The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Tick Tock Goes The Biological Clock

Posted by Clem Bastow on September 11, 2008

The idea of women having a ‘biological clock’ when it comes to having babies has long been a favoured punchline in the battle of the sexes (not to mention television situational comedy and chick lit). But is it a compelling reality (for some women) driven by, well, biology, or simply a societal pressure that has made its way into our collective subconscious? A group of NSW researchers seem to believe it’s the former:

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research is targeting professional Sydney women aged between 25 and 35, warning that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not enough to preserve fertility, and IVF cannot be considered a fail-safe back-up plan.

Newtown gynaecologist Gabrielle Dezarnaulds said women have a fixed number of eggs to last them a lifetime and fertility drops sharply from the late 30s as the number and quality of eggs dwindle.

Success rates for assisted reproductive technology also decline the longer a woman’s biological clock has been ticking, she said.

“I’m not saying you should get pregnant before a set age, but go and chat to your GP, even if you’re not aiming to get pregnant immediately. Work out a time frame when you might start to, and if you are ready to have a baby, get on with it.”

Generally speaking, when research/opinions like these are aired, there is always a bristling amongst women (myself included) who sometimes feel it paints them as little more than baby factories who need to get cracking; the former Howard Government’s “one for you, one for the country” initiatives did little to ease these worries.

But is it worth considering what bearing waiting to have children may have on those of us who choose to have babies? There is something to be said about scientific (rather than societal) ideas of when the female body is most fertile. What are your thoughts on the issue – do you have a biological clock, and is it ticking?

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7 Responses to “Tick Tock Goes The Biological Clock”

  1. ET said

    Hi, I have been reading for a few weeks and never really commented. This is a topic close to my heart so I thought I could give my perspective on two points.

    Firstly I am 36 years old and 21 weeks pregnant. And yes it was planned.

    In regards to the biological clock, for me it was more a shift in thinking than an urgent biological need. I have issues with the amount of labels that are placed on women in society (Miss, Ms, Mrs, Wife, mother, etc) and felt for a while that by becoming a mother it would just chip of another little piece of my indentity. This was reinforced by various friends having babies and basically all of them discussing loss of identity and some being uncomfortable with becoming a mum. I am glad I have such frank and honest friends.

    So fast forward a few years, and the babies are now children, all my friend perspectives on mother hood and identity have shifted. They are more comfortable with themselves and their roles not just as mothers, but as members of society. I beleive that while you have 8 or so months to get used to the idea of being a mother, I think it can take a lot longer than that. So I think knowing that has helped me make the decision.

    So there was that, and also a realisation that children are fun, babies are hard work!!!! Well they are both hard work, however I have noticed a lovely connection and sense of reward that my friends have when spending time and having fun with their children.

    The other point I would like to make is to do with articles such as those that scare women into having children younger, with the stats of doom. While they are true it is harder to conceive as you get older, it is not always the case.

    As I said I am 36 (one year off being considered an elderly mother by medicine) this is my first ever pregnancy, we conceived very quickly. So far I have had a trouble free pregnancy (hate tempting fate, but it is true). So it is not always the case.

    I feel putting off having children till I was older has allowed me to do more with my life so far. Plus I am actually READY to have chidren. And while at the moment I know I really have no idea what it is going to be like, I think having seen friends and family do it, I have a realistic idea of what it may be like.

    Anywho, enough sharing for one day. I hope this was relevant or interesting! It is very long!

  2. Poppy said

    I’m not terribly concerned by the idea that I have a biological clock because if it happens, great, if not, I have no problem with adopting children. In fact, some days I feel like adoption would be my first choice anyway. Although I believe there are sometimes complications with being too old to even adopt, but we shall see….

  3. Mel Campbell said

    Bah, the media love to biologise everything to do with sex and gender. Also, media panics tend to gravitate towards the really early and late aspects of fertility, with the result that there’s a tacit disapproval of young mums as “unready”, yet if women wait til they feel “ready”, they have the whole “biological clock” crap hanging over their heads.

    Personally, I’ve been trying to resist being interpellated by the “biological clock” horseshit, but it’s really hard because over the last year it has been starting to feel quite real to me as friends my own age are starting to have kids. Having kids is something I’ve always imagined at some stage in my life, and I’m still young enough to pretend it’ll happen to me, but then Dolly magazine always said, “Don’t worry, a boyfriend will come along sooner or later” and that was a BIG LIE.

  4. Clem Bastow said

    Yes, isn’t it funny – there’s this implied/perceived ‘window of opportunity’/acceptance as far as becoming a mum is concerned that is extremely slim. Anywhere up to 23 seems “too young” (definitely if you’re more like 17 – 21), then once you hit about 33, people start mumbling about having “left it too late” (seriously – I reckon the “Sooo… are you going to start?” whispers start at the big 3-0, if my friends and family are anything to go by).

    I’ve been acutely aware of this, even from the perspective of someone who was neither here nor there about having children; once I hit about 24, I started thinking, “Wow, society thinks I should fire up the uterus now, and maybe society is right!” I was quite fucked up about it for a good year or so.

  5. tina_sparkle said

    I’m not even 30 yet but have been told by a work colleague that I need to ‘get cracking’, even though I don’t even know if I want kids. why she thought it was her place to offer an opinion on something very personal I have no idea.

    my partner wants kids as well but considering the other life changing stuff he wants to do like travel, move overseas and buy property, I really don’t think he’s thought it all through in terms of how difficult it might be to conceive once all these other things are done. I’m not saying this isn’t all possible, but I do think men lack the ability to be realistic about where kids are going to have to fit in with the long term plan if they want them.

  6. blu-k said

    For the past 5 years I’ve felt ‘ready’ to have kids, but have been happy to put it off. I keep thinking, in a few more years. But now, heading toward my mid-thirties, I think I do have to be a realistic about the fact that I can’t put it off for too much longer.

    Having seen a family friend distraught at her inability to have children (trying when she was 40+), I don’t want it to happen to me, and preferably I’d like to have more than one child, so I do feel like I’m going to start trying next year, even though career-wise, I’d be happy to wait a bit longer.

    There’s a great book discussing this issue – Wonder Woman, by Virginia Hausseger.

  7. thomasr said

    My mum was a late starter- and in 1971 that was worth a comment from any sticky beak with nothing better to do.

    Mum’s favourite anecdote on the subject of “too late” was this:

    Evey year, she would return to her small town in South West WA to see the family and so on before heading back to her career in Melbourne.

    An old biddy from her town used to greet her with the line “I guess you’ll be next!” referring to the 3 marriages and about 12 kids born to mum’s older siblings.

    One year, it changed. Rather than the “you’ll be next” line, she was greeted with:

    “It’s _funny_ you never married”.

    Sometimes women can be the harshest critics of “socially” infertile women.

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