Last week I made a decision. No more reading about fertility, or pregnancy, or having babies.
No more looking at articles about prolapsed pelvic floors or weak bladders. No more reading about Meghan Markle (except to see what she’s wearing). I’m going to ‘report as not relevant’ the next time a Clearblue pregnancy test comes rolling through my Instagram feed (to be fair, research for this piece probably hasn’t lessened the likelihood of that happening). I’m informed enough. It is starting to do my head in.
The thing is, as a woman of a certain age (nearly 35), it’s sort of hard to get away from.
From friends who have had kids, I hear about sleepless nights, multiple trips to hospital, and shelling out money for anything and everything from doctors to medicines to school enrolments. I hear about constant tiredness and low energy levels. I’m grateful to now know that giving birth won’t be a walk in the park (nor parenting, for that matter) but I wonder whether I’m now intimately aware of too many of the gory details and I wonder if my friends might be skipping over a bit of the joy they (no doubt?) experience.
Friends without kids openly worry about how they may cope with the lifestyle change of a new baby. And whether they can afford it. They lament the idea of having a teenager around while they may nearly be ready to retire.
And then there is Meghan Markle’s apparent success in falling pregnant at age 37 immediately after getting married to her prince (literally!), has, according to one Australian website, given women the ‘wrong idea’ about how easy it is to fall pregnant in your late 30s. That sits neatly with a survey of Aussie university students, who ‘expressed an overwhelming desire’ to be parents but had no idea at what age fertility dramatically falls for women or men (it’s 35-39 years and 45-49 years respectively).
I am not saying don’t be proactive. If being a parent is something you want, arm yourself with all the information you can. Keep a balanced perspective though.
It’s a field fraught not just with emotions, but big choices, incredibly diverse personal experiences and commercial interests. Between choices such as buying private health cover or going public, to whether you use a doula at home or go the traditional hospital route, there is a range of decisions to make before you’ve even laid eyes on your new baby. Even if you’re not yet in the position to start trying for a baby, there is the option to freeze your eggs, undertake an invasive IVF process, or adopt. It’s comforting to know, however, whatever you do, you will probably be judged for it anyway: young mum, older mum, breastfeeding mum, going-back-to-work mum. Oh, and the most misunderstood choice of all: not to be a mum.
But there is a difference between being in the know (which, given the coverage, the targeted advertising and the well-meaning reminders I get from friends and family, staying informed is definitely not an issue for me), and being overwhelmed with worry at the thought of the trifecta of pregnancy, delivery and recovery as an ‘older’ woman. There is such a thing as too much information.
But I’m not saying we should stick our heads in the sand and pretend everything’s going to be rosy.
The age of women giving birth to their first child has been rising for a long time. After the age of 35, you are technically facing a ‘geriatric’ pregnancy (or advanced maternal age, but let’s not let terminology get the in way). According to the Fertility Society of Australia, one in six couples in Australia and New Zealand will suffer infertility. The risks do increase after your mid-30s: of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, and especially Down Syndrome. But one in six couples having trouble conceiving, means five in six couples don’t have issues (unless my statistical understanding is really off).
There are plenty of arguments about the benefits of being ‘older’ when having a baby. Such as being in a more stable financial position and being more advanced in your career which puts you in a stronger position to navigate parental leave.
And I am not saying don’t be proactive. If being a parent is something you want, and you can’t see it on the horizon, arm yourself with all the information you can. And there’s a vast amount of it out there. Keep a balanced perspective though. There are plenty of arguments about the benefits of being ‘older’ when having a baby. Such as being in a more stable financial position and being more advanced in your career which puts you in a stronger position to navigate parental leave. And there are plenty of other good reasons to have kids in your mid-30s or later. If research is to be believed, there is a relationship between happiness, longevity, and memory (thanks to hormones that flood the body during pregnancy) that is specific to advanced age pregnancies. Some research can be a bit iffy, however, such as blaming Netflix for declining fertility.
It’s really easy to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes it seems the news media can press publish on a piece about the latest study that blurs the lines between ‘informative’ and ‘fear-mongering’ without thought of what it’s doing to all the women out there reading it. After all, one of the biggest factors in carrying a bub to term is having healthy (read: not high) stress levels. So take a step back, log off from the latest fertility scare campaign, and relax a bit, baby.
Have you got concerns about your ability to conceive once you decide you’re ready for a family?