Yesterday was International Women’s Day. I spent it at the WOW (Women of the World) Festival at the Southbank Centre where I had been invited to join fertility/infertility royalty on my first ever panel debate. The event was chaired by Kate Brian (journalist and author of The Complete Guide to IVF) with panellists Zita West (the holistic baby-making guru); Professor Susan Bewley (one of the UK’s leading obstetricians) and Jody Day (founder of the ground-breaking Gateway Women for women who are childless). Oh, yes, and me!
The title of the event was Fertility Myths and there was some great discussion about the things we think and the things we’re told that just aren’t true where fertility is concerned. Everyone on the panel agreed that IVF is not a magic bullet. But even more striking for me was the reminder, yet again, just how much age matters.
There’s no point thinking that you feel young and your cycles are regular because – and this was a total shocker for me courtesy of Susan Bewley – your fertility officially plummets ten years before the menopause. She recommended that all women should ask their mothers what age they had it (genetics matters too) and count back! In fact, Susan’s advice was that if you want a baby (and especially if you want more than one) you should really start before you’re 30. She suggested 25 to 35 as the optimum childbearing age span. In fact, it made me wonder whether teenage pregnancy is really such a terrible thing.
Of course this is deeply depressing for those of us who were encouraged to go to university, pursue our careers in our twenties and kiss a few frogs before settling down. The so called Generation X who were led to believe that was the best way for women to have it all. So whilst I celebrate International Women’s Day and will always honour my suffragette sisters, maybe it’s also true that the feminist breakthroughs of the 60s and 70s lost us something along the way.
So this week’s question is a political and a social one: when’s the best age for women to have children?