40
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tanya Selvaratnam wrote the book "The Big Lie" about the "reality of the biological clock"
  • Despite what celeb magazines suggest, it's harder to get pregnant after age 35, she says
  • Selvaratnam: "We are the guinea pig generation for testing the limits of our fertility"

Editor's note: Wendy Sachs is an award-winning TV producer, former Capitol Hill press secretary, media strategist, work-life expert and author of the book "How She Really Does It: Secrets of Successful Stay-at-Work Moms."

(CNN) -- Blame it on the baby bump and our pop cultural infatuation with celebrity, but today, regular women have yet another reason to feel inadequate: motherhood.

In the past decade, for the celebrity set, babies have become as fashionable as Birkin bags. The media has fueled the fertility frenzy by outing every pregnant, or potentially pregnant, Hollywood starlet. But then there's more -- with every aspect of a celeb mom's glamorized pregnancy reported, from excessive weight gain to dramatic post-partum weight loss, regular women are fed a distorted depiction of pregnancy.

But perhaps nothing does a tragic disservice to women more than the media's coverage of those over-35 celebrities who seem to easily get pregnant whenever they choose, writes Tanya Selvaratnam in her new book, "The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism and the Reality of the Biological Clock."

\
"For the celebrity set, babies have become as fashionable as Birkin bags," Wendy Sachs writes.

We've all seen the US Weekly and People magazine images. There's Halle Berry having a baby at 47 years old, and Kelly Preston doing the same. Uma Thurman had her third child at 42. Julianne Moore, Tina Fey and Salma Hayek each had daughters at 41 years old. Jane Seymour had twins at 45 and Mariah Carey birthed hers at 42. Not only do these women look ageless, they defy biology.

"One of the reasons I wrote the book was because I was frustrated by the conflicting messages and information out there," Selvaratnam said. "We see celebrities having kids seemingly without any problems and we have no idea what they went through. We see the end result, but not the struggle."

Ironically, motherhood has never been so chic at a time when so many women are struggling to get pregnant. The number of women between age 40 and 44 who remain childless has doubled in a generation; in 1976 it was one out of 10, by 2006 it was one in five, according to the U.S. Census.

In Selvaratnam's deeply personal and provocative book, she shares her own journey of three miscarriages, multiple IVF treatments, cancer and the ultimate toll it took on her marriage. She explores the impact of delayed motherhood and the bad information that women receive, not only from aspirational celebrity images, but also from their own doctors.

Selvaratnam writes that after her first miscarriage at 37 years old, her OB-GYN told her that she still "had time" to get pregnant. So instead of rushing to a fertility center, she waited, and that was a serious mistake.

The "Big Lie," she writes is that women can do what they want on their own timetables. They can delay motherhood until they are emotionally and financially ready, secure in their careers and have found that perfect partner and if they have trouble getting pregnant, modern medicine will miraculously give them a child.

Forty may be the new 30, but our ovaries have not gotten the same makeover. Even with all the advances in reproductive technology, our eggs have a finite shelf life and the odds of having a child over 40 years old are shockingly slim.

Tiny miracle after massive heartbreak
Having a family when there's infertility
Family adopts embryos, gets a surprise

According to the Southern California Center for Reproductive Medicine, a woman in her 20s has a 20-25% chance of conceiving naturally per menstrual cycle. In her early 30s, the chance of pregnancy is 15% per cycle. After 35, the odds of pregnancy without medical intervention are at 10%. After 40, that number falls to 5%, and women over 45 have a 1% chance of conception.

The number of childless women in the United States today is growing. According to a Pew study conducted in 2008, about 18% of women in the United States don't have children by the end of their childbearing years. In 2008, there were 1.9 million childless women between 40 and 44, compared with 580,000 in 1976.

From the Pew report: "Among older women, ages 40-44, there are equal numbers of women who are childless by choice and those who would like children but cannot have them, according to an analysis of data from the National Survey of Family Growth."

Perhaps one of the greatest myths today is the ability of science to step in and make babies for women at virtually any age. Selvaratnam says that we see the success stories, but rarely hear about the huge numbers of failed attempts. A 2009 report on Assisted Reproductive Technologies, or ARTs, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the single most important factor affecting the chances of a successful pregnancy through ARTs is a woman's age. Selvaratnam reports that at age 40, the chance is 18.7%; at 42, it's 10%; at 44, it's only 2.9%.

"We are the guinea pig generation for testing the limits of our fertility, or our chances of having a child. The shock and the lack of preparation when you're not prepared and the pressure women feel in general about our reproductive selves adds to the shame women feel when they can't get pregnant," Selvaratnam said.

She also argues that feminism may have misled Gen X women by avoiding the topic of motherhood and biology. The trend of delaying motherhood was meant to empower women, but ironically it may have boomeranged, leaving scores of women infertile and desperate to have a baby. Selvaratnam believes that we need to reset the conversation and reconcile motherhood with also being an educated, independent, successful woman.

Like birth control, Selvaratnam suggests that information be promoted about fertility and the realities of delaying motherhood. She suggests that every young woman be shown a chart of her overall fertility so she understands when her eggs are best and when the number will start declining. She thinks that with the information, women can be more strategic about trying to get pregnant or at least not be blindsided if they have difficulties because they waited.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

The attrition rate of our eggs is startling. Selvaratnam reports that the number of eggs at a girl's first menstrual cycle is 300,000 to 400,000. By age 30, we're down to between 39,000 to 52,000, which is about 13% of the eggs we had at puberty. By age 40, we have only 3% of our initial cache of eggs -- about 9,000 to 12,000 eggs -- and many of these eggs will not be viable.

Ironically, in our uber-sharing age, infertility still remains shrouded in silence. Selvaratnam wants to de-stigmatize miscarriage and infertility and get people connected and talking.

"When women have miscarriages or infertility we feel like failures. I want people to realize how common these issues are. When you see the statistics, it becomes clear you are not alone," Selvaratnam said. "You look at celebs and think 'What's wrong with me?' when it seems to work out for all of these other people. But the truth is, for most people, it doesn't work out."

Selvaratnam is also hoping that her book will be a policy changer. She's advocating for better health insurance to cover infertility treatments as well as better public education for women. Changing the paradigm for women in the workplace, increasing work-life flexibility and creating more affordable child care, she believes, is also intricately linked with supporting women so they can become mothers. Taking some time off from your career, or easily coming back to your job is a fundamental issue for easing the path for women to have a baby in their late 20s or early 30s -- the optimal time for fertility, but often a terrible time to interrupt careers.

"We place so much pressure on women in regard to ... their reproductive selves and on their careers. So many women are suffering," Selvaratnam said. "We need to find ways to advocate, small and big. Instead of judging each other,we should be supporting each other. I want people to look at my story and see and see how they can prevent it from happening to them."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:10 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
If it hasn't happened already, it likely will at some point: the moment you don't like one of your child's friends. What do you do?
updated 6:50 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
They say the first step to overcoming a problem is realizing you have one in the first place. An online quiz can help you determine whether you are over-reliant on your cell phone.
updated 9:52 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Options for meat substitutes have come a long way since Seth Tibbott's first few Thanksgivings as a vegetarian in the 1970s.
updated 4:12 PM EST, Sat November 22, 2014
Students unhappy with school meals are taking it out on the first lady by sharing images on social media of lunches sarcastically tagged #ThanksMichelleObama.
updated 9:55 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
A Louisiana family is fighting to protect its beloved pit bull from a "vicious dogs" ordinance.
updated 5:20 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. CNN's Michaela Pereira grew up in a family of five adopted girls in Canada and eventually reunited with her biological half-sister.
updated 2:39 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
It began for Nickolay Lamm as a question: What would Barbie look like if she had the dimensions of an average woman?
updated 9:16 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Bill Cosby was thought of as a perceptive comedian and genial father figure. Now, that persona pairs with another, much darker image.
updated 12:35 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
If you think 'my teen would never sext,' you might be mistaken. Recent studies suggest it's more common than many parents might want to admit.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
I pictured myself graduating from college, getting a cool job and even having a cute place of my own. Instead, I wake to the early-morning sounds of my family dog barking and my parents making coffee downstairs.
updated 12:38 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Samantha Futerman and Anais Bordier tease, poke and prod each other like they've grown up together, but they didn't. Neither woman knew she had an identical twin sister until less than two years ago.
updated 9:02 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
A school district in Maryland has decided to remove all references to religious holidays from its school calendar, leaving some in the community frustrated.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
Female veterans often have a harder time finding employment than their male counterparts. But why?
updated 3:19 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
I simply couldn't believe my eyes. At a children's party this year, I witnessed full-on "mean girl" behavior.
updated 12:24 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
Several children were sent to the hospital after being sickened by ingesting detergent pods.
updated 9:46 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
There are plenty of times when I literally wish I could take a hammer to the portrayal of girls and women in the media. In a new ad, a little girl gets to do just that.
updated 10:09 AM EST, Sat November 8, 2014
"Playing doctor" and "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" are common rites of passage in childhood sexual behavior, according to the experts.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
A tech startup claims credit for making Alex from Target go viral, but there's skepticism about how involved it was, if at all.
updated 5:47 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
A soft toy for cribs lets babies post pictures of themselves to social media.
updated 11:55 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Schools are increasingly confronting a controversial question: Should they do more to monitor students' online interactions off-campus to keep them safe?
updated 11:56 AM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
The National Toy Hall of Fame recently inducted three new favorites into its hallowed halls. What's your favorite?
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
We don't know, and may never know, what led to the Washington school shooting, but we have to ask ourselves, following this tragedy, if we are doing enough to help our boys deal with difficult emotions without resorting to violence.
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
The viral video of a New York woman being catcalled on the street has men asking, "So, what should I do?" The answer starts with respect.
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Trick-or-treating and dressing in costume have been Halloween traditions for a good long time now, but it seems we're still struggling to get it right.
updated 4:38 PM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
Yes, there's actually corn in it. Corn syrup, if that counts.
updated 2:28 PM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Walmart found itself sending apology tweet after apology tweet after the Twitterverse raked it over the coals for a major goof on its website.
updated 4:02 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
There aren't too many times when I'm speechless about what I consider an outrageous example of parenting. This is one of those times.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Holy crap, LeVar Burton.
updated 5:38 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Critics pounced on supermodel Gisele Bundchen for advocating a little mommy "me time" recently. When did it become a crime to admit that you -- as a parent -- put yourself first?
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Not again.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
"Breaking Bad's" drug-dealing chemistry teacher Walter White will have to stop making the sale at Toys R Us.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
I happen to agree with Renee Zellweger that all the chatter about her face is "silly." But I, and many other women I talked with via email Wednesday, would add some other choice words to the mix to describe the non-stop attention about her appearance: nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
I have long thought millennials, who expect flexibility in the workplace, would be the group that would bring an end to the stigma that is too often associated with flex time -- the belief that wanting a flexible work arrangement means you aren't willing to work as hard. But now I'm thinking it's going to be men who will get us there.
updated 7:40 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Say it with us: Kids today have it sooooo easy.
updated 2:29 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
An Atlanta judge reportedly reprimanded an immigration attorney for bringing her 4-week-old to court for a hearing -- a hearing she asked the judge to reschedule because she was on her six-week maternity leave.
updated 11:04 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Monica Lewinsky tweeted for the first time. She called herself "patient zero" of cyber-bullying.
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Meet Shyanne Roberts, a 10-year-old competitive shooter with something to prove: "Kids and guns don't always mean bad things happen."
updated 9:50 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
strawberry ghosts
We love Halloween season. Sweets. Sweaters. Sipping hot cider (maybe spiked). Halloween can certainly get you in the spirit, and nothing warms our hearts like these healthy Halloween treats that help you stay energized instead of stuck in a sugar coma.
updated 3:23 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Does your baby cry during long flights, causing you to want to disappear from the glares of fellow passengers?
updated 4:14 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Ask any teen if they suffer from social media anxiety and they would probably tell you no. But the truth is getting "likes" and the fear of missing out are adding stress to teens' lives.
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Many photographers have taken it upon themselves to document stillborn and terminal babies' precious moments after birth.
updated 3:46 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
As part of the insurance coverage offered to its female employees, Facebook is paying to freeze their eggs.
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Amal Alamuddin was well-known in many important circles long before she snagged the world's most eligible bachelor. But Amal Alamuddin is now Amal Clooney, according to her law firm's website.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Trends in young adult fiction have shifted from wizards to glittering vampires to bloodthirsty "Hunger Games" and now, to teens coping with illnesses and realistic issues.
updated 8:56 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Before he died this year, 14-year-old Martin Romero wanted to do something for his community.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT