Friday 28 October 2016

Time to shine scientific spotlight on male biological clock

Lorraine Courtney

Published 23/06/2015 | 02:30

'Women don’t make babies in a vacuum. Recognising that men also play a role in conception could reset the balance'
'Women don’t make babies in a vacuum. Recognising that men also play a role in conception could reset the balance'

All over the country, thirtysomething women are trying to muffle the sound of our biological clocks in case we scare the boyfriend who isn't ready to commit to anything more than a mini-break.

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But at the same time, we have our entire multifaceted existence reduced to the status of a time-stamped broodmare with a ticking clock by fertility alarmists.

Recently, Fionnuala McAuliffe, a consultant obstetrician at the National Maternity Hospital, warned that women should consider starting their families earlier: "We need to get the message out there that, biologically, women do much better when they have their children in their 20s instead of their 30s."

Silly things, with our fancy degrees, but no notion about medical risks.

What's most annoying is the suggestion that we are ignorant of fertility to the point where we just rock up to the doctors one day, menopause looming, and demand to know why we are not yet impregnated.

In reality, the pressure to conceive from the media is so predictably frequent that we might as well have set a reminder in our phone.

Any report about ever older first-time mothers always places the blame on women. There's this notion that we're all just hanging about, as though it's a lazy Sunday on the sofa of Netflix punctuated by cups of tea.

It's not as though women of my generation have other concerns, like how exactly we can go about being responsible for a whole other human being in the midst of a rent crisis, the quagmire of zero-hours contracts, patchwork careers and a post-Tinder dating market.

But through all of this, society seems to have the general belief that having a baby is basically a woman's project and that she decides when it is going to happen.

Women don't make babies in a vacuum. Recognising that men also play a role in conception could reset the balance.

So many studies show that men's fertility is failing once they hit age 40.

Writing in the journal 'Fertility and Sterility', a French scientist, Elise de La Rochebrochard, who led a recent mass study of French pregnancies, concluded that a father aged over 40 "is a key risk factor for reproduction."

Scientists at the McGill University in Canada studied women between the ages of 40 and 46 who, between 2010 and 2012, undertook a combined total of 904 IVF cycles.

They found that in the couples where the male was 43-and-a-half years old or older, no children were conceived, whereas the women with younger partners went on to have babies.

So for women under 30, a male partner aged 40 or over reduced their chances of conceiving by a quarter; for women between 35 and 37, a partner over 40 reduced conception to a one-in-three possibility.

Basically, men have a biological clock too.

Another study has shown that the older a man is, the greater the risk of his partner miscarrying, even if she's young, in perfect health and at peak fertility.

And a high-profile study in the journal 'Nature' found convincing evidence, that in some cases increased mutations found in the sperm of older men meant that they were more likely than their younger counterparts to father children with autism or schizophrenia.

Meanwhile, other researchers have suggested patterns between older fathers and increased chances of bipolar disorder, dwarfism and Apert syndrome but the question of a man's age has largely been absent from discussions of complications from pregnancy.

Guilt and recriminations are surely never the goal of science.

But many men seem more inured to the kind of self-flagellation that this kind of research can provoke in us women.

The trouble with this when-to-procreate business is that it's personal. A man might earn lots of money, earn not much money, like kids, hate kids, be still looking for The One, have had a bad childhood himself, not feel the need to have babies to preserve his relationship, be worried he'll pass on a condition, feel he hasn't established his career, not want a career, have not been to Patagonia yet.

Yes, we know our own biological limits. We know fertility is a window that closes. More articles about bachelors selfishly trying to have it all now, please.

Irish Independent

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