Freeze your eggs or your career? Beating the biological Clock
There is a growing trend in the Western world of women choosing to bear their first child later in life. Celebrities like Nicole Kidman and Mariah Carey became first time mums in their 40s. The Duchess of Cambridge had Prince George at 31 — still a relatively young age. But compare that to Princess Di who had Prince William when she was 21 and we can see that much has changed in the way women view motherhood.
According to statistics, the number of first time mums who are in their 40s rose to 15% in the last five years. This ‘postponement strategy’ is a growing trend, said a 2010 study by the EU and the Vienna Institute of Demography, and the reason for this is economic recession.
‘Rising unemployment, failing consumer confidence, tighter credit and falling house prices have all affected the birth rates,’ the Vienna study added. As a result, mothers who are torn between finding a foothold in the job market and having a child increasingly choose their careers and lose time to start a family.
Consequences of delaying childbirth
Mothers who choose to give birth later in life should be aware that there are risks that come with that decision. Infertility Network UK’s deputy chief executive Susan Seenan said that while we cannot point out the age at which fertility slows down, we know that ‘eggs deteriorate with age.’
Seenan added that ‘The speed of that deterioration will vary but rises more steeply after the age of about 35.’ The British National Health Service (NHS) agreed that 35 is the point when fertility falls steeper among women.
Fertility UK fertility nurse specialist Jane Knight further explained that ‘Women in the 19-26 age group have double the chance of conceiving each menstrual cycle compared with 35-39-year olds.’ Those who are over-35 also have an increased chance of miscarriage and are less likely to get pregnant from fertility treatments like in vitro fertilisation.
The dangers also increase as women age. According to NHS, one-third of women over 35 will experience fertility problems. This risk rises to two-thirds when women are over 40. Older women are also more susceptible to having damaged eggs, leading to abnormalities, said Fertility expert Zita West.
Being ‘fertility aware’
Everyone’s biological clocks are always ticking, and for women, that includes a natural urge to become a mother. While fighting off the urge may seem a practical matter for some, there are a few signs that a woman might be ready for childbirth. The Frisky shares just some of these signs:
- You think you’ll be a better mother than that woman over there.
- You become more attracted to doting dads that ripped dudes.
- You’re not scared of pregnant ladies.
- You notice the best places to bring kids to.
- You gush over baby shoes, baby showers, and cute babies in strollers.
- You want more pets.
- You think breastfeeding in public is beautiful and natural.
- You’re giving up one night stands, booze nights and parties for the thought of something stable.
While deciding when to give birth is up to the woman or the couple, being ‘fertility aware’ can help women end up with the right decision. ‘The more “fertility aware” you are the better, so you can make an informed decision and be aware that it might take you longer to conceive,’ said Seenan.
West suggests that women talk to their mothers so that they may know when they are likely to start menopause. She added that for women to better know their fertility potential, it is important to get blood tests and ultrasound tests to check their egg reserves.
Benefits of Postponing Motherhood
While the workings of a woman’s biological clock assures her of a much higher rate of a successful pregnancy early in life, one study by University College London, University of London and the University of California said babies born to older women ‘have a better start in life.’
Research suggests that children whose mothers opted to give birth late in life have:
- Lower risk of unintentional injuries
- Lower risk of being admitted to hospitals
- Higher chances of getting fully immunised
- Better language development
- Fewer social and emotional difficulties
According to the study, older mums with stable careers and more experience in life fared well in child-rearing. However, the study couldn’t account for other factors that might have implications to their results.
Balancing career and kids
Being ‘fertility aware’ also includes knowing the laws that protect women balancing careers and family life. Women who worry about careers coming to a halt due to family responsibilities are protected to a certain degree by Maternity Leave or Parental Leave laws. The International Labour Organisation maintains the standards of these laws.
Some of the EU countries where mothers are protected by variations of this law include:
- Czech Republic
Meanwhile, ‘supermums’ like Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg have developed their own system of making sure they remain successful career women while being responsible mums at home.
In her book ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,’ Sandberg said:
‘A law associate might decide not to shoot for partner because someday she hopes to have a family. A sales rep might take a smaller territory or not apply for a management role. A teacher might pass on leading curriculum development for her school.
‘Often without even realising it, women stop reaching for new opportunities.’
Sandberg shared one important principle women should hold on to attain a work-family balance: Don’t slow down your career before starting a family.