“Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a ‘bitch’ or ‘dyke’, it means you believe in equality” – Kate Nash (on her blog)

What Kate Nash says here is what I believe. I believe that being a feminist means that I believe in the equality of the sexes. I have written on my views on feminism a couple of times here (An Unexpected aha moment (My Feminism) , Are Men Still Men? and “We Teach Girls to Shrink Themselves…”) This list is not exhaustive.

That is not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk a recent visit to the gynae that led to the realisation that, in some ways, in real life, equality operates exactly as it does in George Orwell’s Animal farm. All are equal but some are more equal than others.

I believe the best illustrator of this is the question of having children. The battery in an average man’s biological clock must be a Duracell because it lasts much much longer than an average woman’s. In fact, an article on a study done on male fertility by American Researchers stated that “although men may have a biological clock, it does not start ticking as fast as women’s. Scientists claim women’s fertility begins to decline in her early thirties and then drops rapidly between the ages of 35 and 40. However, men do not reach a ‘threshold’ of sudden decline when they hit a certain age…It is more a gradual change over time.” Very very gradual if you ask me because many men can father children up to their 70s.

I have heard many women tell each other that they can have babies whenever they want to. I’m not so sure that that is true. I am pro choice but, beyond that, I am pro informed choice. If you are very keen on being a parent one day, take the following into account:

The Age Game

Like it or not, age remains the biggest determinant of fertility. “No matter how much you take care of yourself, you can’t slow down ovarian aging,” says Dr. Kutluk Oktay, medical director at the Institute for Fertility Preservation at the Center for Human Reproduction in New York City. Here’s why you shouldn’t wait until your 40s to hit the baby panic button:

Your ovaries have a life span. Making a baby requires a healthy egg, but eggs become more scarce as you age. You’re born with about a million eggs, but most of them never mature. By the time you reach puberty, you’re down to half your original supply, and the number continues to fall each year. And not every egg that survives can make a baby. Even in your prime, about half of all eggs have chromosomal abnormalities, and the proportion of eggs with genetic problems increases as you age, explains Dr. David Adamson, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Eventually, you simply run out of viable eggs. “As of today, we have no way of changing that,” he says. “It’s the natural course of human life.”

Fertility peaks in your 20s. Most women hit their fertile peak between the ages of 23 and 31, though the rate at which women conceive begins to dip slightly in their late 20s. Around age 31, fertility starts to drop more quickly — by about 3 percent per year — until you hit 35 or so. From there, the decline accelerates. “The average 39-year-old woman has half the fertility she had at 31, and between 39 and 42, the chances of conceiving drop by half again,” says Adamson. Approximately one in four women age 35 or older have trouble getting pregnant.

The average woman can have a baby until age 41, but that’s no guarantee. Your ability to naturally conceive a child ends about 10 years before menopause, but “we do not have good tests to predict when that life change will occur,” says Adamson. While the average age at which women deliver their last child is 41, for some women it’s 30; for others, 45. Currently, doctors can measure a few markers of fertility, such as the hormone FSH, but “these only tell us the bad news,” says Oktay. “Even if FSH is normal, that doesn’t tell us how many reproductive years this woman has left. Once it’s elevated, we know it’s too late.”

Fertility patterns can run in families. “But it’s not something to plan by,” Adamson says. “While your mother may have had her last baby at 43 years old, you can’t count on that being your destiny.”

What the article quoted above says is exactly what the gynae told us regarding considerations in making the decision to have a child. Its not for anyone to tell you when to have a baby but when you make that decision, make it knowing women are at a decided disadvantage in matters relating to the biological clock.

  • A man will be able to have babies (with a fresh young egg) long after your body is no longer able to.
  • The risk of genetic abnormalities and birth defects increase with age.
  • The likelihood of conception is greatly reduced after the age of 35.
  • Once the biological clock slows down or stops, it’s irreversible.
  • I have a colleague who had her first baby at 42. Both mum and baby did great. The possibility of a “late,” healthy pregnancy is real. I also know a remarkable number of women below 35 who are struggling to conceive so the reality of the risk of difficulty conceiving is real too. Research shows that “at 40 a woman only has a 5% chance of becoming pregnant in any month.” At 30, its 20%. Those are some heavy odds. My colleague may have just rolled when she was hot or she is a defiant exception.
  • A woman over 35 is nearly 2.5 times more likely than a younger woman to have a stillbirth. By age 40, she is more than five times more likely to have a stillbirth than a woman under 35.
  • For a woman aged 40 the risk of miscarriage is greater than the chance of a live birth.
  • Sometimes its the man who has fertility issues and not you.

When its all said and done, fertility is ageist and it favours men. When you make a decision on when to have children, consider all the factors and make an informed choice.