Reproductive Options

We’re living in a science fiction scenario and we barely even notice it. Not that long ago the only time women had multiples in one pregnancy was when it happened naturally, which is one reason why it was a world-wide sensation when the Dionne quintuplets were born in 1934 (although I think they are still the only quintuplets who were identical).

“In the United States, the number of twin births has risen more than 50% over the last 2 decades since the advent of IVF (in vitro fertilization) in 1978, from about 68,000 to approximately 104,000 in 1997. The incidence of higher-order multiple pregnancies (triplets or greater) has increased 100-fold. Births of single individuals (singletons) rose only 6% in that same time period. The trend is evident in other countries as well. In Sweden, for example, the incidence of twin deliveries has increased nearly 80% over the last 20 years.

“The increase of multiple births is age related. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, over the last 20 years, multiple pregnancies in the United States have increased 400% among women in their 30s and 1000% in women in their 40s. This trend is due in part to the fact that older women are less able to get pregnant naturally and are more likely to undergo infertility treatment.” Source.

Another phenomenon is the number of successful pregnancies  among women who are forty and older. See this slide show of famous older mothers on Visit this blog for women who are trying to get pregnant or have had babies after the age of 44. And read this article with pictures of a woman who gave birth at the age of 67 and her three-year-old daughter.

Then there are women who farm out their pregnancies to surrogates. The actress Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband Matthew Broderick recently announced that they are expecting twins with the “generous help” of a surrogate. Parker is “only” 44 years old and gave birth to a son naturally six years ago. (Gossipy article about their announcement.) They did not divulge whose genetic material is being used. (For the difference between traditional and gestational surrogacy, read this article.)

And then there are the frozen embryos and eggs that enable a woman to attempt a pregnancy well past her fertile years. Read this Newsweek article by a woman who had her eggs frozen. She writes, “I think that like birth control or abortion, egg freezing could also change society. It is a choice, another tool by which women are able to assert control over their bodies.”

And here we come to the feminist slant to this post: More than ever, women have options that they never had before for when and how they have children. No longer do they have to defer careers in order to take advantage of their optimal child-bearing years. Statistics show that it is still difficult for most older women to get pregnant, but the technology will improve. Soon it will become commonplace for women to put off pregnancies until they are financially and emotionally stable. And they don’t have to settle down with someone who might not be “the one” just so they can beat their biological clocks.

But why is there a trend to have babies when you’re older? Could it be that it is just too hard to have them while you’re trying to establish yourself in your career? For many women early motherhood means that they don’t get a chance to finish school or enter a demanding profession until the children are older–and they’re older, too, making it harder to compete in the marketplace.

I had all four of my children by the time I was 28 (I started at 22). I quit college to start a family and although I kept taking courses throughout the years, I didn’t earn my degree until I was 53. Although I’m glad I finally did it, I have to be honest about what that did for my career. All I have is a framed diploma on the wall and a part-time job, not including my writing. Would I have pursued a career if I’d had my kids later? Probably. Could I have pursued one when they were small? Some women could, but I’m not sure I could have.

It isn’t easy to have it all. But more reproductive options make it easier.