Sometimes I think NPR finds the most nettlesome people possible to interview, just to annoy me on my drive to work. I imagine them talking to dozens of people and finding the most entitled-sounding clips to air. To wit, this from a piece this morning about how women’s fertility rates drop with age:
Kate Donnellon Nail never imagined she’d have trouble conceiving. For one thing, people always tell the San Francisco musician she looks much younger than her 43 years.
“I work out regularly, I have a personal trainer,” she says. “I’ve been doing yoga for 15 years.”
Nail’s grandmother gave birth at 42, so she figured she was predisposed to “fabulous fertility.” Doctors says there’s no such evidence. But Nail is healthy and makes a point to eat well.
“Unfortunately,” she says, “that doesn’t always translate to those little eggs in your ovaries. They’re not getting the message!”
When she was nearly 41, Nail and her husband went to a fertility doctor, who laid out the stark stats for someone her age.
“They put them out on a piece of paper on the desk right in front of me and I was like, whoa. It just seemed so fashionable to have kids in your 40s, these days,” she says.
What’s wrong with your fishin’ ovaries, Kate? Don’t they know you do yoga?
The online version of the story goes on to say that Nail has had six unsuccessful IVF treatments, which I don’t think made the radio cut. I really don’t intend to come off as callous or glib when discussing her quote, and I am genuinely sorry to think of how hard it must be for a woman to want children and struggle. But man, does that line about how “fashionable” it is to have babies at a certain age stick in my craw, as though a newborn is this season’s purse-sized chihuahua. Then there’s this:
“I just feel like it’s something else they lump onto women that we have no control over,” says filmmaker Monica Mingo, who’s blogged about her decade-long effort to conceive. She says the real issue is society at large, which is pushing back the age people are expected to settle down and have kids. Mingo didn’t even meet her husband until she was 32.
“You tell us your fertile years rapidly decline in your mid-20’s,” she says. “Well, if I’m not dating anyone, and I want to have a family, what’s that information going to do for me?”
Um… nothing much, I guess. Information doesn’t actually have a duty to do anything for anyone. Facts just sort of sit there, independent of our desire for them to be other than they are. I don’t know who comprises this “they,” but declining fertility with age isn’t part of a campaign to keep women from being self-actualized.
Biology isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that Saul Bellow and Larry King were able to father children decades after a woman would have been able to conceive. That sucks. As I counsel adolescent girls when discussing sexual and reproductive health, biology isn’t fair at their age either. An untreated STI for them is much more likely to cause long term problems (including with fertility) than it is for the guy who gave it to them. But to quote a great movie, if you can’t fix it, you gotta stand it.
Reportedly part of the problem is that women underestimate the degree to which fertility wanes with age. However, a campaign to increase awareness certainly didn’t seem to win many fans:
A decade ago, a fertility ad campaign on public buses in several big cities sparked a vicious backlash. It featured a baby bottle shaped like an hourglass, to warn women their time was running out. But women’s rights groups called it a scare tactic that left women feeling pressured and guilty.
So what would those women’s rights groups propose? The truth is somewhat scary, which doubtless creates a sense of pressure. I didn’t see the posters in question, which were apparently displayed in New York when I was still living there, but according to this article the message read “ADVANCING AGE DECREASES YOUR ABILITY TO HAVE CHILDREN.” (The author of the article says she wondered if Rush Limbaugh was footing the bill for the ad.) That’s true! It may be unfortunate or unpalatable, but that doesn’t make it false, nor has human physiology conspired with a cabal of social conservatives to keep women from having it all.
The truth is that fertility wanes with age, and fertility treatments are onerous, expensive and frequently unsuccessful. Women who truly want children simply have to take those facts into account when determining what they want in life. It’s not fair, but neither is life.