When society and biology are at odds
Our society has changed hugely in the past 50 years or so. We no longer live in a world where men are the sole breadwinners and women are the homemakers
You will be familiar with the debate about whether too many women are leaving it too late to try to get pregnant. It’s a subject which has been much discussed in the media in the past few years, and you may have come across suggestions that women should be trying to have babies earlier or that they should be starting their families while they are still in their twenties. For anyone who is having difficulties getting pregnant, this can feel like yet another source of blame and guilt.
The medical facts
Of course, there is no denying the fact that women, and men for that matter, have a biological clock and become less fertile as they get older and that miscarriage becomes more common. We know that although some women can get pregnant naturally without any difficulty into their late thirties and early forties, this isn’t a given. If you do have issues, it is harder if you are older as IVF cannot turn back the reproductive ageing process, although egg donation is an alternative way forward.
All too often, the debate in the media is fuelled by the idea that fertility clinics are full of high-flying career women who were so obsessed with their work that they didn’t have time to think about children. They are often seen as being selfish or wanting to “have it all”. That is why IVF is sometimes referred to as a “lifestyle choice” rather being recognised as a medical treatment, and why the whole idea of women leaving it “too late” has become such a hot potato.
The truth is that fertility clinics are full of women – and men – who have fertility problems. They have not always left it later than many of their counterparts to start trying for a family, but they happen to be the unfortunate one in six who have difficulties conceiving. The age at which women have their first baby has been rising, and for those who manage to conceive naturally this may not be seen as an issue – but for those who need help to get pregnant, age can exacerbate any existing difficulties.
Our society has changed hugely in the past 50 years or so. We no longer live in a world where men are the sole breadwinners and women are the homemakers; today women are just as much a part of the world of higher education and work as men. Women don’t get married early and immediately start trying to get pregnant, and it’s not just careers which stop them doing this. If go through college or University, you may not even have started work by the age at which your grandmother was starting a family. Once women are at work, it is often practicalities rather than ambition which lead to delays in starting a family. You may not feel ready financially for children in your twenties, you may not have a suitable place to live and most crucially of all for women, you may not have a partner to start a family with.
The bottom line is that our society has developed and changed, but human biology hasn’t altered with it. This means that many women are no longer socially ready to start a family at the time at which we are most biologically suited to pregnancy and birth. Although this can seem very unfair, it is an unalterable truth. It is vital that women are fully informed about their fertility and aware of the effects of age, but the right time to start a family can only ever be when you feel ready to have a child.
Writer and journalist
Kate Brian is a journalist, writer and author of four books on motherhood and fertility, including The Complete Guide to IVF. Kate started writing about the patient perspective on infertility after having IVF herself.
Currently, she contributes to various types of media as an expert on fertility and writes her own blog, where she gives all the latest news and views on fertility issues, as well as useful advice and links for anyone trying to have a baby.