Many women over 35, so-called older women, who are unsuccessfully trying to start a family often turn to alternative fertility treatments such as fertility astrology to supplement their medical treatment. They are unfortunately boxed and labelled. “Infertile”. “Struggling to conceive”. And in the past as “elderly primigravida”. I started to write this blog about the issues confronting older women in pregnancy and the difficult reproductive treatment decisions they face. I realised that without commenting on broader social issues this post would have just been fear-mongering, potentially chastising women to “get on with it” instead of delaying motherhood for a variety of seemingly “shallow” considerations, such as a career or financial stability. How very wrong that would have been to blame women for delaying the joy and desire for a baby, in order to make sure their families are materially secure? Duh!
The world has changed. Jobs are a luxury, property is largely unaffordable and social and medical care is being squeezed. Adults often aren’t able to afford their own homes and are living with extended family. Having a baby has moved down the list as couples struggle to make the rent while working two jobs or more. Most people agree that having children when you are in your twenties or thirties is sensible, but the reality is harshly different.
For one, relationships are harder to find. Literally. Many people work from home and are not meeting other adults at work, or on the work commute. Online dating is a swamp – let’s face it…. Contraception and sexual emancipation has transformed traditional commitment and the social stigma of “living in sin” is no longer a motivation to “put a ring on it”. Women are more financially independent , often choosing to be single over a partnership that does not suit them. Ultimately couples are lacking material security in the form of jobs, the means to pay off a mortgage and funds to educate and take care of another human being.
For even more couples the cost of simply trying to get pregnant is prohibitive. They delay treatment to save huge amounts of money needed for private medical care because the social system in most first world countries cannot afford to pay for treatment, often in spite of undertaking to support them. Regulation of such social care is also counter-productive. A couple is deemed infertile after trying to get pregnant for two years in some clinics, which is pretty useless if you married at 36 and want to get on with it before you turn 38, and your ovarian reserve is dwindling with every passing month. Some rules state that if your partner has children you are not entitled to treatment, which is daft because the same legislation (thankfully) will provide for single women. These are just two examples of awkward legislation making it difficult for responsible women to achieve the very basic human right to be a parent.
In this upside down logic, older women who do qualify for social care cost the system many more thousands as they require more specialist care and their treatment is more likely to involve other technologies for which the taxpayer will have to pay.
Can we all agree that if we created the social space in which couples were encouraged and able to have children earlier, we would save a lot of heartache and resources that could be better spent on education, libraries, more efficient ways to deal with addiction? I know this sounds simplistic and naive. I do not have the answers, I am just a person who listens to the stories of older women who have delayed motherhood because they were responsible, not careless and ignorant, and I feel for them.
We could start with mandatory paternity or partner leave – the same amount of time for both partners, so that women can be helped to remain economically active. Just a thought…
I would also like to encourage younger people to research their local legislation and familiarise themselves with the time frame that they might qualify for care, and to be aware of where exactly they will receive the most efficient treatment. I would love it if the NHS and other medical care systems worldwide would offer compulsory fertility profile at the age of 30 to rule out hormone dysfunction and other issues which go undetected but cause delays in conceiving. Sperm analysis would help men understand the link between lifestyle and fertility and that the abuse of recreational drugs and alcohol can affect their ability to father children. This might mean that couples would find treatment sooner rather than later? And help provide solutions to these problems facing older women in pregnancy. Maybe, but it’s worth a shot – right?