The broken mommy track caused by myth

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Tick tock. Tick tock. Like a Timex watch, that ol’ biological clock just keeps on ticking and ticking. Loudly. But a just released Statistics Canada report on fertility suggests that growing numbers of Canadian women are determined to ignore the noise. They’re postponing childbirth and that reduces their babymaking chances by pushing the limits of Mother Nature and medical technology.

The good news is Canadian women are having more babies. The number of births increased each year from 2003-2007 and, according to some, this upward trend suggests we may be in the midst of a “mini-baby-boom.”

However, to keep this in perspective, our national birth rate remains a meagre 1.66—well below the rate of 2.1 that is needed replace our population and prevent all sorts of social and economic chaos.

The bad news is, in 2006 and 2007, a majority of these babies were born to women between the ages of 30 and 34.

That’s a marked upward shift from a decade ago when the highest fertility rates were found in women aged 25 to 29. Before that, women having the most babies were under 24. You can see the trend, and it’s not a good one if the goal is reproductive success.

Most women over 30 have chosen to establish themselves in their career prior to hitting the Mommy Track. This makes for more mature, responsible parenting, but it’s hardly a foolproof plan for having a baby.

A woman’s chances of reproductive success (given that all body parts are working well) drop from a maximum of 22 per cent at 25 to 15 per cent at 35, and 7.5 per cent at 40.

Clearly, the odds of winning the babymaking gamble greatly diminish with age.

Almost unbelievably, even the brightest, highly-educated and ultra successful women are still surprised by this. A groundbreaking 2001 survey by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett showed that, at mid-life, 33 to 50 per cent of high-achieving women in the United States and 49 per cent per cent of corporate ultra-achievers (who make more than $100,000 per year) are childless. For the majority, it’s not by choice.

Many of them believed they had plenty of time to have a baby. Fully 90 per cent were confident (wrongly) that they could have a biological child when they were well into their 40s—even if it meant spending tens of thousands of dollars and subjecting themselves to complex medical procedures and reproductive technologies. But, by that age, it’s often too late.

Other surveys suggest that women make a conscious choice to put career first. A 2004 survey by Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business showed that 28 per cent of professional women had no children and another third had just one child. The majority indicated they had made a decision to limit family size so they could focus on their careers.

What happened? How is it that we’ve raised generations of women who think that they can put off childbearing until a time in life that is convenient for them—and still beat the biological limits of reproduction?

Part of the problem is the mistaken messages that society has fed women.

Since the advent of reliable birth control, feminists and society have led women to believe that they can have it all. By controlling when, or if, they had a child, women could essentially slot in time periods for obtaining an education, having a career, getting married and giving birth.

But we now know that increasing maternal age and long-term use of the birth control pill both act to diminish the chances of conception. In other words, control over contraception doesn’t mean that women have control over the time of conception.

One woman, writing in an infertility magazine, says society and feminist ideology encouraged her to believe that using birth control and pursuing a career was “a way to improve women’s place in society.” But following “a lifestyle that has been promoted and supported by our societal institutions” only left her infertile.

The idea that women can have it all isn’t a myth. Women can get an education, have a career and have a child—they just can’t wait until their late 30s to do so. The real myth is that women can have it all at the time of their own choosing, and the present statistics suggest that women are still buying into that lie.

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