We are used to public discussions about contraception and abortion; in those areas, there are strong opinions and often vehement disagreement about women’s decisions. There is, however, much less information and discussion in the public square about declining fertility; in fact, there is appalling ignorance about women’s so-called “window of fertility.”
A major reason for the public’s ignorance about infertility stems from political decisions and considerations. In 2014, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that doctors talk to women if they ask about their fertility [emphasis mine] but “we don’t want to do it in such a way that they feel that it might interfere with their career plans or make them nervous about losing their fertility,” Amy Klein writes in her article titled “Fertility Fog.”
That politically correct approach to “appropriate counseling” echoes an earlier political decision. In 2001, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine launched a “fertility awareness campaign, whose goal was to show the effects of age, obesity, smoking and sexually transmitted diseases on fertility,” writes Ms. Klein. The National Organization for Women (NOW) and its then-president, Kim Gandy, strenuously opposed the campaign, saying “I don’t think we need any more pressure to have kids” and saying that women shouldn’t “feel anxious about their bodies and guilty about their choices.”
So instead of providing full information about fertility, young people have been told that they should achieve financial and career success before even thinking about marriage and family. As a result, the age of marriage has steadily edged upward and overly long engagements and extravagant weddings are commonplace. In addition, there is considerable media hype about 40-ish celebrity women’s pregnancies. Popular magazines are full of pictures of “baby bumps,” adorable newborns and elaborate, expensive baby nurseries.
No wonder young women think they can and should postpone marriage until their late 30s and motherhood until their 40s. After all, the common refrain is that “40 is the new 30” and couples assume that waiting to have children is a smart decision.
In her article “Fertility Fog,” Ms. Klein points out that young women’s fertility declines in their 30s –– dramatically at around age 32 and then, precipitously, at 40. That information is not common knowledge. Psychologist Jean Twenge’s article in the Atlantic magazine, “How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?” declares, “Women’s age and fertility … is one of the more spectacular examples of the mainstream media’s failure to correctly report on and interpret scientific research.”
Far too many women are unaware that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns, “A woman’s chances of having a baby decrease rapidly [emphasis mine] every year after the age of 30.” In fact, for a woman over 42, “there’s only a 3.9 percent chance” of her having a live birth even from “an IVF cycle using her own, fresh eggs,” Ms. Klein points out. Slightly more than half of older women using donor eggs are able to get pregnant. These are facts. Most of those highly publicized late pregnancies are the result of expensive assisted reproductive technologies (ART) or in vitro fertilization (IVF). Ms. Klein quotes a 2011 study of undergraduate students in Human Reproduction: “Only 11 percent of the students knew that genetic motherhood is unlikely to be achieved from the mid-40s onward, unless using oocytes or egg cells frozen in advance.”
Reproductive endocrinologist Janelle Luk, who is quoted in Ms. Klein‘s article, explains that another dimension of the fertility problem is sexually transmitted diseases, “such as the human papilloma virus (HPV) and chlamydia, which cause infertility in 10 percent of the infected.” Ms. Luk doesn’t think women really want to hear about limits to their fertility. She explains, “I don’t think women know that there’s a limit: the message is equal, equal, equal. Women say, ‘We want to go to college, we want to work on our careers, we want to be equal to men.’ But our biological clock is not.”
A further aspect of fertility, explains Ms. Klein, is the advancement made in the past two years regarding egg freezing that now increases egg survival rates to 85 percent. But –– and this is very important –– it’s best if eggs are frozen before age 30, when most women today aren’t worried about being unable to have a baby. Women who are used to worrying about pregnancy prevention haven’t really thought about their biological clocks running down.
According to USA Today, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2008 that the number of women age 40-44 who were childless had doubled in a generation.
Author Miriam Zoll, “Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility and the Pursuit of High-Tech Babies,” lamented, that is a “huge” price for couples to pay “for not understanding the nitty-gritty facts of their reproductive lifespan.”
Indeed, by the time many young people discover that the conventional wisdom about fertility perpetuated by the media and political elites is all wrong, it will be too late for them to know the joy of parenting children.