When I first saw the title of this MSNBC article, “Fertility math? Most women flunk, survey finds,” I thought it was going to be a piece about women being unsure what days of the month they’re most fertile. Nope. MSNBC is actually positing that most women aren’t even aware of one of the most basic concepts of fertility in general: That it declines with age.
I call bullshit. How many women do you know who seriously aren’t aware that the older you get, the harder it is to get pregnant? Even the survey the MSNBC article alludes to in its title doesn’t actually support this conclusion. The survey—of 1,000 women ages 25-35—found about half of participants could answer seven or more (out of 10) fertility questions correctly. Some of the fertility questions that the majority of respondents got wrong were things like this:
If you are 30 years old, what is your chance of getting pregnant each month?
A) 70 percent B) 50 percent C) 35 percent D) 20 percent
Just because I didn’t know that the correct answer to that is 20%—or that it takes a 20-year-old woman an average of five months to get pregnant, not two—doesn’t mean I don’t understand it’s a lot harder to conceive at 35 than 25.
Koa Beck at our sister site Mommyish wrote about this yesterday, noting that the fertility math article “is just one of several pieces in recent months to paint conventionally attractive women with ‘smooth skin’ and ‘slim’ figures as idiots for wondering why they can’t conceive given their age.” The basic narrative behind these articles is that for a variety of reasons—because they look young, because they workout regularly, because they’re on the pill or just plain ignorant—women today don’t even realize that it’s harder to get pregnant at 40 than 20.
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, only about 20% of women wait until age 35 to start trying to get pregnant. The media reports of women having their first babies in their 40s and even 50s are true, but these women are still outliers, not the norm.
And all of this says nothing about women’s reasons for delaying motherhood; the act of trying to get pregnant at a later age does not automatically imply a lack of knowledge about the fertility struggle older women face. There are ample (good) reasons why women put off having kids in their 20s: Getting an education, starting a career, and looking for the right partner. I highly doubt we want to go back to a society where women start popping out children right out of high school with whoever they can first find to impregnate them. We generally think it’s a good thing that women start having children a little later, and portray young moms as foolish.
But then suddenly—it’s too late. It’s like there’s a magic window between—what, 26 and 34?—during which all women are supposed to have all children. Before that, you’re irresponsible or unrealistic; wait until after that period, and you’re clueless and vain. In some socioeconomic classes, the window of acceptable baby-making time is even smaller: When I got pregnant last year, at 28, a significant portion of my peers acted like I was nuts for considering having the baby at my age (I ended up miscarrying). But if I give it three or four more years, I’ll likely be hearing lectures left and right about my ticking biological clock. Realize this, Gen Y ladies: You’ve got a window of about five to 10 years (at most) during which you should be ready, financially and otherwise, to have all the children you want to have, and in a stable relationship within which to do so, or society is going to frown on you hardcore.