Don’t wait for your career. Consider having kids now.

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No one tells you to put your veterinary career on hold to have kids, right?

After all, we’re supposed to forge ahead and get through veterinary school, go on to our internship and residency, or go build ourselves up in private practice (or academia), right? We’re supposed to buy that small business to help pay off our loans while balancing work-life balance despite our workaholic personalities, correct?

Well, no one tells you this, so I will.

Stop what you’re doing and consider having kids now.

What?! Nobody says that out loud. Well, let me fill you in on the trials and tribulations of being a female. This is based on my own struggle with infertility, stress, losses, and getting old quickly.

After veterinary school, I went straight towards advanced training: Four additional years of an internship and residency, followed by a faculty position at the University of Minnesota. And now, I was old.

I should step back and say that I believe life is all about timing. Most things are out of our hands when it comes to timing or circumstances. Sure, I was supposed to get married in my early 30s and have a kid by then, but being that I was still single, it was hard for family planning. Our workaholic personalities think that if we work harder, we can make it happen.

Well, not so with fertility.

Fast forward a few years later, where I finally met the man of my dreams.

We got married by 40 and instantly started trying to have kids. Several miscarriages later, we decided to try IVF. After all, we see all these old mid-40-year-old career women with kids from IVF, so it can’t be too hard — just expensive, right? Wrong.

Little did I know that the statistics for a live birth from IVF rapidly diminishes to almost 0 to 2.5 percent once you hit 42 years of age. That’s with IVF! But what about all those older women with twins? Nobody tells you that they are from egg donors. That’s right — younger women’s eggs. Which is great! And totally fine, if you want to go that route. But we elected not to. So, after three years of trying, we finally came to peace with our parent-less destiny.

What did I learn through this infertility journey?

First, the chronic effect of stress on your body is overwhelming.

While we were trying to have kids, I tried everything to alleviate my life of stress. I tried meditating, self-care, yoga, and fitness. I triaged all my business trips away. I even quit caffeine! But it didn’t matter. Despite trying not to “stress out,” the chronic toll of stress on your body is hard to account for.

Second, I should have frozen my eggs.

Years ago, my cousin recommended that I freeze my eggs. I was too cheap to even think of this option, as I didn’t want to pay for all the expensive IVF hormones, drug therapy, egg retrieval, sedation costs, freezer storage costs for the eggs, etc. Well, before you know it, time flew by, and attempts at IVF proved my cousin right. Your egg count dramatically plummets in your mid-30s and is decimated by the time you hit 40.

Third, stop, drop, and roll.

We’re all taught this saying in elementary school what to do in case of a fire. Well, I’m going to advocate it for you before you get too far along in your veterinary career. There’s never a good time to take a break, get off birth control, get pregnant, and start a family. I’m telling you — do it sooner than later before you have to go through the devastating, painful experience of the battle of infertility or losses. Keep in mind that it takes the average couple — regardless of age — 18 months before they become pregnant. So, my advice? Get off birth control at least 18 months before you’re even thinking about it.

If you’re still single, you also have to stop, drop and roll. Finding a soulmate is like applying to get into veterinary school: It’s a job, man. Take the time to invest in this.

I’ll admit it, I met mine on Match.com, and couldn’t be happier. But I had to write a tight ad, triage losers away and interrogate people like the FBI.

More importantly, come to peace with what you want. If you’re OK with the chance of not having kids, then delay family planning. But if you really want to have kids, and it’s a high priority in your life, take the time to prioritize it.

Life just happens

Ultimately, life just happens. After trying for three years, we couldn’t deal with the emotional turmoil, stress, financial drain, and stress. We finally came to peace with being parentless.

And then it happened.

We were fortunate. I’m going to chalk it up to God’s crazy timing, but six months later, after giving up, we got pregnant at the old age of 43. And this one stuck.

Most importantly, if I had to do it all over again, I would have taken the advice above.

Have the crucial conversation with your partner now, and figure out what your priorities are. Because you know what? No one — not your veterinary school professors, mentors, resident mates, colleagues, academicians, boss, practice owner or industry mentors — are going to tell you to stop what you’re doing to take the time to have a kid now. But you need to as you approach your 30s.

Because you know what? You can still be an awesome veterinarian, continue your career path, buy a veterinary clinic, be a specialist, and take over the world, one dog-day at a time — while being a parent.

Justine Lee is a veterinarian and founder, VETgirl.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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