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Opinion: The 'frozen eggs' debate is really a societal issue – don't vilify corporations over it

Nowadays it’s seen as quite normal to have kids in your late 30s… but many women still want to start a family earlier.

Claire Micks

SO APPLE, FACEBOOK and the like now offer to pay for their employee’s eggs to be frozen to maximise their reproductive options into the future… So what? All the recent publicity around what large multinational employers do or do not pay for by way of reproductive health ‘cover’ for their staff just skirts the real issue at play here – that women are not asking for what they want from men at an early enough age.

It’s not about women putting motherhood ‘on hold’ until they reach a certain preordained rung of the corporate ladder. To frame any debate on this topic in that light is to insult the vast majority of women in terms of the significance they attach to their pay cheques or their own egos. Equally it’s not about large companies having clandestine policies which actively try to thwart the reproductive capabilities of their female staff. We do have our own minds in that regard, thanks very much.

It’s about the fact that the society in which we now live has evolved such that we don’t expect to have kids until much later in life, and that, as a consequence, men are generally unwilling to commit to having children until the eleventh hour. Regardless of what their partner/girlfriend/wife wants. And why should they? When they have no biological clock ticking and are surrounded by women who somehow manage to appear universally nonchalant on the issue? Oh, how very modern we all are…

Newsflash: many women want children

True, many women are not ready for kids until they reach their mid-30s. But, newsflash, many are. And find themselves in relationships with men who aren’t in any great rush to end their carefree existence and give up their social, sporting, whatever-floats-their-boat-lives until they absolutely have to. If their mates are still in Leeson Street ‘til 3am every Friday and Saturday night, why shouldn’t they be? Sure there’s plenty of time for kids in their 30s and 40s. What’s the rush? Men fundamentally travel in packs, and if their mates aren’t in the market for nappies and bottles yet, then neither are they.

Meanwhile, the girlfriend is wondering whether and when he will ever be ready, but is reluctant to push the point for fear she’s perceived as clingy. Uncool. Worst still, desperate. Potential bunny boiler material. And that his nibs may just decide she’s not worth the hassle, and move onto a younger model – or worse still an equivalent less intent on reproducing at a reasonable age. Sure Stewie’s girlfriend doesn’t seem to be in any rush, and her 30th was years ago? And sure didn’t Andy’s long-suffering mot finally get the bullet last year when she pushed the point. No, no, we’ll just wait and see. He’ll come around. Eventually.

The average age of a first time mother in this country had increased drastically in the past 30 years. The age at which a woman typically had her first child in 1980 was 25. Now that figure is closer to 32. And increase of close on seven years in a 35 year period. Which doesn’t sound like much… until you think about how much of a stretch that is, in such a very short period of our social history. Ireland is now home to the oldest first time mothers in Europe. Clearly our social lives have a powerful draw, and are hard to leave behind.

There are unavoidable repercussions to delaying a family 

The fact is that we are having babies later and later, and this carries with it inconvenient repercussions, whether we like it or not. Most publicity typically focuses on the implications for us women in terms of our decreasing fertility; little focus is given to the uncomfortable subject of how this kind of systematic delay affects our eventual offspring. Unfortunately, there are longer term consequences to having kids late that stretch well beyond whether you’ll still manage to produce those magic two blue lines.

My mother was nearly 37 when she had me in 1977, and my father was 40. Unusually old for their time. Admittedly my mother died relatively young at still under 70, but even so, I think it’s fair to say that her having me so late in life did neither of us any favours in the long run. She was easily the oldest mammy in the school yard, and she had already reared three kids when I unexpectedly showed up. And now, 37 years later, instead of my relying upon my parents for help with my own kids, I’m bringing them to visit one at their graveside, whilst explaining to them why the other can’t remember their names.

I missed out on a lot of precious time with my parents, simply because they were older having me. My eldest sister got 12 years longer having a mother and father than I did. And, for the avoidance of any doubt, let me tell you that from a child’s perspective, those years are definitely worth something. When you lose your parents early in life, you definitely live the remainder of it feeling as if something is missing.

The problem of the ‘Inbetweener Generation’, of those of us stuck trying to care for young children and elderly parents simultaneously, can only be made worse by continually kicking the reproductive can farther and farther down the road. Yes, we are living longer because medical science now keeps our hearts beating longer, but when you consider the tsunami of dementia coming down the tracks, the fact that our lifespan may technically be increasing provides cold comfort to the likes of myself.

This, ladies and gents, is the other side of the equation in our choosing to have our children late. This is the uncomfortable truth around waiting for ‘the right time’ (ie, once the rest of your, or perhaps his, life has effectively been lived). If you’re older when you have your kids, you’ll inevitably be older when they have theirs (scratch that, old when they have theirs), and this breaks down one of the oldest forms of societal supports to the family known to man. The oldest form of support. Gone. Up in smoke.

Not everyone is happy to put it off until the very last minute

I don’t believe that all the women out there that are holding off on having kids are genuinely delaying things because they want to. I think a lot of them are holding out, because in this day and age, it is almost expected that a bloke won’t be pushed into fatherhood until he is good and ready. Even if that’s not until he’s close on 40.

Women aren’t utilising their collective bargaining power. They’re not being truly honest about the fact that many do wish to start families earlier, and aren’t happy to put it off until the very last minute. But we’re not being courageous enough to ask for what we want. We’re just letting things slide, because everyone else seems to be doing the same. And hoping for the best at the end of it all, instead of pushing the point and being direct about our own wishes, however ‘uncool’ they may appear.

So all this debate about what Google, or anyone else, happens to be facilitating for their own employees is just a smokescreen for a much bigger societal issue. Having kids late suits men. It will always be so. But it often won’t suit women. Or the kids for that matter. For a myriad of different reasons. So why then, in this age of supposed ‘feminism’, are we not pushing the point? I guess because it’s easier to bash Corporate Ireland, or Corporate America, or whomever else we choose blame for this trend, than looking at ourselves. Or our blokes for that matter.

So, all you Ladies In Waiting out there…

Wake. Up.

Claire Micks is an occasional writer. Read more of her columns for TheJournal.ie here

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Claire Micks

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