Following on from my Huffington Post piece on feminism and the large number of women in their late 30s and early 40s who are facing the prospect of childlessness, without feeling they made a conscious choice, I wrote something for The Guardian Comment is Free site today on a related topic: IVF for women over 40 doesn’t address the root of the problem.
Today’s piece was on the back of new guidelines recommending the NHS pay for one round of IVF for women aged 40-42 (the previous cut-off age was 39). I only had 600 words so it was difficult to get the whole message across, but I thought I’d written it in quite a balanced way – although you wouldn’t have thought so from some of the comments.
It’s a complex and sensitive topic and difficult to cover in a short blog. We all have our own personal circumstances – we are all products of our upbringing and we all digested the societal and cultural influences around us in different ways. We all had our journeys.
But there does seem to be a growing number of women of my age who are wondering what their futures will hold as regards children. As I try to make clear, when I get the chance, most of us don’t want ‘instant babies’. Some of us don’t even know if we want children or not. What we would like is the opportunity to date without the pressure of the biological clock, to explore a relationship with someone and then to decide, as part of a stable partnership, whether we want children or not, and how we want to go about that.
Of course, we are all different and there are women who have decided a child is more important to them than a partner and have taken motherhood into their own hands – solo adoption, visiting a sperm bank or co-parenting, for example. I respect and admire them for doing that but it is not a path I can imagine taking (although never say never). For me, a partner is more important than children and adoption is always an option I would consider if we – my future partner and I – wanted to go down the children route and that wasn’t possible naturally.
No doubt I’ll be writing more on this topic shortly (I have a more personal post I am working on), but before that, I’ll be discussing today’s revised NHS fertility guidelines and the issue of childless working women on BBC Newsnight tonight, if you fancy tuning in.
It’s a great opportunity to raise the profile of this issue but right now, I’m sorry to say, all I can think about is what to wear – and will I look fat. I realise those kinds of thoughts and feelings aren’t much of a triumph for feminism or women’s lib but I can’t help how my head works and it’s hard to change the habits of a lifetime. But I can fight back. Or at least surrender.
So, with a deep breath, I’m off to explore my wardrobe and have a bath …
Great article. Great topic. We are in uncharted territory and the only way to make headway is to talk about it. Most of us are experiencing it, so we might as well get it out there.
Thank you! ‘Unchartered territory’ is a good way to describe it.
I enjoyed your article and I’m glad to see the problem of age-related infertility getting more of a press. However, having spent the past decade researching it I know that the problem is far more deep-rooted than any of us want to believe and is not going to be fixed by a few policy tweeks. In essence age-related infertility is not actually a new problem. In fact its a very old problem and one intimately connected to the western pattern of late and non marriage. Since the 1500’s English women have postponed their fertility and for a certain proportion that has meant childlessness. The question we need to face today is the far more difficult one of why this old fertility hazard is on the rise and why do we see women using a very modern reproductive technologies- modern contraception- to recreate a very old fertility hazard. These are the questions I have addressed in my research- Age-related Infertility:A Tale of Two Technologies, -published in the Sociology of Health and Illness. But good luck to the article- I hope it raises awareness of this strange new fertility pattern , whereby women use one reproductive technology ( modern contraception) to postpone their fertility and then another reproductive technology(IVF) to remedy the over -postponment of their fertility. You see, when you start to really think about it, you see just what a strange irrational fertility pattern many western women have got caught up in
Thank you for your comment Elizabeth. Your research sounds fascinating and the points you make are very pertinent. Perhaps we could talk further? I’d like to hear more about your research. I will drop you an email.
Best wishes, Katherine
Just read about you and your blog in The magazine Red. Love the magazine but was interested in your bog as I’m over 40 too. But more importantly I was able to relate to all your suggested “Best things in life”. Playing with nephews soaking up the sun(was definitely a sun worshipper back then,and laughing with friends ++.
Ill be following your blog Katherine. Thankyou.