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Former Olympian Shares Heartbreaking Reality Of Fertility: There’s A Time Limit To Becoming A Mom

As Tara Lipinski shows, getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy aren’t easy for an older woman, regardless of how fit she is or how much medicine and technology have advanced.

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Former Olympian Tara Lipinski and her husband Todd Kapostasy shared their last five years’ struggle to become parents in a series of podcasts called “Unexpecting.” Their story is representative of many Americans’ arduous fertility journey, as one in four married American women has difficulty getting pregnant or carrying the unborn baby to term. One profound lesson Lipinski learned from her journey is that motherhood has a time limit.

Lipinski won the gold medal in figure skating at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games when she was only 15. Lipinski succeeded in many venues following her Olympic victory, including touring with the figure skating show “Stars on Ice.” Although she always wanted to become a mother, Lipinski prioritized her career, thinking motherhood could wait. 

Lipinski married sports producer Kapostasy in 2017. They began trying to become parents when Lipinski was 36, and they learned the hard way: Getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy aren’t easy for an older woman, regardless of how fit she is or how much medicine and technology have advanced. After struggling for five years and experiencing many heartbreaks, the couple decided to share their journey in a podcast series that includes audio and video. The recordings were done at the couple’s home and were presented as conversations between the husband and wife. Their podcast refuted the fallacies of several popular beliefs about fertility. 

The Time Limit to Motherhood

During the first episode of “Unexpecting,” Lipinski mentioned she had some health issues when she was young, including not having her first period until she was 25. Yet she naively thought a delayed period meant she had plenty of eggs left for her fertility in later years, not realizing that each woman is born with a fixed number of eggs, and our egg count declines as we age.

Lipinski also said none of her girlfriends of similar ages were concerned about becoming less fertile as they got older. Just like Lipinski, many women believe in a career before motherhood, thinking that as long as they stay healthy, they can have kids much later in life, either naturally or with the assistance of science, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Sadly, many young men today share these beliefs too. Lipinski’s husband admitted he was equally uneducated about women’s time limit on motherhood due to the set number of eggs. To make matters worse, pop culture keeps telling young men and women: “Having children later mostly puts women in a better position. … They have more resources and education. The things we demand of people to be good parents are easier to supply when you are older,” as one sociologist put it. There is some truth to that, but the pendulum has swung too far in one direction.

American women have been postponing motherhood. According to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau, between 1990 and 2019, “fertility rates of women ages 20-24 declined by 43%, while those of women ages 35-39 increased by 67% during the roughly 30-year period.”

Many couples struggle with pregnancy for a variety of reasons. A woman’s age is not the only factor, but it is often a critical factor. Delaying motherhood for too long carries many risks. According to Dr. Michelle Owens, an OB-GYN, “The longer your eggs have been around, the more likely they are to produce a pregnancy with a chromosome problem that can lead to a condition like Down syndrome. This risk goes up significantly after 35. Meanwhile, the number of eggs you have decreases as you age, causing your ability to get pregnant to decline.”

Dr. Owens also warns about other risks facing women who try to get pregnant past age 35: “Older women are more likely to miscarry or have a stillbirth. They have a greater chance of developing gestational diabetespreeclampsia, and delivering a baby who is very small. … And while pregnancy increases a woman’s risk of developing blood clots (deep vein thrombosis), this risk is higher for older moms.”

Life is a balancing act. While we want to discourage teen pregnancy and encourage young women to get an education and thrive in careers they like, we must also have open and honest conversations with young women and men about the time limit of motherhood.

IVF Is Not a Magic Fix

Lipinski and her husband’s journey to becoming parents began with IVF. Since they had heard of so many IVF success stories, Lipinski thought, “How amazing is this [IVF]? We’re just going to have a little football team of embryos there waiting for us whenever we decide to get pregnant.” Unfortunately, she and her husband soon learned that IVF doesn’t guarantee parenthood, and the success rate of IVF goes down as women get older.

As Lipinski explained, “In the last five years, I’ve been under anesthesia 24 times, had four miscarriages, four D&Cs [dilation and curettage], six failed transfers, eight retrievals, and was diagnosed with endometriosis with two subsequent major surgeries. My life revolved around doctor appointments and procedures.”

Fertility clinics and progressive culture want us to believe IVF is a purely scientific and mechanical procedure unaffected by human emotions and that embryos created in labs are not life. But throughout the podcasts, Lipinski showed how much those failed IVF transfers had profoundly affected her because “a lot of hormones and emotions are part of that process. You are not guaranteed to walk away with any embryos, but when you do get them, they are precious. You envision them becoming your potential child, so to lose that chance in a transfer is heartbreaking as well.”

Many couples who have been through IVF can relate to how Lipinski felt because they also see each embryo as their precious child, and thus, they grieve for each failed transfer the same way they grieve for the loss of a child. Tragically, countless IVF embryos also get frozen or discarded.

Lipinski and Kapostasy decided to share their most painful and intimate struggles with the public because they felt lonely while going through it: Their families and friends couldn’t relate, and those who had similar experiences didn’t feel comfortable discussing their most painful chapter in life so publicly. By being open about their experiences, the couple hopes to help other couples in the same situation feel less isolated and find the emotional support they need. The couple seems to have achieved their goal because many people who underwent similar fertility challenges commented on Lipinski’s YouTube channel that the podcast validated their experiences and helped their healing process.

What I appreciate the most is that unlike Chrissy Teigen, who tried to score political points with personal tragedy by pretending the D&C procedure she underwent after her miscarriage was an abortion that saved her life, Lipinski and Kapostasy avoided politicizing their experiences. They were honest about their raw emotions, be it with tears or occasional humor; they used appropriate medical terms to describe their experiences; and they came across as sincere and not pretentious.

The couple is clearly in a deeply committed and loving relationship. Their partnership is probably one of the critical factors that helped them survive a journey through hell. They may encounter more challenges in life, but as long as they have each other, they will overcome. Their podcast “Unexpecting” is worth watching and listening to for all couples who want to become parents someday.

Remember, there is a time limit to motherhood.


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