Infertile? Check with Mom

Her biological clock could provide clues to your fertility

Infertility affects 7.3 million women and their partners in the U.S. — and many more have difficulty conceiving.  

A survey done for Schering-Plough, the pharmaceutical company, found that 61 percent of infertile couples hid their condition from family and friends. It also found that 7 in 10 women said being infertile made them feel “flawed,” while half the men felt “inadequate” because of it.    

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Now, science is discovering how a mother’s biological clock can provide clues to her daughter’s window on conception.

It’s why arming yourself with knowledge of your mother’s onset of menopause may help you plan for starting your own family.

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Ask most women when their mothers began menopause and the vast majority have no idea. I certainly didn’t when I began writing this — age 53, I learned, after interviewing my primary source. (Thanks, Mom!)

Part of this embarrassment may be because even among women, “feminine matters” such as these are rarely discussed. Another reason: Most people don’t realize the impact age of maternal onset may have on a daughter’s fertility.  

A study in the journal Human Reproduction found that early maternal menopause could affect the levels of antral-follicle count and anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) in the women’s daughters. Lower levels of these are indicative of a lower egg count and could suggest fertility problems.

Researchers from several hospitals in Denmark studied 863 participants. The results showed that AMH levels decreased by 8.6 percent per year, and antral-follicle count declined by 5.8 percent per year in daughters whose mothers experienced premature menopause. 

Most people don’t realize the impact age of maternal onset may have on a daughter’s fertility.

“Low levels are not concrete, but are not a good prognostic sign,” said Dr. Steven Goldstein, a gynecologist and obstetrician at New York University’s Langione Medical Center.

Roxanne Smith (not her real name) knows all about that. She said her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38. She went into menopause shortly after. When Smith tried to get pregnant at the age of 37, she faced fertility problems.

“Usually, if you’re starting to try at that age, you’re already viewed as being of ‘advanced maternal age,’” Smith told LifeZette.  

Related: His Clock Ticks, Too

After almost a year of trying to conceive, Smith and her husband visited fertility clinics at New York University and Cornell University. She took fertility drugs, then tried artificial insemination twice. Both attempts were unsuccessful. Then the couple tried in vitro fertilization (IVF).

In IVF, the eggs are fertilized outside of the body in a lab and then implanted into the uterus. It is the most effective form of assisted reproduction, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Smith became pregnant after just one cycle of IVF, but admitted it wasn’t easy — the process was filled with needles and injections.

“I know many people struggle with that for many cycles, so I was very lucky,” Smith told LifeZette. 

Related: Hold the Hormones

She was 39 when her first son was born. Two years later, she tried again. She suffered a miscarriage after a cycle of IVF.

Then, Smith and her husband conceived naturally and welcomed their second son.

“Plenty of women with a low AMH can still conceive,” said Goldstein of NYU, adding that the relationship between premature menopause and a daughter’s fertility is more of a “trend” or “predisposition.” It depends largely on the individual.

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