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HomeNewsLaura Keynes: Beware the biological clock. Delaying motherhood comes at a price

Laura Keynes: Beware the biological clock. Delaying motherhood comes at a price


What to make of a new survey reporting that more mums are beating the odds by starting a family after 40?

It’s surely welcome news to women planning on delaying pregnancy until that fabled ‘right moment’ when job security neatly coincides with finding Mr Right and getting a foot on the property ladder, which for most of us doesn’t happen until our thirties, if at all.

The survey, by parenting forum Netmums, claims that a quarter of forty-somethings became pregnant within the first month of trying, and that forty-something mums have more than double the number of unplanned pregnancies than twenty-somethings.

This fits with recent stats showing a rise in the number of women in their late thirties and forties opting for abortion. The Family Planning Association says the message on age and infertility “has gone too far”; women are taking risks with contraception, thinking age will protect them from an unwanted pregnancy.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of abortion provider BPAS, supports this view: “Over the past few years we have seen much scaremongering about older women’s fertility” and “these stories lead many women to dramatically underestimate their own fertility later in life.”

If you’re a woman with a ticking biological clock, it’s all very confusing. One survey says this, another says that. Who to believe?

One thing’s for sure: the number of women trying for a baby through IVF is rising.

The success rate for women aged 35-37 is only 27.7 per cent, dropping to 13.6 per cent for women aged 40-42 and just five per cent for women aged 43-44.

I personally know all too many women who banked on leaving it to their mid-thirties, now going through the pain and heartbreak of repeated IVF failures. I can’t help wonder if we’ve got it all backwards.

Given that a lot of public money is spent on IVF (women aged between 23 and 39 can get up to three cycles of IVF free on the NHS) you’d have thought society would be encouraging women to start families earlier. As women get older both mothers and babies face an increased risk of pregnancy-related complications and health problems, the cost of which will mostly be borne by the NHS.

The Netmums survey found the high cost of living to be the most common cause for delaying motherhood. Respondents said money worries were a bigger barrier to starting a family young than finding the right partner.

Yet what’s being done about the cost of living crisis, enough to make a young woman fresh out of university feel secure enough to start a family? What’s being done to support mothers who stay at home to raise the next generation, without the security of maternity leave and a career to go back to? What’s being done to encourage young men to take responsibility and commit to family life?

There are all sorts of reasons why we’re delaying parenthood, but there’s no doubt our whole culture encourages the delay– and we’re reaping the whirlwind, whether its spiraling health costs, marital breakdown, or just an entire generation of men and women under pressure to do it all and have it all.

Once parenthood starts, mums and dads quickly realise the lie of a culture that says you can have it all. Something has to give, sacrifices have to be made.

Whether there’s a ‘right moment’ to start a family or not, most parents agree it’s easier when you’re young and full of energy, and all the other stuff muddles into place because it has to. It might be possible to have kids at forty-plus but it’s not exactly preferable.

Let’s not lie to another generation of young women about the reality of this, or it might turn out that they end up sacrificing their only chance to have children.

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