The Truth About Infertility Under 30
By Zara Hanawalt
I was 28 when I began trying (and trying and trying) to conceive. As a journalist covering fertility and prenatal health, I had all this information right at my fingertips, but nothing could prepare me for the frustrating, isolating reality of facing fertility challenges before age 30.
At the time, my friends all fell squarely into one of two camps: Either they’d gotten pregnant immediately — often before even transitioning from “not not trying” to trying in earnest — or, they were actively avoiding pregnancy. None of them had drawers devoted to ovulation trackers in their bathrooms like I did. None of them understood why questions like “so when are you having kids?” are so problematic. None of them spoke the language of infertility; they had no idea what acronyms like AMH, IUI, or HSG meant. Even though I knew on an intellectual level that infertility is common, I felt intensely isolated.
Infertility in your 20s: "You're so young, you have plenty of time."
It turns out, I wasn’t alone: Rescripted’s Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Kristyn Hodgdon, also underwent IVF to conceive her twins before she turned 30. As Kristyn and I learned firsthand, social isolation is just one aspect of the infertility-under-30 experience.
There’s also the frustrating way everyone — from friends and family members to some medical professionals — uses some version of the same phrase when a young person expresses a fertility concern: “You’re so young. Just relax and it’ll happen.”
“I went into my doctor’s office [and she said] ‘Oh, you just need some Clomid and you’ll be fine. You’ll be pregnant in no time. That gave me a lot of hope but [it also gave me] completely unrealistic expectations,” Kristyn told me. Despite this reassurance, she underwent several failed rounds of IUI before progressing to IVF.
Both Kristyn and I felt invalidated through our experiences. In retrospect, it makes some sort of sense: Fertility experts see complicated cases every day, and to them, the concerns of a young patient may not seem as urgent. But even 20-something fertility patients are patients. And we need to create a culture of support for these patients, who can so easily feel isolated or unseen.
Infertility under 35: It's more common than you think.
When it comes to age and fertility, there is an undeniable link. According to the CDC, about 1 in 5 couples in which the woman is aged 30-39 will suffer from infertility, as compared to 1 in 8 couples in which a woman is under 30. But while the odds of experiencing infertility are lower before 30, there are people in this age group who will struggle. We, as a society, just seem to have forgotten them.
Young people may experience infertility for a variety of reasons, according to a blog post from Lucky Sekhon, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist. A condition like PCOS or endometriosis may affect their fertility, they may have blocked Fallopian tubes, or male factor infertility may be at work. Or, there may be no detectable reason, which is chalked up to “unexplained infertility." Regardless, Dr. Sekhon agrees that many of her 20-something patients feel frustrated and dismissed thanks to that false cultural idea that fertility issues only affect people of a certain age.
Without support, people dealing with infertility under 30 may take on an even greater emotional burden. They also may not learn the full scope of their options or be steered away from seeking out fertility testing or treatments, due to their age. Take Kristyn’s experience: Because medical professionals assumed she wouldn’t need to undergo IVF due to her age, no one really communicated this option to her. “After three IUIs I actually realized I had full-blown infertility coverage through insurance, which no one had told me about — no one had told me I had coverage for IVF,” she says.
Infertility is a painful, stressful, and often lonely experience for anyone, but for people under 30, that combination of social isolation and frequent invalidation can add new layers of difficulty. The key, if our experiences have taught us anything, is in working to make yourself seen and heard.
Advocating yourself and seeking support
Medically, that might mean advocating for yourself. During my experience, I ended up self-referring to a fertility clinic because my doctor told me to “just keep at it” even after a year of trying and a miscarriage. Advocating for yourself may involve requesting more testing, calling your doctor’s office to run any questions by them (yes, even if you’ve already called earlier that week), or even switching to a different doctor if you’re feeling repeatedly invalidated.
And socially, seeking support may involve telling your friends exactly what you need from them — whether that’s simply a listening ear, or for them to stop asking questions like “you’re not drinking, do you have news?” Those are questions that seem fairly innocuous to many 20-somethings who haven’t experienced infertility but can be extremely painful for anyone who is struggling.
There’s a chance that you won’t find strong social support in your existing circles — but if you’re feeling the loneliness of infertility under 30, know this: You’re not alone. You may just need to look outside your friends and family for a support system. Rescripted offers a community where you can connect with others experiencing infertility, for example. That social support can help emotionally, but it can also help you take actionable tips on how to navigate the complex, often confusing world of infertility.
Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, MarieClaire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.