Life is full of surprises. On a crisp autumn morning here in the Shenandoah Valley, a pleasant one recently came my way.
While I was perusing the UK press, a headline in the Independent smacked me upside the head:
“Female students at Cambridge to be given fertility lessons: It has become ‘almost forbidden’ to ask women about plans to have children, says Murray Edwards college president Dorothy Byrne”
Fertility lessons? At Red Cambridge – I mean Cambridge University? What’s up with that? The story’s first paragraph:
One of Cambridge University’s last all-female colleges is set to introduce fertility seminars to teach women to start planning to have children by their mid-thirties or risk “forgetting to have a baby.”
But before I could read further, another UK headline popped up from the Sunday Times:
“Female students at Cambridge to be told: You risk childlessness”
Here are two organs of the legacy media reporting good news for a change. Young ladies at Cambridge are to be given an academic heart-to-heart about having children and raising a family.
Great headlines! More information urgently needed!
First off, Murray Edwards College is an all-female constituent college of the University of Cambridge, the only UK university with women-only colleges.
In September, Murray Edwards got a new president: former television executive and journalist Dorothy Byrnes. It hasn’t taken long for Ms. Byrnes to distinguish herself.
She did so in spades last week by saying: “Young women are being taught that they all have to do well in school, get a degree, be successful in their career and be beautiful… The thing that is getting lost along the way is that you forget to have a baby, which I nearly did.”
Forget to have a baby?
Here is Ms. Byrnes’s story: “I was a woman thinking about her career and thinking one day I will have a baby but not putting enough attention into it.” Ms. Byrnes, now 69, gave birth to her daughter as a single mother at age 45, utilizing in vitro fertilization (IVF). “We have swung too far one way. We rightly encouraged girls to get themselves a great education and to have great careers. But it came to be seen as old-fashioned and negative to say to girls the things that an older generation used to say like ‘Are you courting?’ or ‘When are you going to have a baby?’”
It is good news – really good news – that a leading voice in the higher education industry speaks up about this critical concern. Bravo! The birth dearth of the last half-century is an unfolding societal collapse. Influential people should be concerned about it. Now it looks like one of them has not only figured it out but is willing to talk about it in public. Kudos to Ms. Byrnes!
We all know high achievers who have put off starting a family while building a career. There is a compelling need to “be responsible” and get on your feet financially before starting a family. But especially in the West, generations of affluence, consumerism and instant gratification have changed our standards about what is necessary to be financially secure. Moreover, the globalist economy doesn’t help by diminishing the middle class.
Globalism aside, having children at any time does require a certain level of “doing without.” Our grandparents knew how to do without, but with the boomer generation and those following it, folks are much less acquainted with material sacrifice. Now things are coming full circle – doing without is becoming the new normal, and not by choice. Often this means doing without children.
I guess this is what Ms. Byrnes means about “forgetting to have a baby.” In today’s fast-paced produce-and-consume treadmill of making ends meet, priorities are pathologically skewed to obsessive consumerism and toxic materialism. While thus preoccupied, perhaps it is easy for young females (and young males) to forget that the time frame within which a female can bear children is indeed limited. That’s undoubtedly part of the problem.
The UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) reports that the average age for giving birth in England and Wales has risen to 30, the decade at which fertility begins to decline.
According to the British Fertility Society, a woman with a goal of having three children has a 50% chance of doing so if she starts trying at age 35, and a 75% chance for a woman desiring two children if she starts trying at age 34.
The chances of successful pregnancies through IVF treatment are less favourable. For women undergoing such treatment, like Ms. Byrnes, if under 35, their chances are 29%; if between the ages 35 and 37, 23%; and for ages 40-42, 9%.
ONS reports a 20% drop in the total fertility rate (TFR) in England and Wales over the last decade, from 1.92 (children per woman) in 2011 to 1.53 in 2021. Toward the end of that period, the rate dropped even more precipitously, from 1.58 in December 2020 to just 1.53 in the first quarter of 2021.
Which brings us back to Ms. Byrnes and Murray Edwards College.
The “fertility classes” initiated by Ms. Byrnes are to include teaching about childcare. She says there is no intent to scare anyone, and by teaching about fertility, childcare and related topics (also sexual harassment), she is seeking to “empower” women students. Excellent. So often we’re told that not having children is female empowerment. Consider, for example, an article recently appearing in Ms. Magazine, headlined, “Stop Panicking—There Are a Lot of Positives to the Baby Bust.” The article was subtitled: “We should celebrate that increased empowerment and equality are leading this trend of slowing growth and reducing pressure on the climate and environment.”
According to Ms. Byrnes, “Young women tell me the minute they register with a GP, the doctor says, ‘What form of contraception are you using?’ Parents and teachers just give out information about how not to get pregnant… We are teaching about consent, we are teaching about harassment but we are not teaching them the facts about their own fertility. It is a woman’s right to choose to have a baby.” She further says that women are not “empowered truly” unless they know the cold hard facts about fertility.
A professor of reproductive science at University College London recently commented on the limited time that women have to bear children: “It drives me nuts we are not talking more about this. It has been a taboo subject.”
Why this topic would ever be considered taboo speaks volumes.
To be sure there is a “militant feminist” out there somewhere who will blow a fuse at the news that an academic, at Cambridge no less, is attempting to indoctrinate young women into prioritizing having children and raising a family.
It is truly heartwarming to hear a leading academic speak forthrightly about her own personal story where she nearly “forgot to have a baby.” It is wonderful that she has come round to another view.
Yours truly predicts that as it slowly dawns upon the chattering class that the fertility crisis really does spell trouble ahead, there will be similar conversions.
A thousand-mile journey begins with the first step.