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by Robin von Halle

A recent New York Times article highlighted the difficulties faced by tennis star Gigi Fernandez after she discovered a long and rigorous tennis career had left her infertile. Her athletic accomplishments are impressive, but she admits that she was selfish as a young athlete, ignoring signs that her body was being affected by her intense training. Excessive exercise can lead to ovulation dysfunction, something most women ignore but a sign that their fertility could be affected.

Compounding the issue was Fernandez’s age. Pro athlete’s most fertile years are often spent focusing solely on their careers, and thoughts of future spouses and families are pushed to the wayside. After retiring at 33 Fernandez finally met the perfect partner, golf star Jane Geddes, but waited five years before deciding to have a child. Now in her late thirties, the odds were against her.

Seven unsuccessful fertility treatments and two failed adoptions later, Fernandez and her partner Geddes felt defeated. Luckily for them, hope came in the form of a friend who offered to donate her eggs. In early 2009, Fernandez and Geddes welcomed twins into their family, but it wasn’t without a struggle.

Fernandez is far from the first women to struggle with infertility after a successful athletic career. Olympic ice skater Nancy Kerrigan was able to give birth to a son after six miscarriages. Olympic swimmer Dara Torres went through IVF and artificial insemination but was unable to conceive and became a spokeswoman for American Infertility Association.

Where many women go wrong is neglecting to realize the effects of age on fertility. After age 35, a woman’s ability to conceive begins to decrease. After 40 it drops severely. More and more women are focusing on their careers, athletic or not, and putting off starting a family. Unfortunately, nature doesn’t wait for a successful career. I hope hearing stories like these will alert more women to the risks of waiting too long to start a family.

Fernandez’s advice to young women is to start planning for motherhood in their 20s, when fertility problems are much more rare. I couldn’t agree more.

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About Us

Conception Connections is a blog about alternative paths to family creation. It is maintained by Alternative Reproductive Resources. Contributors include intended parents, egg donors and gestational surrogates in addition to ARR staff. Our goal is to facilitate conversations about trends, issues, current events, technology and personal stories surrounding infertility, egg donation and gestational surrogacy. If you'd like to contribute, please e-mail shodge@hodgemediastrategies.com. We also welcome your comments and suggestions. Note: Comments are moderated and posted on approval.

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