Motherhood, Feminism and the Reality of the Biological Clock

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tanya Selvaratnam weighs the pros and cons of delaying having children. Selvaratnam discusses fertility doctors, adoption counselors, reproductive health professionals, celebrities, feminists, journalists, and sociologists, and argues for more widespread education and open discussion about delayed motherhood. Her book The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism and the Reality of the Biological Clock is part personal account, part manifesto.


Tanya Selvaratnam

Comments [33]

tom LI

Males are not actually maturing later - its that the American culture has made adolescence a never ending stage of life. The Boomers and their Peter Pan, never gonna grow up mentality is to blame. Grown men dressing like little boys, playing with their never ending stream of toys, grown women dressing like little girls, chasing a botox/nuclear scrub off their actual ages, and the mantra I want to see erased from the American mind set - 50/60/70 is the new (deduct 10 years) ! Load of nonsense! You are NOT 10 years younger, you ARE the age you are, that's it!

As to women and their reproductive nonsense - having children is a burden of life. Its not to complete You, or use to show off with...its burden of immense responsibility that way too many do NOT think thru why or if they want them!

Think ladies, or stop telling us how much better you are at everything....because while you might be good, you're not better!

Jan. 15 2014 01:31 PM

Thank you, Vanessa! I am sick and tired of articles, books, etc. that constantly speak to women waiting too long to have children. Many women, including myself and many of my friends, wanted a spouse or committed partner before trying to have children. I am frustrated and annoyed that this never addressed in these discussions. All you ever hear is the negligence and irresponsibility of the women in minding her biological clock. While I applaud those women who choose to forego (or give up) finding a partner to have a child with, I know many of women who wanted to have children, but did not because it was not something that wanted to go alone. Understandably. Children are a wonderful blessing, but can take a huge toll emotionally and financially; thus, having a partner to share the load as well as the joys is optimal for many.

I was fortunate enough to have met my committed partner, now husband, at 37. Tried to get pregnant for two years. Had successful ivf after unexplained infertility at 39 and gave birth to my son 9 days after my 40th birthday. I was never once naive or unaware of the difficulties in conceiving after the age of 35. I, like many (but not all women), just wanted to enter into the adventure of parenthood with someone by my side.

Jan. 15 2014 12:41 PM

I could not sit still while listening to this segment, my mind racing, yes, dealing with that, and that and that. . .
We're about to jump into our first IVF cycle after trying naturally for 3 years.

An earlier comment noted guys maturing later. . .I'm not speaking in blame but getting into a committed relationship with a partner is HARD! Getting dates let alone a committed partner . . .Ugh! The words, "When you DECIDE to have children. . ." sounds like it's a switch, you just turn the baby making on and off at will. Not so easy.

I'm elated to hear the idea of starting this conversation earlier as preventative medicine alongside STDs and sex education. Our particular circumstances really began over 10 years ago when I had benign ovarian cysts removed while a sophomore in college. By the time we married in 2010, I had enough scar tissue and reduced ovarian reserve to dramatically narrow our window. However, back in 1997 the prospect of reduced fertility was overtly dismissed by both my GYN and my surgeon. No one talked about egg inventory. I too had this twinge of anxiety but really "Twenty-somethings" are invincible- - -right?!

Everyone says think positive but Christ--these odds! I have deep admiration for all those who have moved through this process. . .

Jan. 14 2014 10:41 PM

Yet, another form of narcissism.

Jan. 14 2014 02:22 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Sue H - I, too, decided to leave the baby industrial complex to the "desperate" after miscarrying several times, and going through many manner of fertility support; "lab rat" is the perfect way to describe it. At one point, it seemed we might not have the means to raise our children once we got through paying for the means to have them.

But seeing what others went through with adoption, my early-40s self decided that I didn't want to go through yet another expensive, protracted process to have a family. The collective experience led us to explore how narrowly we often define "family," and how my husband, dog and me could comprise but one part of a much larger group of people that includes our siblings, parents, many friends and neighbors as a rather satisfying family unit.

That my husband, as a college professor has close to 200 children every semester also figured into this evolution of thought. We see those kids through a great many things their own, biological families will never know or understand. Sending them into the world with skills, experience and hope for good lives is a very satisfying part of who we are, and many remain in contact, sometimes needing more support, but always apprising us of where their life adventures have led them. Our lives are richer for it.

We know we're lucky to have come through the physiological tumult that trying to conceive children presented. Many of my friends stopped at little to realize this dream, much to the detriment of their relationships, even when children finally arrived, healthy. Our relationship is stronger for it, because we learned that we could dream another very fulfilling dream.

Jan. 14 2014 01:54 PM

So many excellent comments! I really believe that this entire story stems from our culture of entitlement and the " I want it all and I want it now" attitude. These women all seem to be quite educated but remain wantonly ignorant of their own reproductive health. Science can't make you 23 years old again with all those nice, fertile eggs so please don't act so clueless when you can't get pregnant at 37....when you seemingly "have it all" except for that perfect baby that's supposed to complete the package.

Jan. 14 2014 01:03 PM
Sue H from Glen Rock, NJ

In 1987, when my husband and I married, I was 35. We knew we wanted a family and proceeded from there. After 3 years we were not able to conceive and began testing and exploring the options to have our own child. We were not in a financial position to try IVF, so we used a series of shots and pills and schedules. Within 6 months, I was pregnant. However I was only able to carry to 11-weeks. After several months recovery we started the process again. Again I got pregnant, but could not carry to the second trimester. I told my husband I would no longer be a "lab rat".

We began talking to others about adoption. People were not necessarily supportive; time and my age (then 39) seemed to be against us.

It is now many years later, and our 21 year old son is graduating from college. He is my miracle and I can't imagine having any other child. We are attached at the soul.

Please don't feel that a child must come from your body to be a part of your heart. Children of all age, ethnicity, and in need of love are waiting for you.

Jan. 14 2014 01:00 PM
Rose from Yorkville

I went through 6 years of infertility. I had been concerned about my fertility since I was 30 years old but didn't find the man I wanted to have children with until I was 36. We began trying within a year of meeting. When I discussed my concerns with my OB at age 36, mere months after I met my husband, to see if there was any testing of my fertility we could do, she said, 'just come to me when you are ready to start trying.' BAD advice. In the ensuing 6 years I suffered through two miscarriages, three failed IUIs, 3 failed IVFs and a uterine cancer scare. I am now 34 weeks pregnant with a donor egg child. Yes, my story has a happy ending, but those six years brought so much deep sadness to my heart and my relationship. We also spent a staggering amount of money and are now in debt. Over the years I've been around a lot of women who have been dealing with infertility. Many women are silent because people's attitudes can be so hostile. People say things like 'you forgot to have children', 'you are entitled', 'you are messing with God's plan'. Some well meaning people have said to me "why don't you JUST adopt?" without being aware that adoption is a terribly long, expensive and often heartbreaking process for people who have already been through the ringer emotionally.

I see women my age all the time who are woefully uninformed about their fertility. Some are very defensive and think that these warnings about fertility are some sort of conservative conspiracy to keep us all barefoot and pregnant. My politics are very liberal. But one doesn't know how deep the heartbreak runs until one experiences being told that there is little hope for them to have a child. Then it all becomes very real. It's not political. It's biological. Plain and simple. Ms. Selvaratnam is doing a great service to women by speaking out about this.

Jan. 14 2014 12:47 PM
Jenna from UES

So which is it lady? You suggest adoption but then you don't do it yourself. I feel terrible about you getting cancer, I sincrely do. That said, being parent is not putting yourself first. If you want to be a mom do it. You can adopt,,, it's like you're saying it shouldn't be a last resort but not making it one for you.

I wish you the best, but this is a tragic story and a case of a first world problem.

Jan. 14 2014 12:40 PM
isabella from queens

I think its quite ironic that " professional " women wait till later in life to have children, then if unable to conceive, struggle and pay to try to have children, while young mothers are looked upon as " lower class " because they are " just mothers " if they choose to stay home or postpone a career. How come these intelligent, educated women, suddenly say " oh , if only I had known my own biology ". Please, they knew, but they choose to put their careers first, and thought they could just whip up a kid when they were ready . This is the cult of " waiting for perfection " - the perfect job, the perfect man , the perfect time .... There have always been older parents, and there have always been childless couples, again , no guarantee that you could have had children even if young ! we are never happy !

Jan. 14 2014 12:40 PM
Oh really from UWS

First we are told not to have children (during our most fertile years) until we can afford them. Then add males who mature at a later rate + poor starting salaries = later /no pregnancies for many women.

Then we are chided for waiting too long?! At any cage that women choose to be mothers, there are always negative things said.

Jan. 14 2014 12:38 PM
ivan obregon from nyc

American feminism's distorted bullxxxx is being called out.....You can't have it all the way you want just because you want it. Choices involve compromises, sacrifices and the limitations of reality and no, it doesn't mean you have no freedom, opportunity or rights from acknowledging that, just that....other types of choices may be necessary in terms of....priorities.

Jan. 14 2014 12:35 PM
Claire from Brooklyn

Please be real about the costs- When you are over 43 NO insurance pays for fertility treatments and for a doner egg cycle you are looking at $30,000 out of pocket, min.
And the odds of that working is under 50%, so to be successful you will need to do this more than once, or twice.
Who can afford that? The wealthy, that's about it.
And then there is what the drugs do to you- its VERY unhealthy to take those hormones over and over, or even just once.
And then there's the emotional aspects- its very difficult going into this and getting through it....

Jan. 14 2014 12:34 PM
genejoke from Brooklyn

If you want a baby badly enough, do your homework; find out what you're getting into. I don't buy that she didn't know that it's harder to bear children after age 35.
We had our first and only child at age 39, but only after a few tries.

Jan. 14 2014 12:33 PM
Jenna from UES

As I mentioned earlier: This is a RICH WHITE WOMEN's First World Problem

It's all about entitlement White Women have.

Jan. 14 2014 12:30 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

First fathers were dispensed with and soon mothers will be too. If our species is to continue it will eventually become evident - perhaps rather late - that we will have to produce new workers/consumers/producers/taxpayers in factories and not in families, because "family" will cease to exist. This idea of single mothers running to the state to be the big daddy won't work for much longer.

Jan. 14 2014 12:29 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

First fathers were dispensed with and soon mothers will be too. If our species is to continue it will eventually become evident - perhaps rather late - that we will have to produce new workers/consumers/producers/taxpayers in factories and not in families, because "family" will cease to exist. This idea of single mothers running to the state to be the big daddy won't work for much longer.

Jan. 14 2014 12:28 PM
Laura from Brooklyn

I waited until I was 31 to begin trying to have a child after spending many years on birth control pills. It took about two years to conceive and I am incredibly lucky to have had a child. I wanted to have more children, but wasn't successful, and only realized as time went by, how incredibly lucky we were to have had at least one child. The thing is, that when you have one child you, and other people assume that you can have more, and it's discouraging to realize that that's it, one and done. I know my daughter would have loved to have had siblings, and I wish that I'd started earlier. I do pass that on to younger women.

Jan. 14 2014 12:27 PM

It's NOT a lie!

You can choose to listen to what you want to hear or, be responsible and do your homework.

Jan. 14 2014 12:25 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

@ Barry from Jersey City :-)

@ Tanya Selvaratnam: I don't know where you went to school, but this is something I learned in public school health class and biology class from sixth grade through tenth grade, and I went to school BEFORE fire was invented.

The deal here is that our biology is us and we are our biology, and as welcome as modern medicine can be, we really need to get back to doing things more naturally, the way Mother Nature intended. Women are best off having children between 16 and 36 - both for physical reasons as well as that the older you get, the less energy you have for chasing toddlers around supermarkets and driving carpool - and if women would stop trying to keep their professional lives and their personal lives separate, they would marry and have children when it is biologically best and stop trying to depend upon fertility clinics to do for us what our bodies would have done for free if only we'd started earlier.

Jan. 14 2014 12:21 PM
Allison from Brooklyn

I find these conversation so insulting these days. I am 41 and very in I could go at any moment now. I didn't know if I wanted to ever have children. At 40 I decided to try and it worked just fine.

I assure you that many doctors were very discouraging (and fairly insulting as well) about my waiting to try to have children. My current OB thinks that I'm fine to have another in a few years.

I have plenty of female friends who had trouble conceiving from a very young age. You have no idea (if you've been careful) if this would have been a problem before or if this is a problem due to age.

Everything in life is a gamble. You have no idea what you will be able to do physically when.

Jan. 14 2014 12:18 PM
Sher from Manhattan

Just to underscore her point about the "big Lie." That was the general conception when I was in my thirties. Turned out, I did wait too long and really sorry. Just to amplify the caution to women thinking about it.

Jan. 14 2014 12:17 PM

These conversations are always directed at women.

Several of my friends "waited" until their early 40s to start trying, because they had husbands who were living out their adolescence during their 30s and deemed themselves "not yet ready" to be fathers. All the while, my girlfriends were aching to have children.

Then, when they had problems conceiving, their MALE Reproductive Endocrinologists gave them a hard time for being so irresponsible.

Jan. 14 2014 12:15 PM
Jennifer from NYC

Thank you so much for writing this book. I am so glad to know that I am not alone in this experience of misconceptions about fertility. I told all my sisters not to wait after my own sad experiences with age and fertility...

Jan. 14 2014 12:14 PM

How does the guest explain the research in this article from The Atlantic that age-related fertility concerns are over blown?

Jan. 14 2014 12:14 PM

All the warnings from our elders were to avoid teenage pregnancy.
But isn't that one answer to the fertility problem?

Jan. 14 2014 12:13 PM

If the problem is the age of the eggs, isn't the solution simply a technological one?

For young women to freeze their eggs and young met to freeze their sperm (as old sperm may affect birth defects) at 18 or so?

Jan. 14 2014 12:13 PM


Jan. 14 2014 12:13 PM
Fiona from Brooklyn

My husband and I are both in our early 40's and have been having the baby debate for years. Is there any data regarding men and aging and how it effects fertility/birth defects?

Jan. 14 2014 12:13 PM
Barry from Jersey City

"I'm not an expert" uh huh which explains why she was surprised she couldn't have a baby after 35.

Has she lived under a rock for the last 5000 years?

Jan. 14 2014 12:12 PM
CK from Westchester

Really? This was new news to her? She just didn't want to hear it prior to her attempting to have children. I too had kids in my late thirties and that's been some time ago. It was clear then that the older you get the harder it gets to conceive. It's not new news that younger women are better equipped to physically bear a child. (Duh.)

Jan. 14 2014 12:11 PM
Jenna from UES

What's shocking is that this is news to anyone!?! Are you seriously kidding me? This is a RICH WHITE 1st world problem.

This all comes down to common sense.

Jan. 14 2014 12:09 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Thankfully, babies will soon be produced in factories. No marriage; No family; No mess; No bother. Brave New World!

Jan. 14 2014 12:02 PM

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