When the head of an all-female Cambridge university unveiled a plan to teach students about fertility last week, she said it felt “perfect, distinctly good and a good idea.”
“We’ve gone too far,” said Dorothy Byrne, president of Murray Edwards College. “We teach consent, we teach harassment, but we don’t teach them the facts about their own fertility.”
Mrs. Byrne knows the dangers of delaying motherhood. The former head of News and Current Affairs at Channel 4 got her daughter at the age of 44 through a sperm donor.
So it’s unlikely she expected the criticism that came her way.
Accusations that she was “unfeminist” and comments that it was “not OK” to ask a woman when she was going to have a baby mostly came from young millennial women.
When the head of an all-female Cambridge university unveiled a plan to teach students about fertility last week, she said it felt “perfect, distinctly good and a good idea.” “We’ve gone too far,” said Dorothy Byrne (above), president of Murray Edwards College.
But I totally agree with Dorothy Byrne. It doesn’t matter if it’s insulting to people to say that a woman’s fertility steadily declines as she ages. It’s a simple fact.
It’s not like fertility falls off a cliff at 35, but there’s no question that the chances increase with each passing year.
These things are important and it is also important that women – and men – are free to discuss them openly.
By age 37, the two million eggs a woman is born with have shrunk to 25,000. The quality of these will not be nearly as good as that of 20 year old eggs.
In some parts of the health service, pregnant women over the age of 35 are clinically classified as “geriatric” because of the additional risks to mother and child.
It’s not like fertility falls off a cliff at 35, but there’s no question that the chances increase with each passing year. These things are important and it is also important that women – and men – are free to discuss them openly. (Asked by model)
It’s also the reason egg donor clinics don’t accept donations from women over the age of 35.
Everyone is different of course. Some women may enjoy hypnotizing their fifth child at age 43, while others at 25 will have difficulty conceiving their first child. The problem is, you just don’t know which camp you’re in until you start trying.
I know very well what it feels like to lose your fertility after 35. I am 40 and had the first of my two children when I was 33. Our son was born a few days before our first wedding anniversary.
What was the fuss about? All those scare stories were meant to control women, to get them to breed and ignore their careers. Dad!
However, our second child was a different story. By then I was over 35 and things were trickier.
After three miscarriages, I went to see Professor Lesley Regan at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. She dealt in cold, hard facts. blood tests. scans. She did a careful analysis of what might be causing the repeated miscarriages.
It turned out that there was nothing wrong with me. She said kindly but firmly that it was likely that I was older and that it would take longer. I was told to think of it as “a fertility journey.”
It was annoyingly appropriate. For me, trying to have a second child was a struggle.
IVF is a lifeline – quite literally. But since I’ve seen close friends go through it, I can assure you it’s not easy and shouldn’t be seen as a safety net for having children. Costs aside, there’s the physical and emotional torment, with no guarantee of success. (File image)
And anyone who wants to pretend that fertility doesn’t drop significantly after 35 years is, I’m afraid, just misguided.
Yes, there are scientific advances today that were not available to our mothers or grandmothers.
IVF is a lifeline – quite literally. But since I’ve seen close friends go through it, I can assure you it’s not easy and shouldn’t be seen as a safety net for having children.
Costs aside, there’s the physical and emotional torment, with no guarantee of success.
If I had known this at 25, would I have started trying sooner? In my case, that’s impossible to answer because it would mean I wouldn’t have the two cheeky monkeys I have now.
But one thing I know for sure: it might have saved me a lot of pain and grief. Not to mention the private healthcare costs I shelled out in panic when I learned how long the NHS waiting list was for a miscarriage diagnosis.
Some women reading this may be thinking, ‘Well, it’s easy for you to say. I have to find a partner first.’
You absolutely do. I’m not advocating a musical chairs approach to procreation, where you have a baby who you are also dating when you turn 29. It is much better to be childless and happy than to have a baby with the wrong person.
But if you’re in a loving, stable relationship and in your late twenties, whether and when to start a family is something you should seriously consider.
Most childless women I know who want to become mothers are not career obsessive, determined to put their job before a family. Most simply haven’t had any luck finding love or have wasted their time with men who weren’t ready to start a family.
Crucially, we also do not forget that the quality of the sperm also decreases with age.
And therein lies the pinch. So much of the debate has centered on women, but men should also step up and commit to starting a family earlier, rather than sailing an extension of their childhood into their thirties.
For it is vital to recognize that while society has changed, our biology has not changed. Although we live longer than our ancestors, there is no scientific evidence that there has been a corresponding extension of our fertility ‘window’.
Dorothy Byrne is right. We need to break the taboo and start talking about these issues now.
The response to her sensible comments is another sign of a disturbing new discourse in which millennials are trying to manipulate reality.
The fear is that with the awakened culture of cancellation in full swing, these concerns will be drowned out.
God forbid we risk offending anyone by reminding people that women only have a limited amount of time to have a baby.
The truth is, you can’t go on happily with your fingers in your ears, whistling motherhood away to years to come.
We are doing both women – and men – a disservice by ignoring the dangers of leaving far too late.