Uh oh! I want a big family but it appears it could be too late for me. According to experts, women who want to have a big family should start trying for a baby by the age of 23. At 23 I was in no position to have a baby. I hadn’t established a career and was living at home without financial independence. Plus my now husband, then boyfriend would have run a mile!
The advice comes from scientists who crunched together fertility data on more than 58,000 women to create an at-a-glance calculator. It tells a woman the best age to start a family. It has even been suggested that the table be shown to sixth formers and university students to underline the risks of delaying motherhood. The advice comes as growing numbers of British women delay motherhood until they establish their career, become financially stable or find ‘Mr Right’. Around half of all babies are now born to women aged 30 and older, and the number of children born to women aged 40-plus has trebled in the last 20 years
To use the fertility calculator, a woman decides how many children she wants and whether she is going to try to conceive naturally or with IVF. A woman who wants two children should start by 27, to have the best chance of success, while 32 is advised for those who would be happy with just one baby.
Importantly, IVF offers little guarantee. It shows that IVF generally only gives a woman an extra year or two.
However the study, which promotes early motherhood, acknowledges that women who have children in their 20s are more likely to achieve their desired family size but can also expect lower lifetime earnings than women who start later. Therefore it suggests that society must ensure women aren’t disadvantaged at work and sort the lack of childcare facilities so young people to establish their careers and families at the same time.
The debate surrounding the fertility of older mothers has raged on in recent weeks. Enough now, we get it! Yes, delaying motherhood can be catastrophic as fertility plummets after 39. However as Robert Winston, the IVF pioneer and broadcaster, pointed out at The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology’s annual conference in Lisbon, there are also benefits of delaying having a baby. Lord Winston said older mothers, who have had time to gain skills and education, as well as build strong relationships, can provide children with a more stable upbringing. So concerned are we to point out the negatives that we fail to notice that there are also positives to being a more mature mother. Women of 40 and upwards have a plethora of reasons for delaying motherhood. Whether it is due to demanding careers, further education, financial circumstances or relationship stability, some women have been in the position to have children earlier. Berating them is not constructive. The press has ensured women are aware of the facts so instead of fear-mongering maybe it is now time to support and learn from women who have left motherhood till later in life.
According to yesterday’s Evening Standard egg-freezing parties are all the rage! Just like the Tupperware party, this party features wine, canapés and a discount on anything you buy. But what you’re shelling out for, is oocyte cryopreservation — AKA a batch of frozen eggs.
In the US these soirées were designed for women seeking advice on fertility and delaying motherhood. London’s fertility experts say egg-freezing parties could be on the horizon too. This option, originally available for cancer patients, could become more widely practised.
Either way couples are reminded to consider how their career choices will impact on their fertility and realise egg-freezing does not guarantee a baby. By 30, women have already lost around 90 per cent of their eggs, and women who grew up in a household of smokers can go through the menopause up to eight years earlier than those who did not. Only 20 babies had been born in the UK after treatment using patients’ own frozen eggs by the start of 2013, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the UK’s independent regulator of the use of embryos, although around 18,000 eggs have been stored in the UK for patients’ own use. The odds aren’t good. But choice is, and I hope women who attend allow egg-freezing parties will receive valuable information which helps them to understand their fertility better.
The news that Apple and Facebook will pay for the cost of egg freezing for their female employees makes me shudder. Despite claiming that they wish to ’empower women…to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families’ I believe that enabling women to delay child bearing is extremely risky. The issue for me is that it adds to the illusion that egg freezing creates some sort of guarantee that having a baby can be postponed and planned. Of course many women wish to prioritise their careers ahead of stating a family, and that is a choice women are entitled to. But to perpetuate the myth that women can focus on their careers until 40 and then use their frozen eggs is dangerously naive. Based on my experiences, the journey to motherhood can be unpredictable, cruel and lengthly. There are no certainties. Ladies need to be realistic that having a baby using frozen eggs is extremely unlikely. It has a success rate of only 20 percent—and that’s if you’re able to freeze enough viable eggs, which many women can’t do. Instead of offering egg freezing, which is a PR exercise ludicrously praised as forward-thinking empowerment, they should try to be innovative in their attitudes towards on-site creches, flexible work hours for new parents, extended parental leave and a more balanced culture.
Kirsty Allsopp recently declared that ‘nature isn’t a feminist’ and inadvertently caused uproar on twitter. She was accused of being patronising and of telling ladies what to do with their ovaries. I disagree. Her advice, perhaps based on her experiences, have lead her, and myself to conclude that despite our efforts to fight time with modern medicine, yoga, positive thoughts and the latest diet fad the cold hard truth is that if you want to have children then you have a small window of opportunity. Women have made enormous progress towards gender equality in our life choices both in educational opportunities and career successes, but when it comes to fertility, nature sticks up two fingers at choice, options and power and entirely calls the shots. Men’s fertility does not have such limitations. Nature doesn’t care about feminism.
Jude Hurrell wrote in the Huffington Post that:
Yes it would be nice if having a career and having a child weren’t mutually exclusive. Yes it would be nice if we could find a way to lessen the impact pregnancy has on women’s careers and their employers. It would be nice if we could meet young families’ needs and spread the financial, practical and emotional demands of having babies across a family-friendly society. It would be nice if we could engage an educated, experienced and dedicated work-force of women in flexible positions without compromising their ambition or the needs of their children, but until that happens, let’s stop kidding ourselves. At the moment, having a baby involves making sacrifices. It’s up to women and their families to decide what those sacrifices are going to be.
Besides, saying women shouldn’t have to choose between a career and a family is another way of saying we can have it all, right? Don’t get me started on that one. Women are constantly bombarded with messages that we can and should have it all; a dynamic career, a close family, a happy marriage, a fit bod and a beautiful home, all in the name of girl power. But rather than being uplifting, this ideal just puts women under more pressure. Cos the flipside of saying women can have it is all is the implication that if they don’t they’re missing out, letting themselves and their families down. It’s ok not to tick all the boxes, all of the time.
What do you think? Sadly I think that women need to realise that each life decision has implications on other areas of their lives and couples who delay having children must be prepared for the risks associated with that choice.