There is nothing that makes me and my childless friends more unhappy than reading yet another article about how our fertility is going down the toilet. Newspapers and magazines are full of these at the moment – descriptions of miserable women in their thirties and forties self-injecting with fertility treatments, undergoing the lonely process of IVF-for-one, or freezing their eggs at great cost.
I hoped to start this post by saying that the science isn’t so black and white. But my medic friend pointed me to the evidence which is clear – women in “advanced age” (late thirties and forties) have a poor success rate of giving birth, even when assisted with fertility treatments, and these treatments are costly. So, if I accept this scientific fact, and agree that doctors have the responsibility to properly counsel women of this, why do I have such a problem with these articles?
My first problem with these articles is the fact that we KNOW all this already. Like many of my friends, I am in my early thirties and haven’t had kids yet. It’s not through want of trying – I haven’t been marching up any career ladders or rejecting possible suitors for having a hairy back or not speaking French fluently. I’ve been living my life and doing what I can to meet the right person. And it’s not like I can drown out the tic-toc of my own biological clock – I know I need to settle down soon.
But what exactly am I supposed to do about it? I’m not about to rush out and get knocked up by the first man who seems willing – I’m from a generation born of divorced parents and its important to me that I settle with the right person. I can’t afford to freeze my eggs and I won’t force reluctant fathers to commit by taking matters into my own hands. So these articles aren’t doing more than worrying me – no realistic solutions are given.
My second problem with these articles is that the subtext seems to be that women like me are selfish. We’ve picked careers over families; fun over nappies. Why did we waste all that money going to university when we should have settled down with childhood sweethearts? Again, I don’t accept this version of events. There are few ambitious women I know who didn’t also want kids along the way. And I know plenty of women who successfully have careers and kids and a social life – however hard it sometimes is. This subtext goes against equality – it says men have the choice of picking a younger woman when they get older, but we women don’t and should have prioritised family over all else.
I don’t begrudge my friends who settled early – they are happy and have a wonderful and rewarding family life that I really want one day. Had I met the right person earlier, I might be the same. The fact is that I’m happier and more confident than I was in my twenties (in fact I read yesterday that women are at their most attractive at 31!) and I hope someday I’ll have children with someone who loves me. Yes, it may be harder – and I have plenty of friends who’ve gone through the trauma of IVF who can attest to this – but I still believe that I’m capable of having a loving, stable family into my late thirties and forties if that’s where life takes me.
So, journalists please stop writing these articles or at least write them with a little more sensitivity. We know the risks of conceiving at an older age and it scares the crap out of us. But this sort of panic isn’t helping and we’ll find the right person eventually. And when we do, we’re going to be bloody good parents, and that’s a fact.