Fertility is not just an issue for women

What’s the point of this constant badgering women about their egg count?

We are used to seeing newspaper photographs of a sad-looking Jennifer Aniston. When is the last time you opened the paper and saw a miserable-looking ‘childless George Clooney’. Photograph: Stefania D’Alessandro/Getty Images

We are used to seeing newspaper photographs of a sad-looking Jennifer Aniston. When is the last time you opened the paper and saw a miserable-looking ‘childless George Clooney’. Photograph: Stefania D’Alessandro/Getty Images

Wed, Apr 2, 2014, 01:00

A Danish travel agency has come up with an innovative solution to the country’s falling birth rate: hotel-room sex. After rigorous,
peer-reviewed research revealed that a free minipack of pretzels and the sight of a trouser press directly correlates to 46 per cent more sex for the average couple, the Spies Rejser company decided to offer a discount to anyone who books a city break to coincide with ovulation.

It’s not subtle, but at least it’s an approach offering more potential for light relief than the usual one favoured by the media: dire warnings about fertility gaps, fortysomething mothers, and photographs of a sad-looking Jennifer Aniston.

It may also be the world’s first fertility initiative aimed equally at men.

In Britain, this week’s “fertility time bomb” scare, brought to you by the Daily Uterus – sorry, the Daily Mail – concerns the number of women having babies in their 50s: a whopping 154 of them in 2012. In the US, Time magazine is warning women about the dangers of putting their careers first.

What’s the point of this constant badgering women about their fertility? I find it hard to believe that there’s anyone outside of the Andaman Islands who hasn’t read by now how it’s harder to have a baby in your 40s. Meanwhile, useful information – such as the fact that IVF leads to the birth of a baby in fewer than one in four couples in their late 30s – barely gets a mention.

I suppose it’s possible that there are real-life Carrie Bradshaws out there, women who spend the whole of their 30s sequestered in a shoe shop or bent over their laptops, only to wake up the day after their 40th birthday and think: “Oops, I forgot to have a kid.” Perhaps these regular missives about their dwindling eggs serve as useful reminders to them. Maybe someone, somewhere is gratefully tacking a note to her fridge that reads: “(1) Book pedicure; (2) Do taxes; (3) Have baby before uterus shrivels.”

But somehow I doubt it. Among the women I know who have not yet had a child by their late 40s – a cohort that now accounts for between one in four and one in five women in Ireland, Australia, the UK, the US and Canada – the reasons are complex, often sensible, sometimes distressing. But they almost never include the words “I forgot”.

Some simply don’t want to have children. Some would like to, but for economic or other reasons, choose not to for now. Others find themselves faced with enormous medical challenges that make having children difficult or impossible. But by far the biggest group are those for whom it simply hasn’t happened; not because they were too busy teetering in their Manolos up the corporate ladder, but because they haven’t found the right partner. Or because they found the right partner, just not at the right time.

A recent US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 80 per cent of single American women are childless, but within that group, 81 per cent hope or plan to have a child one day. Some of these women are affected by what researchers identify as “social infertility”.

Even the most rudimentary grasp of biology would suggest that men are also a prime cause of social infertility.

Someone is responsible for recklessly failing to impregnate all these fertile under-35s, right? So where are the dire government warnings to men about the risks of delaying starting a family until their 40s or 50s? Where are the photographs in Sunday supplements of men staring mournfully at passing prams? When is the last time you opened the paper and saw a miserable-looking “childless George Clooney”?

If having a child is a joint decision, so too is not having one, or not having one just yet, or maybe not having one ever. Why do we still treat fertility like it is an exclusively female issue?


THE IRISH DISPOSITION: ARE WE ADDICTED TO RISK?

If there were a world championship in risky behaviours, we in Ireland would be taking home all the medals. We regard the weekly alcohol intake recommendations as a minimum standard. We ignore the warnings about sunscreen. And we are topping European lists when it comes to junk-food consumption. Do we just know how to have a good time, or are we a nation addicted to risk?

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