The British government’s chief medical officer has recently warned women that they may remain childless if they leave having children too late, once again stirring the debate about the rising age of mothers.  It is a sign of the times that her realistic and purely scientific observation caused outrage among many women.  ‘How dare she tell us that we should be having children?’ was the reaction of many.  Have we really become that disconnected from the facts of life and raising a family?  

Women today are much more likely to be focused on their working life or travel than their mothers or grandmothers were.  Having a baby is often seen as a disruption to be postponed ‘just another year until I’ve done…’ or ‘saved X amount to afford it’.  Some couples have very sound financial reasons for waiting to have children in an economic climate with high unemployment rates; other more spurious.  But all she was really saying is that, if this sounds like you, you might be interested to know that medical bodies such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have recently warned women about the current upwards trend, stating that women should aim to have children during their period of optimum fertility – that is by the age of 35.  In a previous statement the college warns:

“Biologically, the optimum period for childbearing is between 20 and 35 years of age… Within a year, 75% of women aged 30 and 66% of women aged 35 will conceive naturally and have a baby. After this, it is increasingly difficult to fall pregnant, and the chance of miscarriage rises,”

Many consider IVF a backup, but the RCOG also warns that this isn’t a reliable option:

“Figures show that the live birthrate for women aged less than 35 undergoing IVF is 31%. This rate falls below 5% for women over 42 years of age.”

The chief medical officer also referred to the growing number of women who are remaining childless in Britain, which is now around one in five – it is hard to know if this is by direct choice or simply leaving it too late to achieve pregnancy.

Apart from the undesirability and stress of not achieving pregnancy naturally, this trend has also prompted concern that older women are at greater risk of other negative outcomes, such as having a miscarriage or stillbirth.

This concern is emanating around much of the Western world.  As a society, we can’t get away from the fact that women are made to have children at a certain time.  We must accommodate that into the organisation of our lives if we are to have future generations to love and also to support us.  For women with a myriad of choices, it can be easy to put it off until it’s sadly too late.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...