News Analysis

Friday 22 August 2014

Who's to blame for women not having babies? Men, of course

Lorraine Courtney

Published 25/04/2014 | 02:30

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It takes two to make a baby
It takes two to make a baby

ON one hand, women are continually being told how our egg supply is dwindling and how our ovaries will one day shrivel up and die. On the other, statistics suggest that we are increasingly in mass denial about the fact that fertility, like all things, must come to an end.

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Yesterday, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed that Irish women are fourth on a list of 'women past childbearing age who haven't given birth.' It is clear that Irish women are waiting quite a while before they finally get down to babymaking.

The so-called 'socially infertile' are delaying having children because of the rising cost of living, but by the time they are financially secure many discover that it's too late for them to conceive, even with IVF.

But haven't we invented Botox injections for crows' feet – surely something similar can be invented for the ovaries?

Acknowledging the biological reality is not a matter of putting women down. It's science. A woman who wants to be child-free in her 20s and 30s is risking that she may never be able to carry a pregnancy.

You see, in the end it does all come back to biology and you can't escape the fact that the easiest time for a woman to become pregnant is in her early twenties.

Fertility declines rapidly after 35 and the chances of getting pregnant naturally over 40 are only about 5pc. Average IVF success rates for women aged 40 to 42 are under 14pc. That's half what they are for women aged 35 to 37.

Given that these are the undeniable odds, why are Irish women coming to babymaking so late?

My generation struggled to have it all and then ended up failing to achieve that perfect work/children/relationship fantasy.

There are a myriad socioeconomic realities that make it hard to decide when is the right time to have a baby. For every women out there who's telling herself that she has plenty of time, I'll bet there are several who'd like to have a baby right now but don't have the right job or savings or home or health insurance.

Unfortunately, you then find out that your body isn't as co-operative with your professional schedule as you'd like.

To further complicate matters, men are hardly blameless for infertility. Having a baby does require two people. Women shouldn't be made to feel wholly accountable when they reach their 35th birthday and find out they're barren. But you never hear anyone going on to men in their late twenties and early thirties about the need to have a baby while still young.

Biologically, we had assumed we didn't need to but a study published earlier this year showed the risks of older fatherhood.

Researchers at Indiana University and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden used data from more than two million births and discovered that children conceived by fathers over the age of 45 were 25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder than those born to a father 20 years younger, 13 times more likely to have ADHD and were 3.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism.

It's time to include men in the fertility debate because the biggest problem for would-be mothers right now isn't their career ambitions but the attitudes of men.

It's men who are aggravating our social infertility. It's not just women who are squandering their fertile years, it's their male peers who also want to climb the corporate ladder while they are childfree or don't feel ready to settle down and start a family.

Many only start thinking seriously about finding a partner in their late thirties, which is almost too late for their female peers.

How many women do you know who are desperately trying to mute the sound of their ticking biological clocks just so they don't frighten off their emotionally immature boyfriend who is unable to commit to anything more elaborate than a minibreak weekend for two in Amsterdam?

I've managed the satisfying job, network of friends and five a day but I will still have failed in life if I don't find the time to raise 2.5 well-adjusted children.

The tragedy is that women like me are ending up childless, not because we aren't listening to the sound of our biological clocks but because that clock ticked too raucously and the man ran away.

Irish Independent

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