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Opinion: Women don't need any more Big Lies

Posted by on Feb. 8, 2014 at 11:45 PM
  • 31 Replies

Opinion: Women don't need any more Big Lies

By Tanya Selvaratnam, Special to CNN
updated 6:47 AM EST, Sat February 8, 2014

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Test helps women with fertility issues

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Many women are unaware of the impact of age on fertility
  • Waiting to have your first child could be a mistake, author says
  • "We have been a guinea-pig generation when it comes to delaying fertility"
  • We need feminism now more than ever, Tanya Selvaratnam says

Editor's note: Tanya Selvaratnam is a writer, an actor, a producer, and an activist. As an activist, she has worked with the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Third Wave Foundation, the NGO Forum on Women, and the World Health Organization. She is the author of "The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock."

(CNN) -- In "The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock," I explore many Big Lies, one of which is that women can delay motherhood until we're ready and if we're not able to get pregnant naturally, then science will make it happen for us.

Another Big Lie I write about is that we don't need feminism anymore. In a way, these are two sides of the same lie.

In the book, I make a strong argument for why we need feminism more than ever. The language of the biological clock has been around for decades, but conflicting or misleading messages persist. I believe it is the very role of feminists to arm women with knowledge so that they can make better choices to take control of their future.

Some people claim that no one is unaware of the impact of age on fertility. They're wrong.

Tanya Selvaratnam
Tanya Selvaratnam

A Fertility Centers of Illinois public survey in 2012 showed that only 18.2% of respondents accurately guessed how many couples are affected by fertility problems, and 28.1% didn't know that fertility declines rapidly in women after age 35. In addition, 68.4% of survey respondents weren't aware that as part of a couple, both men and women are equally likely to be infertile.

We should be getting this knowledge from our health educators and doctors, and we should be getting it earlier, possibly during sex education.

'The Big Lie' in putting off pregnancy

Headlines continue to distort the reality. Just last week, Jezebel ran a piece with the title, "New study suggests biological-clock frenzy is bulls--t."

Among the actual findings of the study, by the National Center for Health Statistics, is that while the use of infertility services had declined between 2006 and 2010, white women with higher education levels and household income were the ones more likely to use such services.

As sociology professor Arthur Greil, whom I also interviewed for my book, said to HealthDay, "Women, and especially middle-class white women, are delaying having a first child even longer than before. Part of that reason may be because they have confidence that infertility treatments, when they need them, will work. For a lot of them, it's a false confidence because the treatments work better when you're young."

I started writing "The Big Lie" after my third miscarriage in 2011; my first was three years earlier, when I was 37.

Since my book came out, I've seen comments along the lines of, "Just because she failed doesn't mean others will. I have a friend who had two kids naturally in her 40s."

And maybe they will succeed, but they should know that they will be pushing back against tougher and tougher odds. As it happens, my doctors were clear that the biggest factor was my age. The pathologies from my first two miscarriages showed chromosomal abnormalities (by age 40, half our eggs are chromosomally abnormal; by age 42, that figure is 90%); the third was a blighted ovum -- which happens when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus but the embryo doesn't develop.

I believe we are at a critical juncture where women of my generation are hitting our 40s and realizing that while many of us don't have children by choice, many of us don't have them because we waited too long.

U.S. women having fewer children

We have been a guinea-pig generation when it comes to delaying fertility. According to a Pew study that was conducted in 2008, nearly one in five American women had ended her childbearing years without having a child, compared with one in 10 in the 1970s.

Of course, there are many paths to parenthood and one of the objectives of my book is to encourage people to pursue those options (surrogacy, egg donation and freezing, single parenthood, etc.). Also, adoption: there are more than 100,000 children waiting to be adopted in the United States alone. In 2012, there were about 400,000 children in foster care.

However, many of the options are costly, and we cannot separate conversations about the pursuit of parenthood from the economics of it. According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it costs about $235,000 to raise a child for the first 17 years. When you factor in fertility treatments or adoption costs, etc., many people simply can't afford to have children.

I believe we have to make parenthood a more attainable goal by incorporating more fundamental fertility awareness in sex education and by providing more support through guaranteed parental leave, widespread insurance coverage for fertility treatments, subsidized childcare, etc.

I intended my book to be a conversation-starter and policy-changer. I explore how various factors, including feminism's early victories and advances in reproductive science, dovetailed to create an atmosphere in which women believed their timetables for motherhood were more within their controls.

Ultimately, though, "The Big Lie" is a feminist book, intended to get women to push past the rhetoric and to arm themselves with information.

Five questions on egg freezing

One point of feminism, after all, has always been to push back against the sort of magical thinking that tells a woman that someone will be there to come to the rescue, whether a husband or a fertility doctor. That mind-set holds us back from solutions; we have to balance the heartbreaking scenarios with the optimistic ones. Feminism provides a framework within which to argue for solutions to many of the issues that cut across geographic and economic lines.

When I started telling my story, I was shocked to discover how many others had stories to tell, too -- if not about themselves, it was about a friend, mother, daughter, etc. A 2009 survey of infertility patients by pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough revealed that 61% hide the struggle to get pregnant from friends and family.

I am hopeful that my book will encourage others to normalize the discourse. I've received dozens of e-mails and read many more comments by those for whom some aspect of my story rings true. I am certainly not the only woman to have multiple miscarriages. I'm not the only woman whose marriage was a casualty of the process.

And I'm not the only woman to feel like maybe I waited too long to try to have a biological child. Nor am I the first to write about all these. There are excellent books by Peggy Orenstein, Amy Richards, Miriam Zoll and more.

I've been inspired by those who turn adversity into action. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her memoir, "My Beloved World," "There are uses to adversity, and they don't reveal themselves until tested ... Difficulty can tap unsuspected strengths."

In my case, I took what I learned from my mistakes and from my experience with delayed motherhood and used it as a starting point to interview dozens of women of various ages, sociologists, adoption counselors, and fertility doctors about their opinions.

The result is a book that I hope will help others. I explore the choices that women have to make during the course of their lives -- including the choice to have children or not.

Women and men need to share their stories, educate themselves, strategize for their goals, advocate for a better future -- and not to be afraid of feminism. Women don't need any more Big Lies.

The opinions expressed are solely those of Tanya Selvaratnam.

Next Window Please

by on Feb. 8, 2014 at 11:45 PM
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Replies (1-10):
NWP
by guerrilla girl on Feb. 8, 2014 at 11:53 PM
2 moms liked this
There is much that can be discussed in this article.

For now i will share my story. I never wanted children and my husband and I made a decision to just not have any early in our relationship.

15 years later, we met the odds on our bc and i discovered myself pregnant after 15 years on the pill. We decided "why not?" and my oldest came along. I was 37.

My oldest is awesome so a few years later we decided to have one more if we could, with no help from science. I gave myself the deadline of my 42nd bd for trying and got pregnant two months prior to that deadline.

Both pregnancies were normal and both of my children are healthy and academically gifted.

Everyone had their own story.
AtiFreeFalls
by Silver Member on Feb. 9, 2014 at 12:08 AM

 I had my children very young by today's standards.  I got married at 18, pregnant at 19 and had my first at 20, my second at 22.  A HUGE reason I decided to have kids young was that I didn't want to delay my fertility and then find it sub par when I was finally ready.

Here's the thing, though.  As happy as I am that we had ZERO trouble concieving when we wanted to, in my situation it would have benefitted us had we had our children AFTER establishing TWO careers.  As it is, there have been times I needed to bring money in and just couldn't because I started staying home when I was 7 months pregnant the first time.  I have the same earning potential as a 19 year old high school graduate.  I didn't go to college because I knew I was just going to stay home with kids, so why waste time and money on that when I can just do it after I've started myf amily?

My sleep-deprived point is that you're damned if you do and damned if you don't in today's economy.  It is basically NECESSARY to get a degree and establish a career.  If you don't your chances of being poor skyrocket.  But if you wait until you're established in a career (which can be anywhere from mid twenties to mid thirties depending upon the career), you risk having fertility problems.  Bummer.

I'm glad I did things the way I did, but it has made providing for those children harder than it would have been had I chosen a different path, and could have made it impossible had something ever happened to my husband.

futureshock
by Ruby Member on Feb. 9, 2014 at 12:13 AM
1 mom liked this

There is no reason why many people cannot have a college degree or more and an established career by the time they are 30.  There are then five years before fertility declines.

lga1965
by Ruby Member on Feb. 9, 2014 at 12:27 AM
I cannot believe that women don't know these details about fertility. It's available in libraries, online, at your Doctor's office. The idea that they're taken by surprise when they learn that their husband is also part of the picture, that fertility declines after a certain age, etc is shocking.
I knew these things by reading ...a lot....at Libraries when I was a teen and planned.
It's true that it's possible to have a healthy baby after age 40. My daughter had her 4th baby ( planned) at age 41 but she was lucky her baby was perfect in every way.
Whyis this Blog about " a big lie" ? Perhaps it should be about women ignoring the wealth of information available and the fact that they're just too busy and uninterested ?
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
AtiFreeFalls
by Silver Member on Feb. 9, 2014 at 12:27 AM
1 mom liked this

 There are a lot of reasons why that is impossible for a lot of people, but I would prefer not to digress to much.  Fertility takes a steep dive at 35, but prior to that it begins declining at 25.  Peak childbearing age, biologically, is late teens, early twenties.  If a woman has not had a child by the time she is 30 she may face more difficulty than she would have at 20.  Not to mention that working outside the home is not very compatible with biologically normal styles of parenting, such as breastfeeding and secure attachment formation.

Like I said, damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Quoting futureshock:

There is no reason why many people cannot have a college degree or more and an established career by the time they are 30.  There are then five years before fertility declines.

 

AtiFreeFalls
by Silver Member on Feb. 9, 2014 at 12:32 AM

 If you don't know you don't know something how do you know what to look up? lol.  But seriously.

Quoting lga1965: I cannot believe that women don't know these details about fertility. It's available in libraries, online, at your Doctor's office. The idea that they're taken by surprise when they learn that their husband is also part of the picture, that fertility declines after a certain age, etc is shocking.
I knew these things by reading ...a lot....at Libraries when I was a teen and planned.
It's true that it's possible to have a healthy baby after age 40. My daughter had her 4th baby ( planned) at age 41 but she was lucky her baby was perfect in every way.
Whyis this Blog about " a big lie" ? Perhaps it should be about women ignoring the wealth of information available and the fact that they're just too busy and uninterested ?

 

lga1965
by Ruby Member on Feb. 9, 2014 at 12:45 AM
You go to the library, look up "pregnancy", fertility, female and male anatomy, uterus, ovary, conception, etc. What is,so hard about that ? That's what I did. Each word gives you thousands more and tons of information and answers. Nope, they don't care so they ignore it and figure it will all take care of itself because they're too busy.

Quoting AtiFreeFalls:

 If you don't know you don't know something how do you know what to look up? lol.  But seriously.


Quoting lga1965: I cannot believe that women don't know these details about fertility. It's available in libraries, online, at your Doctor's office. The idea that they're taken by surprise when they learn that their husband is also part of the picture, that fertility declines after a certain age, etc is shocking.
I knew these things by reading ...a lot....at Libraries when I was a teen and planned.
It's true that it's possible to have a healthy baby after age 40. My daughter had her 4th baby ( planned) at age 41 but she was lucky her baby was perfect in every way.
Whyis this Blog about " a big lie" ? Perhaps it should be about women ignoring the wealth of information available and the fact that they're just too busy and uninterested ?

 

Posted on CafeMom Mobile
oddgirl
by Member on Feb. 9, 2014 at 12:54 AM

I think a lot of women do know the basic facts on age and fertility, but they don't think it will apply to them.  I know several of my friends who waited and in some cases had trouble conceiving couldn't understand why, because in their minds they were healthy and youthful despite their chronological age.


Quoting lga1965: You go to the library, look up "pregnancy", fertility, female and male anatomy, uterus, ovary, conception, etc. What is,so hard about that ? That's what I did. Each word gives you thousands more and tons of information and answers. Nope, they don't care so they ignore it and figure it will all take care of itself because they're too busy.

Quoting AtiFreeFalls:

 If you don't know you don't know something how do you know what to look up? lol.  But seriously.


Quoting lga1965: I cannot believe that women don't know these details about fertility. It's available in libraries, online, at your Doctor's office. The idea that they're taken by surprise when they learn that their husband is also part of the picture, that fertility declines after a certain age, etc is shocking.
I knew these things by reading ...a lot....at Libraries when I was a teen and planned.
It's true that it's possible to have a healthy baby after age 40. My daughter had her 4th baby ( planned) at age 41 but she was lucky her baby was perfect in every way.
Whyis this Blog about " a big lie" ? Perhaps it should be about women ignoring the wealth of information available and the fact that they're just too busy and uninterested ?

 


Donna6503
by Gold Member on Feb. 9, 2014 at 1:04 AM
The birth rate is being lowered for all women ... Not just white women.

Even Latin American nations are seeing a lowering of birth rate (in fact, many of 'em are lower than the 2.11 rate)
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lga1965
by Ruby Member on Feb. 9, 2014 at 7:47 AM

 Then I guess it is true about the "big lie". They lied to themselves,right? That is so discouraging.

Quoting oddgirl:

I think a lot of women do know the basic facts on age and fertility, but they don't think it will apply to them.  I know several of my friends who waited and in some cases had trouble conceiving couldn't understand why, because in their minds they were healthy and youthful despite their chronological age.

 

Quoting lga1965: You go to the library, look up "pregnancy", fertility, female and male anatomy, uterus, ovary, conception, etc. What is,so hard about that ? That's what I did. Each word gives you thousands more and tons of information and answers. Nope, they don't care so they ignore it and figure it will all take care of itself because they're too busy.

Quoting AtiFreeFalls:

 If you don't know you don't know something how do you know what to look up? lol.  But seriously.


Quoting lga1965: I cannot believe that women don't know these details about fertility. It's available in libraries, online, at your Doctor's office. The idea that they're taken by surprise when they learn that their husband is also part of the picture, that fertility declines after a certain age, etc is shocking.
I knew these things by reading ...a lot....at Libraries when I was a teen and planned.
It's true that it's possible to have a healthy baby after age 40. My daughter had her 4th baby ( planned) at age 41 but she was lucky her baby was perfect in every way.
Whyis this Blog about " a big lie" ? Perhaps it should be about women ignoring the wealth of information available and the fact that they're just too busy and uninterested ?

 

 

 

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