For those who weren’t able to be there, Saturday’s discussion on Fertility Myths at the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre for International Women’s Day proved to be a fascinating debate. I was chairing a panel with obstetrician Dr Susan Bewley who is known for her concerns about women leaving it later to conceive, Zita West who runs a very popular and successful fertility clinic in Central London, Jody Day founder of Gateway Women which supports those who are childless by circumstance and Jessica Hepburn who wrote a powerful memoir about her experiences of fertility treatment.
Each of the speakers began by giving their own brief introduction, and we then launched into a discussion about fertility myths. The key theme which we returned to time and time again during the discussion was age, and how so many women are still under the misapprehension that IVF offers a solution to age-related infertility. Susan Bewley spelled out some key facts about women’s fertility which many of the audience weren’t aware of – the alarming increase in the miscarriage rate once women are in their forties, and the fact that we stop being fertile up to ten years before the menopause itself. She explained that although the age at which women’s periods start has got younger as we are stronger and healthier, the average age at menopause has remained firmly stuck at 51.
There were some really interesting questions and comments from the audience, and a lively discussion about why women were leaving it later to have children and how to address this. As a generation encouraged to delay motherhood, to work hard and have careers, many women who are now in their late 30s and early 40s are finding that following a male career pattern of establishing your position before thinking about starting a family doesn’t fit with a female reproductive pattern – but how we begin to change this is a real challenge. Why do so many women find it hard to meet the right partner to have children with? Do we think too much about potential obstacles before we have children? Are men enjoying the chance to delay fatherhood at the expense of women’s fertility? Is teenage pregnancy really such a bad thing? Are we guilty of glorifying motherhood?
Thanks to the brilliant panel and the audience too. In conclusion, it’s clear we can’t change the female biological clock, and perhaps we need to start thinking about how we change society and our own attitudes – your thoughts or suggestions are welcome!