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What Do Teens and Elderly Women Have in Common Beyond Commentary about their Uteruses?

Um… maybe nothing.  I think commentary about their uteruses sums it up.


There is an ad in England making waves because it shows an older, pregnant woman — aged with makeup and a wig.  Its aim is to make a statement about fertility, educating women on when it begins declining, and it’s presented by the organization Get Britain Fertile.  The organization is “powered” by First Response… as in… the maker of pregnancy tests and ovulation predictor kits.  As in, they’d like you to follow this advice because they stand to benefit*.

Supporters of the ad point out that we have a similar conversation about responsible family building on the other end of the spectrum with teenagers.  Of course, it’s not just England.  We have the same conversation here.  Teens, don’t get pregnant.

Britain is laying their cards on the table and saying outright what the general public of the western world mutters behind their hand (by which I mean, put in the comment section on a New York Times article): they don’t want teen pregnancy, and they don’t want older woman pregnancy (above 35 years of age) which can be costly when a woman requires assistance to conceive and carry.  They want pregnancies to fall in that sweet spot for fertile years, exactly at the same time when women should be working on the careers that they not only want but need because in industrialized countries, we’ve made it downright impossible to live in metropolitan areas and not have two paychecks per household.

Essentially what we’re asking women to do, and shaming them when they can’t, is to be superwomen.  We should not get pregnant as teens because that would not be socially responsible, and we’d be a burden on the system because we’d possibly require social assistance.  THEN we should go to college and set ourselves up for a sweet career because women! can! do! anything! and! they! should! do! everything!  THEN right as we’re building our careers, we should settle down, preferably with a man because then we’ll be able to get right into the unassisted babymaking (not that they’re making any heterosexist commentary with these campaigns, right?), while working the full time job.  THEN, because we’re young and fecund, we’ll have said baby, while not taking any time off (because maternity leave is annoying to everyone judging by the sighs people use when they discuss someone in their office going on maternity leave) but breastfeeding exclusively (because don’t you love your baby?) while simultaneously spinning multiple assignments at work.  And volunteering because you don’t want to be a dick and not volunteer.  And hosting dinner parties.  And still having sex with your partner (we’re assuming he’s a man — though don’t call us heterosexist just because we are).  And making dinner for that widow at church.  And calling your mother.  And throwing a pinterest birthday party!

And then we’ll all be happy.  I mean, except women.  But seriously, who told you to be born with female genitalia?

Do I disagree with the base message of the ad?  Of course not.  People should be educated and understand how their bodies work.  BUT life doesn’t always match up with our bodies.  We don’t always have the support in place or the financial means to make a baby when our bodies are best suited to make a baby.  Some people don’t meet their partner at the ideal time, or they don’t meet their partner at all.  Sometimes, we could technically have a baby, but we’re not in a place in life where we could raise that child in the way that we’d like to raise a child.  Sometimes that means waiting.

Because that ad discounts the emotional.  Being emotionally ready not to populate the world — simple — but raise another human being — quite difficult.  And it discounts the fact that the western world is structured in such a way that women will always be struggling with voices yelling at them in a multitude of directions.  Everyone is shrieking: do this now!  And we can’t do it all now.  At least, not without the work force restructuring itself to accommodate family building.

When it does that, we can have a fair conversation about the uteruses of 35-year-old women.  Until then, it’s like trying to bake a pie without a pie pan.  The whole thing just falls apart.

* provided that you’re a peestick addict, and aren’t we all?


1 a { 05.30.13 at 8:51 am }

Well, apparently, I’m a dick, because I don’t volunteer. 🙂 Oh, wait – I did work at the school one day last December – dick status deferred…

When I was in my 20s and people would ask me when I was going to get married, I would say “I’m too young for that.” Because I was – I couldn’t stand to be around people for more than a few hours at a time. Once I found someone that I could spend more than 8 hours with and not want to kill him and bury his body somewhere (just so you know I meant that “kill him” part literally), I was ready to get married. I was 32. I actually GOT married when I was almost 34 (thanks to indecisive boy and military deployment). Then we were married for a little while before we decided to bring a kid into the picture. Well, hello 35! I was already past the desired age. Now, I come from a family of late bloomers, so this is not unexpected for me. And I don’t necessarily think that everyone should follow my example. But everyone should decide (with careful consideration – not on a whim) what the right time to have children is for them.

2 Peach { 05.30.13 at 9:18 am }

I love your opinion on this!! I met my husband at 22, and we were married when I was 24. Everything was perfect right? I had done the University thing, I had a good job (so did he), we had a home, we successfully cared for our cat and plants, all our ducks were in a row…and so we started trying to have a baby…and guess what? Not possible. So even though I had everything together, like “I’m supposed to”…we STILL couldn’t have a baby. So we likely won’t be parents in their ideal time frame…even though we had an EARLY start to it!

I always wonder who comes up with these kind of things – are they just really lucky? Or does life really fall together that easily for them? I think when to have children, and how, is a deeply personal decision and I think social pressure only creates parents who aren’t ready/don’t really want to be parents, and more strain on the social system.

*On a side note, my girlfriend had a baby a month ago. She was planning to pump, but not to nurse, because she had some personal issues surrounding that. Her Dr. was aware of the plan, but away when she went into labour. After she had been through the traumatic birth and was trying to wrap her head around this newborn, the nurse basically forced her to try nursing. She did to appease her, and it was very painful, baby didn’t take, and over all just proof that she wanted to pump, not nurse. So the nurse continued to pressure her for the next day until she went home, and then sent THREE lactation consultants to visit my friend at home because “Breast is best”. The nurse actually told me friend that she wouldn’t be the best mother she could be if she didn’t nurse. TALK ABOUT PRESSURE. My poor friend was trying to keep it all together, while not lashing out at the nurse, but she eventually freaked out and got her point across. I understand the benefits to nursing, but she was pumping and baby was still getting the health benefits from pumping. Breast feeding is NOT for everyone, and I can’t believe how forceful some people are about it. Whatever happened to a woman’s choice?

3 Egg Timer { 05.30.13 at 9:21 am }

Absolutely, 100% agree. I’ve heard of these ads and they bother me. I am an “older” woman, currently expecting her first child at (gulp!) 39. This wasn’t by choice. This was a result of choosing to finish a PhD (ending at age 32). Post Doc’ing (until age 35). Building a career, meeting the right guy and spending a year trying to get knocked up, miscarrying and then getting knocked up again. There was no opportunity to have a baby while I was working 14 hours a day in lab with toxic chemicals, 7 days a week. And when I finally met the right guy… maybe we wouldn’t have worked out if I had a child by myself. He might not be able to handle a teenager that belonged to another man. I get the idea of the ads, but believe me.. I didn’t set out to be an older mom. But studies show that children born to older mothers are less likely to suffer injuries because we are more prepared than the teenagers and 20 year olds. My husband and i can financially provide for our children… and that deserves some credit too.

4 Anna { 05.30.13 at 9:24 am }

Lately I’ve been privately lamenting that as a woman there is not a body size that you can be that makes everyone happy – people are going to judge you if you are fat or thin or, goodness forbid, somewhere in the middle where you can be considered fat AND thin. You are presenting a bigger picture of this and it feels like it doesn’t matter what you do, as a woman, people are making huge judgments.

My perfect life plan didn’t take into account a baby with fatal birth defects and a subsequent divorce and the fact that getting back to baby making after a complete life overhaul takes some time. So now I’m judged for waiting too long? Was I supposed to have a back-up plan for when the unforeseeable happened? Was I supposed to mourn less and try for another baby with my before I was emotionally ready or before I had a good partner?

You can’t win! It makes me want to curl up under my desk with my old ovaries and hide for a bit.

5 Mrs. Gamgee { 05.30.13 at 10:01 am }

And going along with the ‘of course you’re going to breastfeed’ mindset is the corresponding ‘but not in public or anywhere that I have to see it happening’ thought process. We just can’t win sometimes can we?

6 Alexicographer { 05.30.13 at 10:02 am }

I find it helpful to embrace the thought that YOU (by whom I mean, I) are (am) doing it wrong. Whatever “it” is. Because once I accept that, it’s easier just to get on with my life (I am kidding. Sort of. Except not exactly.).

Also, let’s please note that none of this widespread and crazily improperly timed child-bearing in which Today’s Women engage has anything to do with the choices, behaviors, or circumstances of men — right? It is never the young (or, ahem, older) man who makes inappropriate decisions about having unprotected intercourse before both prospective parents are ready to take on the responsibilities of parenthood, nor of course does it ever happen that a man delays the decision to commit to partnering and childrearing in a way that makes it difficult for a woman to become a mother during her optimal fertile years. Or if men do engage in these sorts of behaviors, obviously it’s the fault of their (prospective) female partners, because, duh.

7 loribeth { 05.30.13 at 11:16 am }

Mel, this is seriously brilliant. 🙂 And Alexicographer, I totally agree. Nobody ever mentions the role that men might have in all of this… it all falls on the women’s shoulders.

For all their angst over declining fertility rates, etc., I don’t see politicians or businesses falling over themselves to make it any easier for women (& men) to start and raise their families at younger ages.

8 Jeanna { 05.30.13 at 11:29 am }

I just wrote about something similar yesterday..having it all, and what does that mean? And really, we can’t have it all though that’s what society expects–do it all so you can have it all.

9 Jenny { 05.30.13 at 11:32 am }

Great post, Mel. I share your feelings, as well as those expressed by Egg Timer and Alexicographer. I’m 39 (nearly 40) and expecting my first child. Mentally and emotionally I was ready at 29, but I had no partner and was stuck in a dead-end, low-paying job. It simply wasn’t possible for me to consider becoming a parent at that time.

I didn’t get married until I was 38 and again, that wasn’t by choice. I simply wasn’t able to find the right person any sooner, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. Even though the men I had relationships with were also in their 30s, a surprising number of them were unable or unwilling to commit to anything as serious as marriage or children. They seemingly had no desire to grow up. I did try to conceive on my own (via anonymous donor sperm) before my husband came along because I knew my time was running out. But if I’d been successful at that, I would have been judged for bringing a child into the world without a father. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Sometimes it feels as if there’s just no winning when you’re a woman.

10 Another Dreamer { 05.30.13 at 11:38 am }

Oh I agree. There’s far too many people telling women what they need to be to feel complete, and not enough women saying, “I’ll do this my way.” I do think there needs to be more education about trying when you’re older, because society paints this image that’s not true, and yes teens need educated to (this from someone whose mother had her first at 16), but there needs to be less pressure and more understanding. I never held myself up to any specific ideals. I am strongly feminist, but to me that means having a choice. I wanted nothing more than to be a stay at home mom, and to raise my kid(s) the way I saw fit. I don’t feel the need to have a career, and I see nothing wrong with that. My family is my career, managing my household is my business, and I love that. For me, being a woman means being a woman however you see fit. My best friend focuses on career, I focus on family, and I don’t think either of us is wrong.

But something else about that mindset, here I am, supposedly at the peak of my fertility, but it took thousands of dollars, 4 years, and 3 miscarriages, before I finally carried to term. I was 22 when we started this journey, and here I sit at 28 wondering the same things I did then.

11 Catwoman73 { 05.30.13 at 1:10 pm }

I wholeheartedly agree that it’s really important to educate women about the potential pitfalls of waiting to have children, but not if the subtext states that you should go ahead and have them before you’re ready, because that’s what is best for society. That’s horse shit. Excuse my language.

When women end up having children is only partially about choice. It can also be about fate or circumstance that is beyond our control. Like many of the women who have already commented- I met my Hubby when I was 32. We got to a place in our relationship where we were BOTH ready to start trying for children when I was almost 34. I had no control over the fact that we met later in life- at a time when our ages put us beyond that fertility sweet spot. And I hate the idea that I could potentially be judged for what was clearly a matter of fate.

Ads like the one discussed her may or may not be perfectly benign, and aimed at simply educating women on the potential consequences of the choices they make, but the intent is much less important than the interpretation. And to me, I can see how women would look at such an ad and feel pressured to start producing spawn, perhaps before they are ready. It’s sad that there’s this much pressure on women these days- in an age where we should have the ultimate freedom of choice.

12 Katherine A { 05.30.13 at 2:25 pm }

This is such a fantastic post, especially the line about how everyone will be happy except for women. You really put your finger on the difficulty facing a lot of us.

Like you say, most of this stuff is far out of our control.

I met my husband when I was 15 (high school sweethearts), got married when I was 22. We had this plan that we’d have kids when I was about 26. Yeah…about that…it didn’t take into account how tough it was to find full-time stable employment or so many other issues we ran into. They were circumstances out of our control. And during that time, people would say things like “well, you’re never totally ready to have a baby, sometimes you have to have some faith”. Uh, sure. So it would have been ideal for me to start trying for a baby before I finished the schooling that allowed us to get a stable financial platform in place? Or when my husband lost his job? Or in the beginning of the marriage when we were struggling and not getting along very well?

And for the record, getting started younger doesn’t always come with a guarantee. I started trying at age 29. I’m 30 now. This has not stopped my 31 year-old husband and I from needing innumerable doctor’s appointments, lots of medication, and high-tech intervention by a specialist to even get my ovaries to release an egg – never mind actual conception or pregnancy.

Even so, it’s amazing because the evil little voice in my head likes to guilt trip me that if I’d just been less worried about school and jobs and started trying when I was 26, it wouldn’t have been a problem (untrue, for the record, since the PCOS would have cropped up no matter when we’d started trying).

While I think the idea of ensuring women do understand their fertility is a good one, the ad is incredibly provocative. It also doesn’t talk whatsoever about male infertility, continuing the myth that women are always the ones responsible for fertility issues and further marginalizing men struggling with infertility. Infertility along with its financial and emotional toll is a legitimate problem for both men and women.

13 May { 05.30.13 at 2:31 pm }

I love it when Certain People bring this up with me (hi! I am British, and this advert makes me stabby!), along with MEANINGFUL EYEBROWS because I’m 38 and childless, so, you know, career? MEANINGFUL EYEBROWS? Except, I don’t have a career, just a job, because I married at 29 and threw away the contraception on our way back from the honeymoon. And when I tell Those People this, the cognitive dissonance nearly tears their faces off. You mean, you started trying at the Society-Sanctioned Age? And are married? And weren’t putting things off to career-build? And you’re STILL INFERTILE? does-not-compute does-not-compute *sparks and smoke from ears*

14 Tiara { 05.30.13 at 3:50 pm }

Oh so many great points here & in the comments!

15 Cristy { 05.30.13 at 3:57 pm }

May’s comment has me in stitches! And I’m in complete agreement with Alexicographer too. Though I’m a firm believer that we need to start talking more candidly about fertility and age, I also think Alexicographer’s comment about how this conversation is solely focused at women is an excellent point. Especially in light of the fact that 1/3 of couples will have difficulty conceiving because of male factor solely. Hence we need to be more holistic about family building. So few will fall into the supposed ideal for family building, yet it’s something that society pushes ad nauseum. So maybe it’s time to start dissecting the ideal, exposing how destructive it truly is.

16 Stupid Stork { 05.30.13 at 8:05 pm }

Ugh this winds me up.

I’m with you – of course you should be educated and familiar, but the level of pressure family-building wise on women is DISGUSTING as is.

Hell, the level of overall sex educating and ‘you should have your shit together’ pressure on women is disgusting, family-building or no.

It starts when your 20s – get married, get married, get married get married. Then when you ‘accomplish’ that, it’s have a baby, have a baby, have a baby. Then when you popped out a few of those it’s disappear, disappear, disappear.

17 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 05.30.13 at 8:43 pm }

Well it’s redressing the imbalance caused by mysterious celebrity births in the older age category. And it’s good for that subset of people who have their ducks all there but still hesitate, hoping for an ideal time without realising that time is now – outside our corner of the blogosphere there are more of those than you think. But of course this has to come packaged with viable options for women to juggle all things at once – starting with, for example, equal juggling by men. As a society I think we’re getting better at this, but we’re a long way from being there yet. In the meantime there are just a lot of people who wish they could heed this message only it’s not very practical to do so.

18 St. Elsewhere { 05.31.13 at 2:21 am }

Ads are really irksome, sometimes.

I just read a newspaper advertisement where the fertility clinic’s pain article titles itself as – No woman is complete without children -.

That stupid title has been in my mind, and I find it deeply offensive.

I love your post. Your eloquence is amazing.

19 Anne { 05.31.13 at 3:23 pm }

Wow. I think that ad is so offensive. On so many levels.

I do think it is helpful for women to know about the decline in fertility levels, which I’ve noticed (anecdotally) many women in their early 30s seem to be unaware of. I know I was completely shocked when I got my infertility diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve at the age of 31. I had friends who had children with no problems at 40 and people tend to keep infertility to themselves, so I though 45 was when fertility declined! Boy was I wrong about that one.
Nowadays I share my story with women who are thinking about having kids. I don’t want to be the voice of gloom, but I also feel obligated to share my story.

That said, I hate the ad because I feel that underneath it is a contempt for older women and their bodies.

20 Siochana { 06.09.13 at 10:23 pm }

I pondered the question of life choices and when to have a baby briefly, some months ago, in response to a very different article. http://torthuiljourney.blogspot.ca/2013/04/what-i-skipped.html

I didn’t spend a lot of mental energy on the question. Maybe it is because I still believe that I am fertile, at age 33. Maybe if my numerous tests turn up evidence to the contrary, then I’ll be more upset and question my decisions. But when thinking about my life, the conclusion I reached very quickly was this: I took the decision to not have a child as seriously as I took the decision to have a child. And up till age 30 or so I very strong did NOT want to be pregnant. And if I had to do my 20s over again, there’s really nothing I would change. So people can put up all the posters they please.

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