July 20, 2019

The Road to Fertility

“On a Tuesday afternoon in late April I was absent-mindedly sponging down my daughter Ellena’s highchair, and obsessively checking the clock. It was the day my OB-GYN would be calling with the results of a key hormone test. Ellena was just over a year old, and my husband and I had only been trying to conceive for a few months, but at 42, I knew it was best to make sure my numbers were favorably lined up.

I can still easily recall the rush of fear, after the phone finally rang and I stood in the dim light of our narrow Upper West Side kitchen listening to my doctor’s voice: “The follicle-stimulating hormone helps us assess a woman’s ovarian reserve. I’m afraid your levels are much too high, Julia. At 42, with an FSH of 42, there is nothing I can do for you. You should see a fertility specialist. The sooner the better. I’ll send you a list.”

This can’t be true, I thought, taking a slow, deep Lamaze breath and trying to reason my way out of panic: We conceived Ellena on the first try. How could things fall apart so quickly?

The next morning, armed with a list of referrals, I set out in search of a more hopeful prognosis. But things were not off to a great start. “I’m sorry,” said the receptionist at the first doctor’s office. “He will not accept you as a patient. Your FSH is too high; he doesn’t think he could help you.” The five reproductive endocrinologists who did agree to see me displayed graphs of plummeting success rates for women over 40, with high FSH.”

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