Indeed, women are born with all of their eggs. And, for the most part, if they are healthy, they are healthy, whether at 20 or 40. If there is a genetic disorder, that has just as likely a chance to show up at any age. There are certainly risks as women and men get older, but the fear that the media has instilled is a bit of an overreach. I agree with the statement in the article: “I always thought baby panic was a way to get women to ‘lean out’ of their careers.” Clearly, couples are having healthy babies well into their 40s at very large rates.
In recent research, the fertility of women in their late 20s and early 30s was almost identical. There were also no significant differences between Danish women ages 35 to 40 and those ages 20 to 34. That study showed that drops in fertility rates don’t really start until age 40.
The latest research also shows that the birth defect and abnormality data used in previous studies were from sources that may not be reliable: “The rates of miscarriages and birth defects rise with age, and worries over both have been well ventilated in the popular press. But how much do these risks actually rise? Many miscarriage statistics come from—you guessed it—women who undergo IVF or other fertility treatment, who may have a higher miscarriage risk regardless of age. Nonetheless, the National Vital Statistics Reports, which draw data from the general population, find that 15 percent of women ages 20 to 34, 27 percent of women 35 to 39, and 26 percent of women 40 to 44 report having had a miscarriage. These increases are hardly insignificant, and the true rate of miscarriages is higher, since many miscarriages occur extremely early in a pregnancy—before a missed period or pregnancy test. Yet it should be noted that even for older women, the likelihood of a pregnancy’s continuing is nearly three times that of having a known miscarriage.”
And although certain chromosomal abnormalities do, in fact, increase with age, the increase is pretty small, and the probability of having an abnormality at ANY age is also small: “Even at early fetal testing (known as chorionic villus sampling), 99 percent of fetuses are chromosomally normal among 35-year-old pregnant women, and 97 percent among 40-year-olds. At 45, when most women can no longer get pregnant, 87 percent of fetuses are still normal. (Many of those that are not will later be miscarried.) In the near future, fetal genetic testing will be done with a simple blood test, making it even easier than it is today for women to get early information about possible genetic issues.”
As The Atlantic article states, “We’ve rearranged our lives, worried endlessly, and forgone countless career opportunities based on a few statistics about women who resided in thatched-roof huts and never saw a lightbulb. In Dunson’s study of modern women, the difference in pregnancy rates at age 28 versus 37 is only about 4 percentage points. Fertility does decrease with age, but the decline is not steep enough to keep the vast majority of women in their late 30s from having a child. And that, after all, is the whole point.”
In addition, “There is no single best time to have a child. Some women and couples will find that starting—and finishing—their families in their 20s is what’s best for them, all things considered. They just shouldn’t let alarmist rhetoric push them to become parents before they’re ready. Having children at a young age slightly lowers the risks of infertility and chromosomal abnormalities, and moderately lowers the risk of miscarriage. But it also carries costs for relationships and careers. Literally: an analysis by one economist found that, on average, every year a woman postpones having children leads to a 10 percent increase in career earnings.”
In my opinion, if we were serious about wanting more women to have more children at an earlier age, then we would create the policies that would support that. The U.S. is currently one of three countries in the world that doesn’t require paid maternity leave. We don’t even require paid sick days to most people in lower income jobs. We have a system set up whereby child care is unaffordable and unavailalbe, and a health care system that treats human beings as commodities from which to make a profit. Personally, I am very thankful that I did not have children earlier in my life since I never would have been able to have the career and other opportunities that I have had and my income potential for the rest of my life would be lower. I realize that others have varying opinions, which is fine. I’m not too worried in the short term about my fertility, and I’m certainly not going to let any fear of a slightly increased chance of abnormality keep me from trying to have a kid. If that happens, there’s always termination, but I’m sure that’s a topic for a different board. 🙂