Normally, there’s nothing in the world that makes me happier than when a television show created by women decides to drop some knowledge on sexual and reproductive health. Whether it was Lena Dunham getting tested for HPV in Girls or Mindy Kaling’s surprisingly heartwarming speech to a bunch of high schoolers about the risks of HPV on last night’s episode of The Mindy Project, it’s great when a show can both educate viewers and find drama in the actual details of women’s lives.
Which is why I was so dismayed by this week’s episode of New Girl, which made the weird decision to stoke panic among the female characters on the show about whether, at 30, they’d waited too long to have children. The episode began when Jess invited her friend Sadie and her partner over for dinner, and Sadie revealed that the two women were expecting their first child. “I feel really lucky, like I tucked this one in under the wire,” Sadie explained. “As your friendly neighborhood gynecologist, you should know that by the time a lady hits 30, she loses about 90 percent of her eggs.” That declaration sent Jess into an insane spiral, trashing the microwave much to Nick’s dismay, and propelled both Jess and Cece to Sadie’s office for ovarian reserve fertility tests. The end result is that Jess, who freaked out, learned that she’d be extraordinarily fertile for years to come, while Cece, who’d been blasé, got back test results that suggested that “if I want to have a kid, I’ve got to start right now.”
The figure Sadie cited is based on a single study, published in 2010, from researchers at University of St. Andrews and Edinburgh University, that followed 325 women and used a mathematical model to determine that women had 12 percent of their eggs remaining at 30 and 3 percent remaining by 40. Twelve percent may sound small, but according to that study, it’s still 30,000 eggs—that’s a lot of potential pregnancies. And that’s just one study. The Mayo Clinic says that female fertility generally starts declining gradually when women are in their mid-30s, producing fewer eggs that are of poorer quality.
It is harder to get pregnant as you get older, yes, but it’s not as if turning 30 suddenly means that your eggs are stolen by the fertility elves. And age isn’t only a female problem: Older fathers face risk factors, too, something that goes unacknowledged when Cece’s boyfriend tells her that when he says he’d like to have kids someday, he means a decade in the future. If we’re going to have a conversation about life choices, later marriage, and later childbearing, I’m all for it. But let’s make it an honest and realistic one, rather than going for vagina panic.
Correction, December 6, 2012: This post originally misspelled a character’s name throughout. It is Sadie, not Sady.