Over the last couple of weeks, there’s been a lot of talk about female fertility. Principally, Kirstie Allsopp sent the internet into a frenzy with her announcement that fertility “falls off a cliff” when women hit 35. This was followed by various Twitter storms and counter claims, appearances on Newsnight, and debates about feminism.
All this started me thinking about my own fertility.
Actually, I’m lying.
My own fertility has been something I have thought about (i.e. worried, panicked about and stressed over) since I turned 30. I have actually always wanted to be a mother and bring up a child, or if I am lucky enough, children. Due to various life, health, relationship and financial issues I’ve never really been in the right position to offer a child everything they deserve until now. I’m fully aware that actually the worry and stress about it all, is not going to help, and if anything might make the whole process even less likely. But having turned 35 a couple of weeks ago, what struck me most about Kirstie’s comments was how cruel they felt to me.
Since the whole media storm first hit, I have read so many debates on the internet about the “right” of women to have a career, go to university, buy their own property and make the choice to not have children. All of these points strike me as blindingly obvious, and the idea of having to claim them as a “right” is actually a very depressing concept. In 2014, I can’t believe we still have to point this out. For those women and their partners who don’t want children, the assumption that we are incomplete without a child is enraging. Even as a woman who wants children, I despise the notion that we exist simply to procreate, and that we can be reduced in terms of our identities to that of “mother”. I personally see motherhood as something that will hopefully enhance and add to my identity, my life and my relationship, rather than something which will reduce it, but that’s a personal thing, and as much as it’s something I feel I want in my own life, of course not every woman feels that way, and that’s a great thing. Life is so boring when we are homogenous. Unfortunately none of this takes away the bitter sting, and probably unintentional pain her words caused for me.
Kirstie raised the point on her Newsnight appearance that “biology isn’t feminist”. To an extent she is correct. In evolutionary terms, the social advances and changes experienced by women since the Second World War, far outweigh any changes in our biology. We still have a biological clock. The fact is though that data suggesting that after 35 we might as well give up on having children is based on one study in 1700’s France. That’s before we had any antibiotics, or robust health care, and diets were often poor, together with a million other differences in health, wellbeing and the social environment between then and now. So although the biological clock ticks on, it’s worth realising that the story is definitely not as bleak as we are all led to believe.
For me though the argument that Kirstie makes about being a feminist herself is the one that really sticks. What happened to the sisterhood? What happened to supporting each other? Telling women who are over 35 that they’ve blown it achieves precisely nothing other than massive anxiety in those who do want a family. It’s not like we can actually turn the clock back, and slap our palms to our foreheads and say “Oh, I KNEW there was something I was meant to do” only to run back to our late twenties in the manner of someone who’s forgotten to pick up the milk with the weekly shop. Life really is what happens whilst we are making other plans. For me, it took a long time for the deck of cards to fall into place, so that I feel ready and able to provide adequately emotionally and financially for a child. More times than I can count I have thought “this is not the life I ordered! I did all the right things, why hasn’t my career worked out, why am I in debt, why do good relationships elude me”? We are only too aware of the horror stories of infertility, and the regret and pain suffered by those who “left it too late”, or god forbid, didn’t have their life in picture perfect synchronicity by the time they were in their late twenties.
I also have to say, that whilst I am only too aware of those who do struggle after the age of 35 to conceive, there are many who don’t. One of my own parents was born to a woman in her late forties, and I know several people who didn’t even think about starting a family until they were in their late 30’s and had no issues, or issues that were quickly identified and treated. Likewise, fertility isn’t something that can simply be taken for granted in our twenties – biology might not be a feminist, but biology is also a random luck of the draw at any age.
And that’s really the point here. Instead of using the choices women make over having children and when to have them to beat each other with, which achieves precisely nothing, why don’t people like Kirstie think a bit more before speaking out? I can’t deny that when I saw her article, I felt the old fears rising, and the horrible little voice in my head telling me “You know don’t you? You know it’s never going to happen for you…”. The whole incident left a really unpleasant taste behind. Why do we want to set ourselves against each other? Why do we constantly seek to engender guilt about the choices people make, or are forced to make by their circumstances? Of course everyone has the right to make their lives their own, but we don’t exist in vacuums.
No woman is an island, so let’s not maroon each other.
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