“I often think about a saying attributed to the Dalai Lama, that goes something like this: we sacrifice our health to make money and then we spend our money to take care of our health. How do we reject the expectations foisted on us to excel at everything in work and in life, to drive ourselves to the limit, while we try to be happy, healthy human beings? Of course, both women and men confront this question, but women have some different concerns because they have had to fit into a world largely constructed by and for men.”
Some feminist authors spark controversy without even trying. That can be said of Tanya Selvaratnum. Even the title of her book, The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock, invites debate. In her book, she describes her personal experiences as well as presenting the thoughts and experiences of others, on the subject of delaying motherhood.
In 2013, it made front-page headlines when the average age of a new mother in Britain reached 30 for the first time. Similarly, the average age at which a woman had her first child in the United States reached 26 in 2013, compared to age 21 in 1970.
Most people can agree that the increasing trend towards delaying motherhood is primarily the result of financial considerations, rather than a matter of keeping time with the female biological clock. Increasingly, more years of education and experience are required to earn an income sufficient to provide for the material needs of a child.
Consequences of ignoring the biological clock
However, according to experts on women’s natural biological clocks, their fertility peaks during their twenties. Delaying motherhood can often result in difficulties in conceiving and carrying a child to term. One reason for this is that although by puberty, women’s bodies contain 300,000 to 500,000 eggs, only about 300 of them are released by the ovaries, part of a woman’s natural biological clock, throughout her reproductive life cycle.
The risk of miscarriage grows slightly with each passing year, beginning at 10% in the twenties, rising to 18% by the late thirties, reaching up to 53% by age 45. While few women struggle with infertility in their twenties, the choice to ignore the natural biological clock has biological consequences. For example, a full two-thirds of women over 40 experience infertility problems.
The inability of a woman to conceive during her twenties is only 6% but that percentage skyrockets to 64% by age 40. There are other risks to delaying motherhood as well. For example, the risk of having a child with Downs syndrome is one in 2000 in a woman’s twenties, increasing to one in 900 by age 30 and to one in 100 by age 40.
Not only are there consequences for delaying motherhood, but there are other benefits to women having children in their twenties as well. Women in their twenties generally have a higher energy level and a greater ability to function on less sleep. As any mother of an infant can testify, motherhood requires a woman to adjust her own biological clock to accommodate that of her child.
Biological clock and Economic benefits
Conversely, while the study of the natural biological clock has provided ample biological evidence of the consequences of delaying motherhood, the benefits of delaying it are primarily economic. This means that our economic system was created, and is maintained, without taking the reality of female biology into consideration. This sad fact has resulted in a great deal of anguish for many women who found that delaying motherhood meant never being able to experience motherhood at all.
Those who are able to overcome the physical challenges associated with delaying motherhood must deal with the challenges faced by working mothers. Although many have solidified their careers, which allows them to afford good child care, working mothers are expected to achieve a constant balance between motherhood and their careers.
In an article in which she describes her goals for her book as well as for her life, she says
“One lie, or myth, to be more precise, is that there is work/life balance. I believe true balance might be unattainable, but we can achieve moments of it. One of my goals for 2014 is to have those moments happen more often and last longer.”
All mothers, and mother-to-be can look forward to the day when economists take women’s biology into consideration when making policy. Until then, mothers will just have to continue to support one another as much as possible.
Here you you will another article on the ticking clock…