In your 20s, life gives you lots to think about. Career goals. Dating choices. The perils of tax season. But one thing 20-somethings rarely prioritize is their reproductive future.
Overall, healthier lifestyles are allowing women to live longer and age slower. But this also creates a reproductive illusion. While our bodies are stronger than ever, our egg quality and quantity has an irreversible expiration period.
"I hear a lot of 'I wish I knew you when,'" says Dr. Arlene Morales, a reproductive endocrinologist affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group. "I see many women who come in too late, when they have low odds and broken hearts. But I've never had a younger patient regret getting checked out early."
While there's no way to take an exact egg count — or know egg quality — reproductive endocrinologists can map a thorough blueprint of a woman's reproductive situation by doing three things:
Reviewing her clinical history
Women are asked to share information that may impact their fertility, such as past chemotherapy treatments, family history, previous surgeries or their mother's menopausal age.
Performing an ultrasound
Viewing the ovaries by ultrasound helps measure the visible egg follicles, a process called antral follicle count. It helps approximate the remaining egg quantity.
Testing her blood
Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) is secreted by the cells in developing follicles. Testing the AMH level in a woman's blood is a good indication of her ovarian reserve.
This combination paints a picture, and can help a woman decide next steps. "The decision looks different for everyone," says Dr. Morales. "Some women gain the confidence that they have enough eggs, and revisit their options in a few years. Some are surprised by how few eggs they have left, and get a jump-start on family planning. And some are still not ready for motherhood, and choose the freezing option."
Recent data supports the decades-long trend of women putting off pregnancy until later in life. Yet it also shows an uptick in pregnancies. Every day, more and more women are getting in touch with their reproductive system's natural aging process — something Dr. Morales is very happy about.
"Helping women take charge of their fertility is a privilege," she says. "But my message is more about education than anything else. Checking in with your body is an investment in your future, and one few women regret."
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Morales about planning for pregnancy for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.