Women and fertility: What if it’s been a ‘Big Lie’?

 Tanya Selvaratnam hopes 'The Big Lie' will be a wake-up call for women who are postponing reproduction.  Credit: Chiara Clemente
Tanya Selvaratnam hopes “The Big Lie” will be a wakeup call for women who are postponing starting a family. Credit: Chiara Clemente

We know the nursery rhyme: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.” But for the modern woman, it’s a bit more like: “First comes education, then a graduate degree, toss in some exotic travel, a high-powered job, financial security — then love, marriage, and a baby.” However, as Tanya Selvaratnam writes in her new book, “The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock,” that happy ending isn’t necessarily a given.

“Biology doesn’t bend to feminist principles, and science cannot work miracles,” notes the Harvard-educated Selvaratnam. “Women cannot do things on our own timetables. People think that because of advances in reproductive science and modern technology, we can actually control the biological clock to our advantage.”

Selvaratnam made that mistake. She figured that she could fulfill her creative ambitions before starting a family. After enduring three miscarriages, several IVF treatments and then the dissolution of her marriage, she realized she had waited too long. And so, “The Big Lie” was born. In the book, Selvaratnam combines her own struggle with medical statistics and the latest research to help a new generation of women will be more informed about their fertility.

“I’ve been very frank in saying I made a lot of mistakes in my life. And I’m sharing these mistakes and my story so that other people can connect to it. I’m putting myself out there so people have something to hold on to while grappling with the numerous studies and statistics that I put forward in the book.”

“The Big Lie” is also a call to action for women. In the last few chapters, Selvaratnam includes a well-researched chapter entitled “Action Items for the Future,” so that women are better prepared and more aware of their options. She wants to remind them to think about their future fertility before it is too late.

“Educate yourself; don’t be dependent on others to educate you,” she notes. “It’s really about preparing yourself for many possible outcomes so that if the one you hope for doesn’t pan out, you don’t suffer.”

The Big Lie Tanya SelvaratnamA few of Selvaratnam’s Action Items for the Future:

If you are between the ages of 21 and 30:

1. Find out the fertility basics. For instance, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has great fact sheets you can download that are very user friendly and visual.

2. Take care of your body. Women should be aware that what they do now can affect their future chances of having a child. “I wish that I had been more aware of the impact that they would on the impact on my future infertility. It’s not necessarily going to prevent people from experimenting, but I think it’s important to be aware,” she notes.

3. Think about your goals. Women in their late 20s are at that tipping point when they’re starting to strategize for their futures. Do they envision becoming parents? If so, how? How much will they do to become one? Do they want to do it with a partner? Could they do it on their own? Do they want to have a career? What kind? If they want to have both family and a career, and how do they achieve that balance? And then I think as they approach their late 20s, I would encourage them to start pursuing options for conserving their fertility, if they haven’t had a child yet.


If you are up to 21 years old:

1. If you want to have children with a partner, be open to a partner who will be a good parent.

2. If you are ready to get pregnant, pay extra attention to your weight and nutrition.

3. Educate yourself. Two great books are “Taking Care of Your Fertility” and “Fully Fertile.”


If you are 30 and older:

1. If you are above 35-years old and have trouble getting pregnant or have had a miscarriage, get yourself to a fertility specialist sooner than even your OB/GYN might advise.

2. If you are dealing with infertility, educate yourself. A good resource is “Budgeting for Infertility.”

3. If you have not had a biological child by 40, despite treatment, start considering other options for becoming a mother — for example, egg donation and surrogacy. Think especially about adoption. And be proud to do so!


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