In an era when many women are choosing to wait till later in life to have babies, and fertility treatment is in high demand, do women face a choice between having a full life of their own or having babies?
I know, I know – many women view mothering as the ultimate way to lead a fulfilling life. And hats off to the women who find their calling in the precious act of nurturing and raising the next generation. But that’s only one of many callings that women may yearn for – and increasingly, young women are looking to lead a life focused on a career or their own development before they consider having children.
Of course, any time a woman puts off childbearing till after age 30 she starts to face the specter of reduced fertility and the risk of complication when (or if) she does eventually choose to have a baby. Our culture tends to emphasize personal choice, not necessity, as the foundation of a good family – but there are biological factors at play that limit choice.
From 30 to 40 years of age, a woman’s chances of facing fertility issues go up dramatically. From 40 onward, her chance of being a mother begins to trail off, long before she ever reaches menopause. This is because age brings a decline in the quality of her eggs, well before she starts to run out of them or her hormones drop to lower levels.
But a recent study by the University of California suggests women aren’t aware of just how much age affects their chances. In the study, nearly half of after-forty women who needed IVF (in vitro fertilization) said they were “shocked” that they needed the treatment to become pregnant.
This statistic has incurred a wave of eye-rolling backlash, blaming women for thinking they could cheat biology. But that only tells half the story: the majority of respondents in the study said that even if they had known about their declining chance for fertility, they wouldn’t have made different choices.
This is important because it indicates that women value freedom, choice and the right to follow their career more than they value maximizing fertility. In other words, even if women had better information about the link between age and declined fertility, they would still be willing to put off childbearing. Like men, they want to have a life of their own in addition to having a family.
So is fertility versus a full life a devil’s choice? Well, sometimes, although we have better fertility treatment options every year. But it’s not a choice that rules women’s lives – which marks a huge change from just fifty years ago.
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