What I tell my daughters

Technology is all fine and well, but when I give advice to my daughters about fertility and infertility, I talk mostly about how to not need it.

Twenty years ago this month I had my first child. Two years later, I had a second. I now have two amazing young adult daughters, and it's not lost on me that what I write about these days has more to do with them than it does with me. 

Occasionally, when people hear that I write about assisted reproduction, they joke about my daughters getting the inside scoop. I can tell them how many eggs to freeze and which fertility trackers are best and what's the status of artificial wombs. True, I do go on about these things. 

But if there's one thing I've learned from writing about assisted reproduction, it's that infertility is common. So my actual advice to my daughters is more about how, if possible, to avoid assisted reproduction. In honour of Infertility Awareness Week, here's what I tell them.

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What I tell my daughters

Birth control is hard, but sometimes getting pregnant is harder. That has been the big surprise of my generation. The Pill tricked us all into believing that mastery of one part meant mastery of the other. Not so. 

Still, use birth control. Definitely use birth control.  

And while we're on the topic... Condoms. STIs lead to a lot of infertility.

Meet lots of people, sure, but if you want to find a life partner, make it a priority. That's another thing my generation lost sight of. We were so busy exercising the freedoms that our foremothers won for us — challenging stereotypes, forging careers, busting through glass ceilings — that some of us missed out on finding someone. This is major. If a life partner is something you want, don't leave it to chance. 

(But here's an axe to help bust through that ceiling while you're looking.)  

If you find a great partner and you both know you want kids, don't wait forever. There is truly never a "good" time. It will always be hard. But regardless of whether you go about this the old-fashioned way or with assistance, if you're younger it will be easier than if you're older. 

I mean, not too young. 

But fifty is not the new thirty. Forty isn't even the new thirty. Thirty is still thirty.

(I know, it sucks.)

Maybe you don't find a partner, but still want kids. Plenty of single parents make it on their own. It's harder than it looks, though, and I honestly think it's not a bad idea to share the endeavour if you can. Maybe there's another single parent, or a small group of them. Be open-minded about ideas of family. Nuclear may not be the best model anyway. 

Don't freeze your eggs and think you're sorted. It's not an insurance policy, it's a gamble. And it's an expensive gamble, one that commits you to medical interventions like ICSI if you want to use those freggs to have your kids. Lots can go wrong. A freezer accident. A mixup. They don't thaw well. They don't fertilize well. They don't implant. Even more likely is that you'll keep thinking you can put it off and put it off, and then you'll look up one day and realize you've just put it off too long. You won't be the first. See the comment up top about prioritizing your relationships. I think it's the same sort of thing. Is it important? Then why not do it?

But maybe you'll still see freezing as your best option, and I'll support you if you do. 

Thank you, by the way, for not becoming an egg donor. Please don't. I would worry about your health. I would worry about how you'd be treated. And about how you'd feel about it when you got older. And to be honest, I would feel bereft not knowing my own grandchildren.

Never think of IVF as a good backup plan. It's not. It's a last-ditch option. A lot of the time it doesn't work. It's expensive, it's hard on your body and it's hard on your relationships. I hope you never need it. 

If you do, tell me how I can help. 

If you do go down the path of IVF, don't let them hoodwink you with fancy add-ons. You will be pressured to part with a lot of money, for naught. Do your very best to stay hard-headed. I suspect that's not easy.

Consider adoption.

If you involve anyone else in your reproductive project, be transparent. Don't keep secrets. Especially, don't keep secrets from your kids.

Your kids won't be perfect. They will have flaws like we all do. Don't test for perfect. Don't expect perfect. Don't even hope for perfect. Imperfect is how people are. It's all good. 

One last thing: it's okay to not want to have kids. It's also okay to want them intensely. Either way. You'll likely know what you want, and that's okay with me. Follow your gut. 

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I didn't have any boys. Still, sometimes I find myself talking to them. The conversation goes a little differently.

What I tell my imaginary sons

Don't give your sperm away to any woman you don't want to have kids with. That's right, you heard me: once it's in her body, it's hers. It's not fair, but it's the way it is. Shared children could tie you to the mother for life. Estranged children could break your heart.

Don't give your stuff away.

Don't give it away by mistake.

Don't be tricked into giving it away.

Don't be induced into giving it away. 

I'd prefer it you didn't become a sperm donor. No, there's no health risk, but I worry about how you'll feel when you're older. Also: grandchildren. I want to know mine.

If you do become a sperm donor, do it for someone you know. At the very least, be willing to be known, because your genetic children might care. Be ready to answer their questions. Don't kid yourself that you can be anonymous anyway — heard of genetic tests? Insist on knowing how many kids are out there. Or just do the math. Speaking of math, it's not really that much money, considering what you're selling.

Your sperm is amazing. Each sperm holds within it the family genes. 

Any child born from your sperm will be just as related to you as the children you raise. Think about that.

So use condoms. (I'll pay.)

Bad news. Men have a biological clock too. We don't talk about it much, but it's true: older men's sperm isn't as good. Wait too long and you might cause your kids unnecessary problems. 

Here's something I told your imaginary sister, but I'm going to tell you too: if you want a life partner, make it a priority. Don't think you have all the time in the world. If you're heterosexual and you want to be with someone of your own generation, someone you can relate to, then your partner's reproductive limits are your limits too. Straight or not, if finding a life partner is important to you, focus on it. 

If you're gay and you want kids, this is totally something you can do. It may be the most magnificent social advance of my lifetime. Go forth! There are trailblazers out there who can help you.

Maybe you find you are infertile. It's more common than you think. It can be more devastating than you imagine. But don't let it undermine your sense of worth as a man. You can still be a father. Seek out other men to counsel and support you. Too many men sit alone with this. 

You might find that you are afraid to take the step into parenthood. Many men these days seem to struggle with this. I said this to your sister, but there is never a "good" time. Don't let fear paralyze you.

One last important thing: fathers make just as capable parents as mothers. Don't be pushed aside. Don't let anyone tell you you can't do it.  

Unless you choose not to. I'm okay with that too. 

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Correction: The original version did not include "Consider adoption." It should have. We regret the error.