Friday, March 09, 2007

Pressure and the Ticking Clock...

I read an article on the Internet last night that left me feeling a little blue. ( It was about women in their late thirties and their forties who tried unsuccessfully to conceive and carry a baby to term.

These women were all well-educated. Some even worked in the sciences. Yet, all were ignorant of the irreversible decline in fertility that a woman experiences as she ages. This decline begins as young as age thirty, but it moves at lightening speed for every year after age thirty-five.

Scientists are discovering that this has to do with the aging of a woman's eggs. Even when a middle-aged woman continues to have periods, many of her eggs are of poor quality. Some are not viable at all. Others are capable of being fertilized, but do not carry to full term. If a woman conceives in her late thirties or her forties, her chances of miscarrying are high.

Of course, with God, anything is possible. We all know women in their mid-forties who have given birth to happy, healthy babies by natural methods. And, I even heard about one woman who had a baby when she was fifty-two! She had not had periods for at least a year and had assumed she was in full-blown menopause. To her, this late-life baby was a happy surprise.

Yet, the reality is that purposefully delaying childbirth is riskier than most women believe. Like great numbers of women, the ones interviewed in this article put off having babies based on false information. They were told that they could have a child "whenever the time was right", and they believed it. If they were aware of the dim odds for having a first child in mid-life, they assumed that they could beat these odds. They also wrongly assumed that fertility treatments would counter any problems with an aging reproductive system. These women may have longed for children for decades, but they consoled themselves with the thought that they would have a baby "one day".

The women in this article, like so many other women, found that "one day" would never come for them. After months of trying, often with many heartbreaking miscarriages, the women were told that they would likely never bear a child using their own eggs.

Needless to say, this was a shock that the women in the article did not see coming. Many responded with despair and resentment.

"Why didn't someone tell me it could be this way?" some wondered.

Others reviewed their lives, wondering at what point that they had crossed the irreversible line of choosing career over child.

It was heart-wrenching to read about the deep pain these women felt.

The scary thing was that many of these women claimed to have been pressured into delaying childbearing. Upon learning that they had waited too long, they felt robbed.

One woman's statement echoed the thoughts of many of the others who were interviewed. It went something like this:

"From the time I was a little girl, my mother told me not to let myself become 'just a secretary' or 'just a mother'. I grew up believing that either fate was worse than death. I did not feel that I could or should have children until I first proved myself in my career. I was programmed to be this way."

Of course, this woman and others like her must learn to forgive. They must also take responsibility for their own decisions. When we face a disappointment in life, it's all too easy to point the finger at someone else.

Many women in this situation do work through their grief and move on. Quite a few elect to adopt or to conceive using donor eggs. The women in the article who selected these ways of coping said that the pang of not being able to conceive with their own eggs never goes completely away. But, they dearly loved the children they brought into their home by other means. And, they elected not to dwell on the negative but to find satisfaction in the positive.

It strikes me as odd that most people assume that women still feel pressure to get married, to stay home, and to have lots of babies. Perhaps, this was true at one time, and it might be true in some circles today.

However, my strong impression is that the majority of today's American women feel the exact opposite pressure! They are counseled to have a career, even if they'd rather be a homemaker. They are taught to delay child-bearing during their most vital years. If they do have children, they are counseled to stop after two, even if they want a larger family.

I wonder; is this kind of pressure truly liberating to women?

I think not.



LisaM said...

Some very wise thoughts. So many of us (I am nearly 40) were encouraged to go to college, get that degree, and have a job. I remember specifically being corrected by older ladies to whom I told that I wanted to be a Mother when I was younger. I cannot imagine the immense pressure that must be on young women these days, at increasingly younger ages, to "be a man". Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these very important ideas and truths about our human female bodies.

Elizabeth said...

Hi LisaM

Thanks for your insightful comment!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks also for linking to the article.

Anonymous said...

This is very sad, children are relegated to being less important than a career, and women get so sad and upset when they find they've left it too late. I'm so glad that I can be a homemaker, I do a bit of cleaning a week for a couple of ladies from church but I am proud of my role as homemaker and mother; I gave up my career in the city as soon as I got married and gradually reduced my hours working at all until now I only do a few hours a week cleaning for a little extra money. I'd much rather do that than have a high flying career.


Elizabeth said...

Hi Sarah,

I'm with you!


Poiema said...

Happily, I am one of the "older" women who eventually conceived successfully. I have posted my story here

Elizabeth said...

Hi poiema,

I'm so happy for you!