A researcher in the UK wants women to be aware of the number ’30’.
I woke up this morning to yet another story in the media warning women to have babies earlier rather than later.
A fertility expert has written a stern letter to the British Education Secretary saying teens should should be taught fertility lessons and warned about the dangers of leaving parenthood too late, told that having a baby before 30 is ideal and that IVF is creating an unnecessary burden on the public health system.
Let’s set aside whether the education system should be responsible for lecturing kids about when they should start a family. Let’s set aside the fact that in Australia, unlike the UK, IVF is basically free for couples having trouble having a baby (the ‘burden on the tax payer’ argument, if it is an argument, is far less relevant here).
Let’s just look at the usefulness of the message.
As a researcher who has spent the last decade listening to Australian women talk about their lives, let me assure you:
We are all well f*cking aware of this.
Gen X women – women of my generation – were the first and the last cohort of Australian women to grow up falling foul of declining fertility issues.
Our mothers – the Boomer generation – might have grown up with second wave feminism but many of them were married with kids by the time they were 25, well before the supposed 30-something deadline.
Their daughters – Gen Xer’s- were more educated, amibitious and didn’t go through their 20’s with the newspapers and pundits screaming at them daily about their ageing eggs.
The discussion groups of young women I have conducted in the last five years in particular show today’s 20-somethings are under no illusions about being able to pop out bubs in their 40s. We denigrate these young women, thinking they are dumb enough to think ‘if celebrities can have babies in their 40’s, well so can I’.
Twenty-something women now talk pretty honestly and regularly about their fertility concerns. I have heard them discuss egg freezing when they are as young as 22. So these kind of stories all just increase the already intense pressure they feel in their 20s about doing it all before 30 – education, travel, the right partner, marriage, the mortgage and the first baby. All before they hit the big three-zero.
Some of the conversations I’ve heard among young women on this issue verge on frantic: I won’t be able to have babies after 30!
It’s really not that dire. It can be harder, but it happens all the time.
One of the possible outcomes I worry about with this panic over fertility is that young women might decide to get married and have kids before they are ready and with the wrong person. Who you raise a child with might well be as important as whether you have one at all.