Anyone who keeps up with the Kardashians (and I’m afraid that I do) will know of 34 year-old Kim’s struggles to become pregnant with her second child. As the reality show had it, Kim found herself relying on ovulation test kits bought in bulk and the contradictory advice of her fertility specialist. She was stressed to always be surprised to find herself ovulating and then have to fit sex with her husband in around her busy schedule. Basically, she felt powerless in the face of presumed infertility issues and a body she did not fully understand. For someone so seemingly engaged with the outward appearance of her body, she was in the dark when it came to what was going on inside.
In 2013 Atlantic magazine published a cover feature titled ‘How Long Can You Wait To Have A Baby?’ in which writer Jean Twenge suggested one of the driving forces behind the rise in the use of IVF might be a lack of body literacy, amongst both women trying to conceive and their healthcare providers. Twenge analyzed the research that makes up the basis for much of the national infertility panic as well as individual anxiety over falling fertility rates after 30 and she discovered that with increased body literacy many, many more women would be able to become pregnant when they chose.
As she explained: “David Dunson’s analysis revealed that intercourse two days before ovulation resulted in pregnancy 29 percent of the time for 35-to-39-year-old women, compared with about 42 percent for 27-to-29-year-olds. So, by this measure, fertility falls by about a third from a woman’s late 20s to her late 30s. However, a 35-to-39-year-old’s fertility two days before ovulation was the same as a 19-to-26-year-old’s fertility three days before ovulation: according to Dunson’s data, older couples who time sex just one day better than younger ones will effectively eliminate the age difference.”
Essentially, the article put forth the idea that the older a woman becomes the more important it is that she truly knows how to observe and track her fertile period and precise day of ovulation. Gaining body literacy in your 20s could set you up for having power over when you become pregnant in your 30s. Rather than feeling pushed to have a baby perhaps earlier than they would have preferred, fertility awareness could give many women the confidence to wait until they’re ready. It could also prevent thousands of women from going through unnecessary, physically costly, and expensive IVF treatment. And, seeing as infertility is also associated with high levels of stress, perhaps the relief of the pressure that comes with a feeling of lack of control over one’s future can be alleviated with a fertility awareness education.
When this Atlantic article was published there were few fertility awareness apps on the market and yet now there are both sophisticated apps and paired sophisticated thermometers to support women in gaining this education. This technology, as opposed to that employed as part of the IVF process, is entirely in women’s hands. Instead of more “IVF babies” we may well see an increase of “app babies” – born as a result of their mother’s superior knowledge of the workings of her fertility cycle.
A little bit about Holly and her awesome work!
Holly Grigg-Spall is a writer and women's health advocate. Her book Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control has been featured in Elle, the Sunday Times Style (UK), Marie Claire, New York magazine, the Guardian, and on CBC and the BBC, amongst others. The book was optioned by Ricki Lake and is the inspiration for a forthcoming feature documentary. She also currently writes frequently for LadyClever.com.