Keeping Time With Your Biological Clock

You’ve seen the photos — Hollywood celebrities proudly sporting baby bumps well into their thirties and even their forties. Such images might lead you to believe that 40 is the new 20 when it comes to women’s fertility. But in reality, your biological clock marches on every time you blow out the candles on your birthday cake. “Women at 40 may look 20, but they still have 40-year-old eggs,” says William E. Gibbons, MD, director of the Family Fertility Program at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women and director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Baylor College of Medicine, both in Houston.

In older women, the issue with eggs is about both quantity and quality . Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. At birth, you have more than a million, but by the time puberty rolls around, only about 300,000 remain. Of those, just a few hundred will mature and be ovulated during your reproductive years. The rest — about a thousand a month — are simply lost in a process called atresia.

The best genetically sound eggs ripen and are ovulated first. So, the cream of the crop is released during a woman’s younger years. Angela Chaudhari, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, adds that as eggs age, they are more likely to have a mutation because of the aging process. In older women, these factors affect both the ability to get pregnant and the chance of miscarriage, which increases. Older moms are also more likely to give birth to babies with chromosomal issues, like Down syndrome.

Family Planning: Your Fertility Timeline

In women’s health, reproductive years officially begin at first menstruation and end at menopause. Dr. Gibbons says that, biologically speaking, the best time for a woman to try to conceive is between the ages of 18 and 30. The biological clock really starts ticking at age 32, when doctors can detect a decline in egg quality and, therefore, fertility, Gibbons says. Every year after 32, your chances of having a baby drop.

Here’s the fertility timeline as you move into your late thirties and forties, according to Gibbons:

  • At age 35, one in five eggs in the ovary is genetically normal.
  • At 40, one in nine is normal.
  • At 45, the number drops to one in 15.

Delaying Motherhood and Infertility Treatments

Older women may not realize just how much their biological clock is working against them. “Too often women past the age of 40 have unrealistic expectations,” Gibbons says. “They believe that infertility treatments will be the solution.” A recent study by Yale University researchers bears that out. They found that more women age 43 and older are turning to infertility clinics under the misconception that pregnancy can be instantly achieved despite their age.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assisted reproductive techniques, like in vitro fertilization (IVF), resulted in a live birth for fewer than 7 percent of 43-year-old women who used their own eggs.

But getting pregnant using a donor egg can raise your chances significantly. “A 45-year-old will have the same pregnancy rate as a 25-year-old if she uses a 25 year-old egg,” Gibbons says.

Still, having a baby later in life can put you at greater risk for gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia, Chaudhari says. “Older women in their first pregnancy seem to have a higher rate of cesarean section as well,” she adds.

If you’re prime-time baby-making age, but aren’t ready for motherhood, you do have options. One is to freeze eggs to use at a later time, a process called oocyte cryopreservation. It’s an expensive option, costing as much as $25,000, plus there’s a chance that your eggs will not survive the freezing, thawing, and fertilization process. Although still a relatively new procedure, freezing eggs is no longer considered experimental by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and is expected to soon become mainstream. Still, timing is vital. “The earlier a woman chooses this option, the better chance of success,” Gibbons explains.

Another possibility is embryo freezing, which is also expensive but has a higher pregnancy success rate than freezing eggs, says Chaudhari. “This, of course, requires a sperm donor or partner, which some young women may find unacceptable,” she adds.

One Woman’s Journey to Motherhood

Robin Gorman Newman of Great Neck, N.Y., now 51, hit a few bumps on the road to motherhood. Newman, the founder of MotherhoodLater.com, and her husband struggled with fertility problems when they decided to start a family, when she was about 36 years old. Newman says both partners had infertility issues, but she believes her older age probably played a role. The couple decided to try IVF, but that didn’t work. “It was exhausting, and I was not comfortable with the whole process,” she says. “Ultimately, we pursued adoption.” Four long years after that decision, Newman and her husband finally became the proud adoptive parents of Seth, now 9 years old.

Newman says being older gives her vital life experience that she uses as a mother. “I try not to sweat the small stuff, and I trust my instincts as a parent. Age is an asset, not an issue,” she says. Newman adds that she does not regret not trying to have a baby earlier in life. “I believe in fate — you get the child you are meant to have. My son is a gem — I couldn’t love a child more.”

Nourish Your Women’s Network and Feed Leadership

(WOMENSENEWS)–A financial help book that I got at a networking event last year has been sitting on my shelf, tugging at me to pick it up. The author, Julie Murphy Casserly, gave an inspiring speech at the event. Her down-to-earth approach on finances stuck in my head: “Financial healing is a process. When you focus only on money, you are disconnected from what you are truly after: your desired life.”

After I began reading her book, I was engulfed and I began thinking about a friend who is finishing school and networking with women in the financial services industry. It wasn’t long before I sent an email to tell Casserly that I loved her book and that I had a quick question: Does she ever hire interns at her firm?

I took a risk. She could have said no or simply not responded to me at all. She wrote back saying she was looking to hire one more intern. Just like that, I tapped my network and hit gold.

This is how women today can help build the pipeline to leadership: by nourishing our networks with caring, thoughtful and compassionate connections.

We’ve all heard the word “networking.” We’ve all heard how important it is for our careers. We’re all oversaturated with Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” inspired networking circles. We’ve been to networking events. Networked, networked, networked; but what does it really mean? In my feminist space, it means connecting women.

I have knack for remembering details. When I meet a new woman at a YWCA Metropolitan Chicago event and find out that she’s a financial planner, my mind immediately starts flicking through the mental rolodex. I think, I need to connect her with the woman I met last week at the Mount Holyoke College networking event. Networks aren’t locked to a specific industry or group, they are fluid and often that fluidity is the key to finding out what you do or don’t want from your career.

Asking for Help

Case in point. Without networking, I wouldn’t be where I am today. A few years ago, when I was working full time but looking into a career change, I asked my mentor for help. She not only gave me direct and solid advice, but she connected me with a C-suite woman who spent 30 minutes on the phone talking me through a career in corporate philanthropy. In the end, I stuck with public relations and communications, but from that one conversation I realized that corporate philanthropy wouldn’t become a part of my five year career plan.

Paying it forward is core to my networking best practices. When you’re in the middle of conversations at networking events, it’s not enough to simply say, “I know someone you should meet.” You must be accountable to your network, the community that supports and nourishes you. Put together an email, set up a coffee or lunch date or get on a conference call to make an effective connection.

The key to making these connections successful is knowing your audience. If you are unsure of a particular woman’s goals, have a deeper conversation before reaching out to women in your network. This way, when you do, you can be sure to make the best connection possible.

Sometimes, a meeting between two women in your network may not go well, but each encounter provides a valuable lesson. Recently I connected a seasoned organizational development professional with a recent grad. The relationship didn’t result in the long-lasting connection I thought it might. But the recent grad discovered what she didn’t want to do with her life. The seasoned professional gained valuable insight into what motivates millennials; she later applied the information to a career course that she was teaching at a local university.

By connecting two people, you are essentially standing behind both women. You become a bridge for connection that is essential to supporting the pipeline to women’s leadership.

Sobering Statistics

We certainly need the support because the statistics are sobering: women comprise 16.8 percent of Congress, they make up 16.6 percent of corporate governance boards in the United States and 4.2 percent of CEOs are women. And it only gets worse in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), where women made up only 9 percent of electrical and electronics engineers in 2012.

If you’re hesitating to connect two women, ask yourself why (and remind yourself of the statistics). Fear may be holding you back from putting yourself out there. Perhaps the two women you’re thinking of connecting aren’t ready to be connected just yet. Or maybe you’ve lost a few women to changing priorities.

Whatever the reasons, here are a few suggestions to break down any fears that you may have about empowering your network through connections. When meeting new women, ask and think about what problems they are looking to solve. Listen closely and wonder: Who, from the list of hundreds in your mental rolodex, could help solve these problems? Every conversation you have is important, and a detail from a year ago may come in handy today.

A while ago, I sat down with a small business owner. She started her fashion business two years ago. As we spoke, I came up with at least five women in my network whom she should meet. She was looking for advice on a social media strategy and she was hoping to expand her connections to the local fashion industry. I’ve since connected her via email to two women.

I’m telling you these stories because sometimes we think we don’t know how we can help each other. We let fear get in the way, but there are so many ways that we can help and, often, these ways aren’t huge asks. A first impression, a lingering detail and a new introduction can go a long way toward empowering and sustaining your network. Women must nourish their networks and appreciate those who have supported us in our journeys toward creating better futures. Put yourself out there for others and watch your network flourish.

Christine Gallagher Kearney is a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago Board of Ambassador Council member, co-founder of ChiFems Action Network and past president of DePaul University’s Women’s Network. She has published in such places as ForbesWoman and Girl w/Pen! (now a part of The Society Pages).

My Mom Taught Me Why Minimum Wage is Women’s Issue

DALLAS (WOMENSENEWS)– Across the U.S., states are debating raising the minimum wage.

In Missouri, where I grew up, supporters are gathering petitions for ballot initiatives. One would increase it to $9 an hour from $7.65 and then a dollar a year until it is $15.

I know what this fight means for people because I grew up with one of the hardest workers, my mom. She worked at a uniform manufacturing plant in Missouri for 30 years. Most minimum wage workers today are women with similar struggles as my mom.

My mom woke up every morning at 4:30 a.m., made lunches, cooked a hot breakfast for the family (I’m talking bacon and eggs) and then drove an hour north of where we lived to work in an enclosed room with no ventilation, applying airplane glue to seams on rainwear.

In an effort to cover costs with the mileage she put on our vehicle, she picked up fellow workers along the route and they paid her to carpool.

She consistently received recognition plaques for her work attendance. She made it to work even when the roads were icy and schools were shut down. No one else dared drive 10 miles to work at 5:30 in the morning, let alone 45 miles.

She would return from work and start her second job of cooking and cleaning at home. She never received a living wage.

Piece Price System

Her company used the piece price system versus an hourly wage. For anyone unfamiliar with this payment system, here’s the Merriam-Webster definition: a convict labor system in which a private contractor furnishes the raw materials and pays the government a stipulated price for the work done on each piece or article produced.

Just change the term “convict” to “employee” and you get the gist.

My mom also worked a weekend job for a couple of years for additional income at another manufacturing company where she worked Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

If it weren’t for my father’s Air Force retirement check and the job he worked after, we would not have been able to afford our middle-class existence.

Through all of this, my mom was the happiest person. Now I know part of her happiness may have been from the airplane glue but those working conditions have caused multiple health issues in her later life. She battles daily with memory loss and pulmonary issues. None of the treatment for this was covered by her employer.

This same employer moved the work site and her job to Honduras in the early 1990s. No fanfare, no severance package, no retirement benefits.

In the U.S., 3.3 million workers earn the hourly minimum or less, according to PEW Research.

Around 77 percent of the workers at or below the federal minimum wage are white, half are women and they are more likely to live in the South, also according to PEW.

I was paid $2.01 per hour as a waitress 25 years ago in Missouri. Current federal minimum pay for the same position is $2.13. We’ve only increased the mandated minimum wage for tipped employees 12 cents in the last quarter century.

Around 55 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

U.S. Ranks Almost Last

If we actually review the trend of wages and cost of living over the last two and half decades the U.S rankssecond to lowest, undercut only by China at $2.24 an hour.

Any person making minimum wage, in any state, working a 40-hour work week will have to pay more than 30 percent of their earnings for a fair-market-value, one-bedroom apartment, according to an analysis by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The fewest hours of work needed in the continental U.S. to cover the one-bedroom apartment is 49 hours in South Dakota. The highest is Maryland with 101 hours.

I know that some businesses, especially small ones, say they just can’t afford to increase minimum wage.

If that’s the case, perhaps the owners should look at better-revenue options, such as merging with other organizations or creating cooperative partnerships to reduce overhead. Whatever it takes any employer worthy of that name should divert enough funds to pay the minimum wage. If not, it’s probably operating so close to the edge of insolvency that another business-related expense, whatever it may be, will probably put the company over that line.

We need to start making federal changes to increase the minimum wage for women like my mom and other families who are struggling for the middle class dream.

Jeannie Rickey is the director of the Office of Admissions Processing at Texas Woman’s University and a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project. Prior to that, she spent 21 years in the corporate world, in various finance and human resources roles.