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KATE: This is why men need fertility education.

By KATE HUNTER

I know a lot of women and I know them quite well. I have two sisters. Most of my friends are women. I went to an all-girls school. I work with mostly women. I have two daughters. I am a woman. Lots of oestrogen in my world. Although there’s less of it than there was ten years ago. I know this. My friends know it. We’ve always known it. So why these ads?

declining fertility
A pic from the ‘Get Britain fertile’ campaign.

The ‘Get Britain Fertile’ campaign by makers of pregnancy and ovulation tests has been causing a lot of discussion – the loudest cry being one of ‘age shaming’ women. Many commenters feel the ad will make women feel anxious about getting older, making the very idea of delaying having children ridiculous; somehow repulsive.

The aim of the campaign was to ‘start a conversation’ about fertility, and how it declines markedly after age 25. Too many women, it’s believed, are relying on science to step up when nature starts slacking off.

What I want to know is: who are these women?

I don’t know any of them.

No only are women aware of their declining fertility, more and more are putting down hard cash as insurance for their future baby-making, freezing their eggs for a time when they feel ready to be a parent – often that means being in a functional relationship. 29 year old Sydney woman Sophie Ashton told smh.com.au she’s happy to pay the $8,000 to $12,000 it costs to collect and store her eggs:

“Right now I’m focused on the development of my career and frankly I haven’t met the right partner yet,” she says. “This procedure provides a safeguard, buying me peace of mind and takes the pressure off any future relationships.”

It’s the relationship that’s the kicker for the women I know. I’ve never  heard a woman say she is putting off having a baby purely because she’s next in line for the CEO gig, or because she wants to live in Florence for a year, or to keep wearing her Ksubi size six jeans.

Some women, of course, don’t want to have kids. It’s never on their radar. But no one says, ‘Oops, I was so busy partying and managing my stock portfolio that I plumb FORGOT how old I was.’

HOWEVER, I know lots of women  wondering if they’ll meet a nice fella who won’t fartarse about for ten years before announcing, ‘Yes, my love, the time is right. We shall procreate.’

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Kate
Kate

I’d have liked a fourth baby. But I didn’t meet my husband until I was 31. Another baby would have been welcome, but the pregnancy would have done us in.

The idea that I should have had babies whoever I was dating at 25 because, ‘Hey hon, I’m not getting any younger,’ is ridiculous and terrifying. Odds are, I’d have been ditched even sooner than I was. But let’s say I’d HAD a baby when I was at my most fertile … I’m reasonably sure my only relationship now would be with the gin bottle.

I’m lucky. Even though husb and I started late, reproductively speaking, we had three healthy  babies. The fourth would have been a bonus. But that was the way things turned out, not ignorance. No tears for us.

Back to these silly women putting off babies until their fifties … they don’t exist.

In my experience and conversations, it’s men who figure medical science can solve it all. And I suspect that many feel their sperm is so awesome it can overcome the challenges faced by eggs that may be on the turn, or even non-existent. Like space travel, fertility treatment is incomprehensible, but it works! ‘There’s a guy at touch footy whose wife had IVF twins and she’s 46!’

That guy though, probably neglected to mention that those babies arrived after 15 years of painful, invasive and upsetting medical treatment. Month after month of disappointment. Very possibly there were miscarriages and grief. Tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on something that might never happen and life was lived on hold.

That guy might not have mentioned their babies were at higher risk of being born small, with developmental problems. Or that his relationship with his wife had been fraught through all those years of ‘trying.’ I could be generalising, but that’s not the conversation most men have at touch footy.

But it’s the conversation a woman has with her friends.

It’s a rare woman who doesn’t know someone who’s been through fertility treatment and it’s not a path anyone would choose. Many men seem think it’s like the caesar versus vaginal delivery, or breast or bottle feeding: a choice.  ‘As long as we end up with a baby, who cares if the kid was conceived in a bed or a lab?’ If only it were that easy.

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So, I’m putting the blame for women having babies later at the feet of the fellas. A big chunk of it, at least.

This is an image from a 1969 campaign aimed at men. Did they have the right idea?
This is an image from a 1969 campaign aimed at men. Any better?

Because men can father children into their 80s or even beyond (assuming they don’t break a hip), there’s no rush. And you don’t have to get married to get laid anymore, so ‘getting serious’ i.e. talking babies, can wait.

The advice to women is, ‘Start talking about your fertility sooner, rather than later.’ Seriously, how’s that going to go?

Let’s say a 27 year old woman has been seeing a guy for a few months. Things are going great. He’s talking about going on holiday together. Maybe Hawaii?

Does she interrupt and say, ‘Yes. Well, I love the idea of Hawaii, but since we’re talking forward planning, … I need to alert you to the fact that my fertility is declining as we speak. In a couple of years my eggs will be dust. So if this relationship is just a fling, I don’t have time to waste jetting off to Hawaii with you – I need to find a father for my babies. HOWEVER, if you’re thinking long term, maybe we should start saving for a house in a decent school catchment?’

It’s a rare man who’ll say, ‘Babe you’re right. Shall we talk about names? I think Imogen is nice for a girl and what about Toby for a boy?’

It’s just not the conversation you have at the beginning of a relationship, so to all those people lecturing women about the need to get on with it, I say, can you please have a chat with the fellas. Tell them that although science is clever, it’s still no match for nature.

How do you feel about your fertility? Have you ever felt like it’s a factor in the decisions you make? And have you ever had a conversation about it with a partner?

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