The first time someone instructed me to freeze my eggs, I was completely taken aback. It may be surprising to some, but when a woman reaches her twenties, family and strangers suddenly begin to discuss her fertility openly and heatedly like it’s their own personal investment. I never thought I would need to say this, but it’s actually no one’s business what I do with my eggs.
I can’t say that I’ve ever felt particularly protective of my eggs. Their whereabouts or concern to others has never occupied my time. It certainly never crossed my mind to consider them a source of confrontation with strangers and family members. Generally, people have an inherent but rough idea of when they imagine that they may ideally have children. It’s not uncommon to be asked the question like it’s an expectation.
Obviously, any one person’s declaration of when they would “ideally” like to have children is somewhat arbitrary and subject to change at any point. Personally, I’ve known from an early age that I probably won’t choose to be a young mum. To my shock, this opinion has been met with impassioned and strong responses. It honestly never occurred to me that I would ever have to justify why it’s not selfish or reckless for me to have not considered fertility options before I’m 30, let alone 25.
I’m 22, and frankly, I’m sick of people instructing me to freeze my eggs.
Let me preface this by acknowledging that scientific research has proven that for parents older than 35, there are significantly increased risks of a child developing Down Syndrome. There are also increased risks of Autism and a predisposition towards mental illness, amongst other complications. However, research also suggests that until roughly 34 years of age, women and men can both generally expect to have an equally good chance of conceiving with no dramatic risk to the child. Any person who seeks to freeze their eggs or sperm should feel that it is their choice to make when it’s relevant to them.
Primarily, it concerns me that anyone could be met with judgment or connotations of selfishness for not wishing to have children in their 20s. The suggestion that anyone has the right to tell a male or female when they should have children is audacious. Even more concerning is the fact that such criticism is disproportionately targeted towards women. Despite popular belief, a woman’s fertility is an issue that people should think twice about criticising.
For those that have ever felt the need to dictate what someone does with their eggs, let me make a few things clear.
First of all, the average age for an Australian woman to have their first child is 30. Sorry to disappoint, but we’re not all settling down at twenty five simply to avoid the judgement of older generations or potential partners. While society may be happy to pretend they know what’s “normal”, statistically, it’s now “normal” to have children after 30.
Secondly, the average age of a first time father in Australia is 33. In fact, the age of first time fathers grows older every year. When I’ve flipped the question and asked men if they would consider freezing their sperm, I’ve been laughed at. Any individual who could feel that only one gender is selfish for choosing to be an older parent has not paid enough attention to recent research.
Despite popular belief, both males and females play a role in the increased likelihood of having a disabled child when conceiving at a later age. Similarly, when someone chooses to live a few extra years enjoying a child-less lifestyle, they are not consciously choosing to endanger the health of their unborn child. Research is now suggesting that mothers and fathers above the age of 35 each contribute to 50% of the increased likelihood of a child developing Down Syndrome. Further, older fathers are considered to be the primary link to an older couple conceiving a child born with either Autism or Schizophrenia.
Some argue that people having children after 30 will be “too old” to properly care for the child as they grow up. According to research, children born from parents above the age of 30 are more likely to be better “socialised”. Whether you choose to believe that this is a measure of parental maturity or simply a coincidence, as long as parents don’t suffer from diabetes, heart conditions or chronic illnesses, age shouldn’t place parents between 30-35 at any adverse risk during or after giving birth. Another obvious implication is that that regardless of age, there will always be some parents that are more actively involved in their children’s lives than others.
I don’t want to wonder how much of this criticism towards women is just older generations being uncomfortable with the idea of a woman who doesn’t lose themselves over the thought of procreating. Sure, decades ago, it was “normal” for most women to marry earlier, have children earlier and stay at home with their children for some time. However, as the rate of stay at home dads in Australia has almost doubled in the last decade, it seems undeniable that men are now also willing to marry later, have children later and even begin to share the workload professionally, financially and physically. Whilst the number of stay at home mums remains significantly higher than men, credit must be given where credit is due – times are a changin’.
At the end of the day, it is never anyone’s business when someone plans to have a child. Just as younger couples are entitled to have children when they see fit, people are equally entitled to plan for a life that doesn’t involve children until later. Clearly, both mothers and fathers are choosing to have children later, and that is a perfectly acceptable choice, and should not be subject to anyone’s judgement. You’ll be surprised how little your impulsive desire to tell people when and how to procreate affects their decision to do just that.
WORDS BY CYNDALL MCINERNEY.If you’re looking for career guidance specific to your field, try PropellHer mentoring to receive the personalised advice you require to succeed! Article originally published on BULLSH!T blog.
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