What if I'm old, but my eggs aren't?
September 30, 2017 2:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm 35, but took birth control pills without placebos for ten years. No periods for ten years! It was amazing! Now what?

Am I just ten years behind, fertility-wise? Are my eggs as good as a 25-year-old's eggs, or did they rot in my musty ovaries? Will I reach menopause ten years(ish) later? If I get pregnant, would I be more likely to have good eggs since I still have ten years worth banked? (Is it first-in-first-out?) If I stick with birth control and deliberately have no babies, will I be the only menstruating woman on Crone Island? My gyno says "there are no studies" so am interested in personal experiences.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have the answer to your question, but wanted to say that I found this article interesting. It certainly made me feel better about being 33 and not having a baby on the horizon:

posted by starstarstar at 2:53 PM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've skipped a lot of periods by being on Mirena. I'm now 49 and appear to be firmly in (peri)menopause, which seems... ridiculously normal and fitting for my age.

As far as I know, having eggs 'left over' does not keep you from starting menopause; that happens at a certain age, not at a certain number of eggs.

I have no idea about the quality of your eggs. I've never been interested in reproducing, so I've never bothered to read about that.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:53 PM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

As I understand it you're born with millions of eggs, not hundreds. They're immature eggs (follicles) and begin to dwindle immediately (actually when you're still a fetus, and by puberty, you have only a few hundred thousand left). Whether or not you ovulate in a give month doesn't alter that process.
posted by acidic at 2:56 PM on September 30, 2017 [24 favorites]

I'm pretty sure you shed them through breakthrough bleeding, they stop being produced until you stop taking the pills, or they get reabsorbed into your body. Being on birth control doesn't somehow "preserve" your fertility.
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 2:57 PM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Going through IVF with a partner.

Egg quality isn't just about the egg. It's about the eggs environment, and the chemicals that help the egg mature and release from the ovary.

Those things are affected by age.

I have no specific studies site though.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:57 PM on September 30, 2017

Birth control pills do not magically preserve youth. There aren't two tracks of women entering menopause: those that are entering menopause at 75 because they took birth control pills forever and those that enter menopause on a typical late 40s/50s range - almost all women enter menopause at the same time regardless of birth control usage.
Birth control users do not generally see fountain of youth effects from birth control - they age in all ways the same, generally, as all other women. If birth control pills were a fountain of youth WOOOOWEEEE we would all be taking them and shaking our youthful breasts and delighting in our wrinkle-free faces. Your ovaries age as your face and ass droop.

If taking birth control pills allowed for longer fertility, the fertility industry would look very different. We wouldn't need frozen eggs if birth control pills were a pause button.

On the contrary, a friend that had been on birth control her while life wanted to try for a pregnancy in her mid to late 30s and her gyno told her that her body may not ever ovulate again after such long term usage. She did go on to have 2 pregnancies, one to term.
posted by littlewater at 3:12 PM on September 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

The pill doesn't suspend animation. All your cells still aged while you were on the pill, as did all your eggs (because you were born with them) and your endocrinological system. Your ovaries got a bit of a rest, but so do the ovaries of women who spend most of their fertile years pregnant or breastfeeding, and their fertility declines at the same rough rate as everyone else's. Your eggs were still sitting there all that time, being bombarded with background radiation and BPA and time and all that, same as ovulators' were.

There has been no documented delay in onset of menopause since the pill first hit the market/became used widely, and that was 45 years ago with women already in their 20s+, so we'd know by now. (Average age of menarche, on the other hand, has crept downward since then. Nobody knows why.) Anecdotally, many of my early-70s-born peers are beginning to hit perimenopause (just like I am) in our mid-40s and at least half of us were extremely dutiful pill users in our teens and 20s, so it sure didn't do us any favors.

I don't think there are a lot of causal studies about any of this, because women aren't worth spending Science Money on, so all we have is reported data rather than much specific tracking for outcome. But even dedicated breast/reproductive cancer researchers haven't yet found much evidence that might point to any massive difference between people who used hormonal contraception (or other hormonal treatment) and not, even in the case of hormone-reactive cancers.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:20 PM on September 30, 2017

Gametes (your eggs) grow old along with the rest of you whether or not your ovaries release them.
posted by Crystal Fox at 4:17 PM on September 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

I have spent many years on the pill. Im 49 and seem to be having peri-menopause symptoms.

When I was an ovum donor my understanding was that the eggs expire with time and I dont think there is anything about being on HBC that would change that.
posted by supermedusa at 4:44 PM on September 30, 2017

I'm pretty sure you shed them through breakthrough bleeding, they stop being produced until you stop taking the pills,

I just wanted to flag that this answer is incorrect on both of these counts. Breakthrough bleeding is a result of hormonal fluctuation and doesn't indicate ovulation--no egg is shed when you bleed on hormonal birth control, whether it's mid-cycle ("breakthrough") or during a withdrawal/placebo week. And you are born with all of your eggs and don't produce more during your lifetime, BCP or no.
posted by kelseyq at 6:18 PM on September 30, 2017 [11 favorites]

Bahaha oh if only it worked that way. You have the same eggs you were born with. Menstruating does not age your eggs, time does.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:51 PM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just want to say that I think this is a good question and one that I have pondered myself (thanks, Mirena!) while having a hunch the answer was nothing changed. I find the lack of explanatory links in these answers are indicative of a larger problem.
posted by samthemander at 10:27 AM on October 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Here is a good article about ovulation with studies cited.
You were born with millions of oocytes, you only actually ovulate about 500 over your lifetime (less for you bc of the birth control). You don't hit menopause when you are out of eggs, you hit it when your supply and hormones are dwindling and then the rest of the remaining eggs die off. Your eggs are dying off already, they die off all the time! So you weren't saving those eggs you didn't ovulate, they prob just died.
The older you get, the more crap has happened to those eggs which have been in you since before your birth, and the worse their state. So it gets harder to have a successful pregnancy as you age because you have fewer eggs and the ones that are still there might not be as good anymore--both quantity and quality go down. This sounds scary, but you still have TONS of eggs and hopefully a bunch of them are still high quality.
The sucky thing is that you won't know how many you have left or how good they are unless you go to a fertility specialist to get a workup. And the even suckier thing is that many doctors (in the US) are reluctant to do this unless you have been trying to conceive unsuccessfully for at least 6 months-1 year.
If you are concerned about your eggs, start by talking to your gyn and see if s/he can get you "ovarian reserve testing" to tell you how many eggs you have left. Note that this does not test other things that are crucial to conceiving like your luteinizing hormone, FSH, physical structure of your tubes etc.
Most doctors are probably going to tell you to try getting pregnant before seeing if you have any issues because problems can come from so many sources other than your eggs that it is not worth them pre-screening your eggs.
posted by rmless at 11:17 AM on October 2, 2017

Your eggs are all the same age, which is as old as you are. They were already inside you when you were a fetus.

The good news is that Mrs w0mbat was 10 years older than you when she had her first kid, who is terrific.
posted by w0mbat at 12:51 PM on October 2, 2017

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