The Debate: Should We Be Putting Off Motherhood?

30 January 2014

In this week's issue of Grazia, we have a debate between two mothers about putting off motherhood. The article was sparked by comments made by England's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, who described this trend for women delaying motherhood as 'worrying'. Here, writer and mother, Zoe Williams, explains why SHE THINKS we need to be aware that there is a link between age and fertility...

I think, culturally, we make two huge mistakes; the first is an inability to value a life without children; the second is a refusal to accept the limits of human fertility. If we could find a way to discuss non-motherhood that didn’t treat it as a deficiency, I think women who were ambivalent or unready would find it easier to think it through without feeling monumentally hassled ALL THE TIME.

The fact is, at the age of 41, half of all women are no longer fertile.

Even though medicine has made huge leaps in dealing with specific causes of infertility (often in younger women), that massive obstacle, “unexplained infertility” is often just a polite way of saying “you’re too old”, and technology is no great shakes when it comes to that. It's hard to calculate the success rate. On paper, three quarters of treatments fail. That doesn't mean three out of four women end up without a baby - obviously people go back for more treatments. But when the industry says, two in three women eventually end up with a baby, they've already weeded out of those figures the women who gave up, because their prospects were so bleak or they ran out of money. 

Mainstream culture doesn’t help here – all the IVF stories you’ll read are more and more extreme versions of triumph over adversity. The woman who went back for a tenth cycle, and ended up with triplets. The woman who mortgaged her parent’s house without telling them for one more shot, then rewarded them with grandchildren. This fails to represent the women for whom IVF doesn’t work, who end up childless, broke, and often suffering a sadness that is indistinguishable from post-traumatic stress.

So, if you are 'putting off having a baby' ask yourself what you’re waiting for? Careers are incredibly long – 40 years at the very least. Ultimately you cannot fail to make up the time you took out, whichever decade you took it in. If it’s the ideal man you’re waiting for, well, that’s fair enough, but don’t wait forever. And if you’re waiting to be 'ready',  my advice is: people are either born ready or they get ready really fast, just after they go into labour usually.





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