Early Menopause Made Me Want Kids For the First Time

I never wanted kids. But when my husband and I learned I was nearing menopause at age 33, we decided to freeze our embryos. Four years later, I'm pregnant with our first child and have really learned the meaning of "never say never."

An illustration of a woman holding an ultrasound.
Photo: Illustration: Yeji Kim.

When I learned I was nearing menopause at age 33, I did not want children. Now, four years later, I'm pregnant with one of the two embryos my husband David and I created back then. As I write this, our baby is somersaulting inside my 29-week-pregnant belly, and my hands stop typing to meet her movement, marveling not only at her existence but at my own joy.

My path to pregnancy began when my OB recommended that I have a fertility workup after taking my family history. When I told her that my mom entered menopause at age 42, her eyes widened. "I would see a specialist now," my OB said, since genetic factors play a big role in determining the age of menopause.

I resisted at first. I had, after all, just let her know that David and I were happily married and did not want children. I hated the societal assumption that we should or would eventually change our minds. Also, I was 33 and my mom had been 42. Didn't that give me nine more years?

"No, unfortunately. Fertility ends five to 10 years before menopause, declining rapidly before that," my OB told me.

I nodded, my mind reeling as nine years turned into no years in a matter of seconds.

I talked this over with David that night. Between his economist and my lawyer training, we wanted the facts, so we lined up an appointment with a fertility specialist.

The facts we learned were not good. The message from the specialist was clear: freeze now or lose your chance.

What David and I would do with that message was less clear. On the one hand, this news felt like confirmation of my long-standing belief that children were not for me. I had become a lawyer out of a drive for financial security and independence. A child represented the opposite of independence.

On the other hand, David and I hate losing opportunities. As an economist, he is all about options. And I regularly insist on splitting two dishes at dinner so I don't have to choose. We often said that having a baby is one of the few irreversible decisions in life. But this news made us realize that the decision not to act quickly could be equally irreversible.

We often said that having a baby is one of the few irreversible decisions in life. But this news made us realize that the decision not to act quickly could be equally irreversible.

So we signed up for the embryo freezing process. Learning that our insurance did not cover the high price tag of IVF was a setback. And then there were the physical impacts. Because my fertility numbers were poor, my hormone protocol was extreme. By the end of three weeks of daily shots, my uterus was so swollen that I began waddling like a duck. For weeks after my egg retrieval, I remained unconvinced that the process had been worth the physical and financial toll.

That ambivalence changed the day I received a call in my law firm office. "I have your results," the embryologist said. "You have two genetically normal female embryos for freezing."

There are moments in life when it takes time for emotion to catch up to the words being spoken. That was one of those moments.

Part of me had been convinced that this process would never work. Not with my fertility numbers. Nothing made the embryologist's words real until, hours later and halfway through a sentence in my legal brief, I started crying. I rushed to lock my door and let the tears fall.

My tears were the beginning of a new script I started writing to myself that day, one that would be more open to possibilities. Over the next few years, David and I never had a grand realization. We never felt certain. And yet, we both started to feel a slow drip of curiosity. Hiking together in the mountains—our happy place—we started talking about who we might become if we had a child in our lives. Not better or worse people, but different people.

It was not until the pandemic, with its mix of chaos and perspective, that we decided to put our 16 years of childless couplehood to rest. Although we tried naturally at first, my mind kept returning to our embryos. They were supposed to be our insurance policy, but from the moment I learned about them, they had become much more than that.

On the heels of a difficult miscarriage, we decided to implant one of the embryos. I was convinced that the implantation would not work. Again, I was proven wrong. Now, seven months pregnant with an aching back, I tell myself that one child is plenty. And yet, I can't help but think of that other embryo and wonder. I now know better than to say never.

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