Thursday, June 20, 2013


Everything I Know About Fertility I Learned From the Year 1670

From Jean Twenge's "How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?" in The Atlantic this month:

The widely cited statistic that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying, for instance, is based on an article published in 2004 in the journal Human Reproduction. Rarely mentioned is the source of the data: French birth records from 1670 to 1830. The chance of remaining childless—30 percent—was also calculated based on historical populations.

In other words, millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment. Most people assume these numbers are based on large, well-conducted studies of modern women, but they are not. When I mention this to friends and associates, by far the most common reaction is: “No … No way. Really?

Guess not.

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This article confirms my long-held suspicion that fertility scaremongering is politically motivated.


@Mae I have had the exact same long-held suspicion! It led me to get pregnant waay faster than I had anticipated, because I thought it would HAVE to take a long time since my eggs were so old.


Wow, that article is really interesting! I definitely believed the old standard; been getting that message since about age 15 in biology class, so it's a bit hard to let go of it, but I imagine that it's a relief for a lot of women to hear this.


"In other words, millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment."

and much much MUCH more importantly, statistics that have no idea and no information on how many, if any, of those women were trying to get pregnant, only if they did. If I understand correctly.


@queenofbithynia Well, everyone knows that there was no such thing as family planning until the evil feminists invented it in the 60s, so I think it's safe to assume that all the women were trying to get pregnant all the time. It makes about as much scientific sense as anything else in this article.


@SarcasticFringehead Yeah, uh...not to suggest that back in horrible History it was all up to the women as to whether they tried or not, but if the husband/couple didn't want a(nother) baby, I am pretty sure that in the 17th century even such people as husbands knew that babies came from fucking. and I am no historian but I am pretty sure that both withdrawal and sodomy had been invented on the Continent by, let us say, the 1620s. Selective abstinence of course being merely a short-lived 20th century peculiarity, like the player piano.


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@enic I came here to write exactly this.


@enic I know right. This makes me feel so much better, although it doesn't help with the intense cluckiness.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

I was just talking to my sisters about getting pregnant, and I was like, "I'm not going to have kids til I'm 35," and one, a nurse, told me I'd have a "geriatric pregnancy" at that age and told me to get knocked up sooner. So, I guess, it's good that my partner is younger than I am, so maybe she can just have the babies. Geriatric at 35: The Lifetime Movie.

fondue with cheddar

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Maybe she meant you would give birth to a tiny old person?

My boyfriend's oldest kids were born when their mother was 36 and 40 and they're both just fine.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose I don't know what they tell them, but both of my friends in the medical field have been scared shitless with statistics about older mothers. Which is fun for them, because they'll be in school until they're ancient, so when are they supposed to have babies?


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Nothing makes me more frustrated than people saying that wanting to have children after that age is "dangerous," which is what that nurse meant when she said "geriatric." Not only are they ignoring that modern medicine exists, they are ignoring that everybody is different and healthy pregnancies happen to different people at different times in their life.


@supernintendochalmers Refreshingly, my midwife, who is my age (35) told me she was waiting, b/c she "knows what she's in for" and many of her friends were surprised and not really ready. I found this comforting.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

I was born when my mom was 38, and all my many flaws definitely come from sources other than her age at the time.


@frigwiggin Since we all know personal anecdotal evidence takes up more brain space than any number of studies I would like to contribute that all of my friends in their 30's managed to get knocked up with in a year of trying.

fondue with cheddar

@garli I got knocked up at age 38 when I was trying NOT to.


@fondue with cheddar TAKE THAT SCIENCE.


@juksie But it is more dangerous. Statistically, older mothers have more complications (unless that data is also from 1670, but I don't think it is). Sure, every body and pregnancy is different, but so is every car and driver. That doen't make it inaccurate to say speeding is dangerous. Family members of course should probably not be sharing opinons on their siblings' childbearing decisions, but I don't see how it's wrong or inappropriate observation to make general observations. I don't think medical professionals should be straight up telling people when to have kids, but I do think they have an obligation to give their patients relevant information so that they can make informed decisions. That's their job. And I'm pretty sure nurses aren't "ignoring" modern medicine.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose My sister is a nurse too, and a fear monger of the "tick tock tick tock biological clock" type (Yes, she's actually said that to me. Many times.) She's totally wrong. She was freaking me out so much, I went to my gynecologist and asked her about all these age/preggo things, and you know what? She said the same things this article said. So, anyway, point being, I love my gyno, she's the best and nurses can be wrong, especially of the nosy sister variety.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose If it makes you feel any better, in orthopedics 35 and under is often described as pediatric?

up cubed

@Urwelt: Nurses and doctors are people. People tend to pay more attention to things they already believe. They may provide the services that women request, but they aren't necessarily providing unbiased information.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Chiming in to say that my mom had me the all natural way at age 45! And my sister at age 40. Fwiw, I believe there is a study saying that women who have kids over the age of 40 are more likely to live to be one hundred? That's what my mother tells me anyhow.


@upupandaway Sure, they're not perfect or infallible. But if you're going to put your trust in modern medicine, who do you think is practicing it, if not modern medical practitioners? To say, without any qualifiers, that nurses giving medical advice are ignoring modern medicine borders the offensive and absurd.

Maybe a nurse is not the first person I'd go to for fertility advice, but they're about 100 spots above someone with an anecdote about their mom. Don't get me wrong, personal experience and individual case studies are valuable, powerful things, but to pull them out in response to an allegation of bad statistics seems to be missing the point.


@HunnyBee Go your mom! My mom had me at 34.5 and my bro at nearly 36 and we're doing just fine. Everyone will be fine! Your mom sounds baller.

up cubed

@Urwelt: The example is that one of Rose's sisters (who is a nurse) told her something. I don't think anyone is suggesting all nurses are ignoring modern medicine. Most of modern medicine is determined by consensus, but there are lots of issues without general agreement (ex. age to start regular mammograms, routine testing of PSA levels, age and frequency of pap smears, etc)


@juksie Exactly! I'm so sick of all the hinting at my OB's office that my pregnancy (first one, at age 34) is an "old" pregnancy and all the faint surprise that it's been so (tfuitfuitfui)easy and healthy. Most of my problems have been with my old OB (in the same office)and his outsourcing of my entire pregnancy to his students without asking me. The actual pregnancy itself has been easy. Even though I'm so OLD. Imagine that....


@dangerouslibrarian I've been reading current "older pregnancy" books, since any subsequent pregnancies of mine will fall into that category and I'm just kind of curious, and they pretty much all say that your personal physical state matters a lot more in terms of pregnancy/fertility than your chronological age.

Better to Eat You With

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose My GYN said the same thing. I'm 39, and don't *think* I want kids, but suspect it's probably time to finalize that decision. My doctor is all, Whenever you're ready we'll talk. No rush.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose
Chiming in to say that also, most of modern medicine is based on studies and research done by mostly old white men and isn't always completely accurate due to biases/lack of diversity. And some of that research included infecting people with diseases without telling them or refusing to treat diseases just to see what happens yay science! (obviously not saying all doctors are evil quacks just that they aren't the end all answer to everything all the time)

fondue with cheddar

@everyone WHERE IS LOLA? :)

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@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher How uncouth would it be of me to say that @HunnyBee's dad is actually the baller?

Get it? Because balls. Okay, I'm going to go be twelve somewhere else now.


Wow. Enraging. And hmm I wonder whose best interests are promoting this false information...


@franceschances Yes, my first thought on completion of this article was "Fuck the Patriarchy." I mean, seriously.


Last year my mom said "let me give you one piece of advice, have all your children before you turn 35."

Thanks for the fear mongering mom!!


@districter ah my mom would said that to me too! She had me when she was 29 and always said her one regret was having me 'so late'. Not that there is anything wrong with having kids 'early', everyone should def. just be having or not have kids whenever they want. But as someone who is super ambivalent about kids this always gave me a lot of stress. Like oh god I'm 28, am I am making a terrible mistake by not being pregnant already?


@districter Maybe she was meaning, if you were younger, you might have more energy to chase a toddler, etc. I've heard that one-that by waiting, I won't be able to keep up, I'll be too tired, etc. Or maybe she had the same idea a friend of mine had-she wanted to have kids early so she would only be 20 years old than they were, so when they were in high school, she'd the cool, hip mom and people would think she was hot.


@beams! My mom had me (her first kid) when she was 29, and everybody was treating her gingerly and disapprovingly as though she were Super Geriatric Mom or something, which was silly. Like, IF she managed to carry me to term and her eggs still worked, how could she run after her kids when she was so OLD? Would it be fair to us? Etc. Same words, just different patriarchy/SCIENCE!-sanctioned cutoff age. I dunno, but I personally have a lot more energy now (age 34) than I did in my twenties. Better food due to higher socioeconomic status, a more stable lifestyle, and greater sense of self contributing to less stress, as well as decent exercise, are probably all factors.

Miss Maszkerádi

@districter My mom had me at 38 (the only thing remotely resembling a health problem was that I had to be taken out via C-section due to my insistence on otherwise coming out arse-first) and apparently the moment she started to show, people kept telling her "Oh, gosh, you have to have all your kids when you're young! That way you get to enjoy them before you get old!" and she was just like......*helpless shrug* TOO FUCKING LATE, ya bunch of goddamn yentas.

But I dunno, I'm pretty glad that my parents waited until they were totally settled in their lives and in a nicely solid financial state before they brought me along. And my sixty-something year old parents still kick my ass at sports.


This blew my mind off. Wow.


"on average, every year a woman postpones having children leads to a 10 percent increase in career earnings."

O_O as someone who wants kids, and wants them fairly young (I guess 31-32 is "young" these days), this is... disheartening.


@cuminafterall I'd be curious where the point of diminishing returns is on that graph, though. I suspect it might be somewhere around one's early 30s, since that seems to be the point where you've got managerial experience, advanced degrees, etc.


@Ophelia And then there's the thing that happened to me, which is basically that I was a great worker, ambitious and eager ... but then I had a baby at 33 and that was the END of me giving any variety of fuck at all about that office and what went on in it. This was a huge shock to good old Gen X feminist me, and remains so, but -- there it was. So I half-assed it at the office and was terrible at my job (while feeling HUGE guilt about being a "mommy-brain/mommy-track" cliche who was ruining it for all other women, ugggh) and I think my good boss left the company because he liked me too much to continue to manage the unmotivated sad sack I had become, and I kind of hung in there til I had another kid, then bailed on the whole thing, and have honestly never been happier with my day gig in my entire adult life. But so that was a real drag on my career earnings, among other things. Yeesh. At least I hung in there with my pre-kid salary till we got a mortgage, eh.


@cuminafterall There's going to be some confounding in that data, though-- women who wait longer to have kids usually have more education, which is correlated with higher earnings. Unless they corrected for education and career type. Semi-depressingly, having kids leads to men earning MORE, so I guess if you are a hetero married person with kids it will balance out between you and your partner? :/


@cuminafterall Yeah, every time I hear that statistic I feel like there is a giant countdown clock on my career ambitions. :-/ Fuck the Patriarchy indeed.


@cuminafterall I had my daughter at the "young" age of 31. I went back to work 6 months later on a 4-day-a-week flex schedule...and I just went back to work full-time this past March, 11 years later. Yes, I sacrificed some earnings, but even before getting pregnant I'd decided to step off the fast track in my industry, to save my marriage and my health.

All this to say that you may see a decrease in earnings after you have a kid, but if you're working for the right org and doing what you want to do, that may offset the earnings decrease.

P.S. Going through what Gleemonex went through will certainly lower your salary, but not everyone stops caring when they go back to work after having a kid.


@bowtiesarecool Yeah no, my income's about doubled in the decade since I have kids. And no, I don't have an adoring house-husband, or work 60 hour weeks. It helps to be efficient when you're in the office and unguilty about day care, of course.

@cuminafterall Uggghhhhh the men making more with kids. I'm a dyke, and this is yet another way I am totally fucked over by the patriarchy.

Miss Maszkerádi

@ponymalta Why in the heck is that? I can understand childless women making more money (just due to amount of time/energy one is able to put into work) but why would men with children make MORE? Why wouldn't it just stay the same? Is it like, their boss thinks "OH WOW Mr. Jones is a FATHER now he must be a super responsible and upstanding guy, I'mma give him a raise?"


@Miss Maszkerádi Basically. I've also read that men wearing a wedding ring are better-perceived in interviews, whereas women are generally advised to leave off any marriage jewelry (particularly engagement rings, particularly large ones). Men who are married = responsible hard workers. Women who are married = flaky baby fanatics. Clearly.


And lest anyone tell me this is all bunk, in addition to things I have read my own bass-ackwards father will freely admit he won't hire young women if he can avoid it, especially if he suspects they are recently married/soon to be married, because he thinks they are slackers who will just get hired to go on mat leave and waste his time and money making babies. Because, you see, husbands and fathers have no home responsibilities and can devote themselves fully to work. Obviously.


Miss Maszkerádi

@bowtiesarecool Gross. I feel like if by some miracle of truly biblical proportions I ever get married, I'm keeping my maiden name (mostly because I like it, not really for political reasons, wearing an extremely discreet ring if any, and basically just never letting on that I'm married. I'd probably end up going on separate solo vacations or on an everyday basis preferring a girls' night no boys allowed at the pub to some sort of couples dinner or outing. This is partly because I'm such a raging individualist that the idea of sharing my house with someone else makes me slightly queasy, but I also have this existential terror of being not just a married woman but a Married Woman. Ugh.


@Miss Maszkerádi Yeah, I'm getting married in a month and change, and it's been this weird exercise in gender essentialism. I'm keeping my name, which nobody seems to get, and while I'm happy to marry this particular dude, sometimes that whole culturally defined Wife thing gives me the squicks. I have this really not-engagement looking engagement ring, and I suspect that it and my wedding band are going to spend a fair amount of time either hiding out on the less culturally-weighted hand, or off entirely, since I'm job hunting right now. I was explaining to my fiance about how sometimes I'm going to not wear the ring, and it is in no way a reflection on him or our relationship, and the whole thing just baffled and horrified him. I think he said something to the effect of "but...but it's the 21st century!" Yeah, hon. For some people.

@Miss Maszkerádi Yes, I have seen that happen. I worked at a military school right out of college and when layoffs were about to happen, they didn't lay off anyone who owned a house or was a father. Single woman living in faculty housing? Let's not renew her contract. Married guy with a kid and a house? He's a PROVIDER! And before we start talking about "what if he was better educated, blah blah blah" let me assure you that one of the men we're talking about was a biology teacher who taught creationism and led a bunch of high schoolers to say things like "well Darwin only had a THEORY." Yeah. This shit happens.



"Delay your childbearing to automatically increase your earnings by ten percent annually" is a crap conclusion to draw from that data though. Because this is not The Game of Life where your income is determined by a spinner- women have some idea how a kid is going to affect their individual career. So those who are likely to see big income growth from focusing on career development at the expense of kids will more likely do so, skewing the data. Whereas for others, the impact will be minimal- some of us are in careers where pay increases are fairly regimented and baby or no baby has little impact. And of course some of that earnings gain or loss comes simply from full vs part time, which should come as no shock to anybody, that if you cut your hours- for a baby or any reason- you see a drop in earnings.


yes. Yes. Yes! YES!!


I just had to go cry in the bathroom about this article. GOD DAMN IT.


I'm pretty sure my mom was the one responsible for the original fearmongering ... she had all three of her babies by age 27, and actually had a Talk with me when I got married at age 25 about how I needed to get on that, like now. Too bad for her, I didn't have my first till I was almost 34. But good for me. Although now that I'm almost 40 and DONE having babies (2 is enough), she's all, "Oh, phooey, you're not too old. You could have another. Or a couple more ... " [/cannot win]


I'm in favor of debunking any and all nonsense that is routinely used to keep women down and limit our options at any stage of life... but I'm still not blowing the dust off these old ovaries.


For anyone who DOES want to get knocked up: Twenge's book _The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant_ is awesome. It's really short, really informative, and not too cutesy.

(It is not, however, terribly useful for lesbians or anyone else trying to conceive without repeated dude-lady boning.)

Miss Maszkerádi

I don't think I'll even have decided whether I want kids or not (or been on a single solitary remotely successful date with a single man, seriously human race I am not impressed by your offerings of late) by 35, so, this is a load off my chest.


@Miss Maszkerádi Right?? Here I am, at the ancient-ovary-age of 27, and I have NO IDEA if I want kids. Hooray, I can procrastinate for at least another 8 years!


@Miss Maszkerádi Thank you. I'll be 35 shortly and there is no man in sight. I still have the thought of 'kids someday, probably.' which is sometimes followed by "damn girl, you're already mid-30's." But I don't have that yearn for motherhood, not yet, anyway. Every time a friend has a baby and I hold it (I do love babies), I always hear, "I bet this makes you want one." No, actually, it doesn't. It doesn't make me NOT want one, but I have the same attitude as I did at 18. Maybe someday, but I'm in no hurry.

Miss Maszkerádi

@RebeccaKW Right now my main fear is getting to be (however middle-aged one actually has to be to miss one's chance) and THEN regretting it. Like, the emotional readiness to be a mom kicking in way later than my body's natural readiness to be. I'm 24, everybody I know has a biological clock that's screaming at them, and I feel like I'm barely past the "eww boys have cooties" stage.


@Miss Maszkerádi So true. I'm not now, nor have I ever been, in a hurry to get married or have kids, but sometimes I get gripped with a panic of "what if when I'm finally ready, I'm too late?" My mental clock and my physical clock at not set to the same time.

Miss Maszkerádi

@RebeccaKW Come sit by me, we can drink things and commiserate.

Better to Eat You With

@RebeccaKW I am 39 and still exactly the same way. And the next person who says "bet this makes you want one" to me might get slapped.


Seeing as my mom had an oops baby (WOOO! THAT'S ME!) when she was 36, conceived the last day of her period, I think I'm gonna be super OK.

This article makes me feel so much better.

Miss Maszkerádi

@DullHypothesis How can conception happen on the last day of one's period?!


@DullHypothesis It's possible to get pregnant at any time in your cycle (although less likely at some times than others) because the time of ovulation can vary, and because sperm can sometimes stay alive for days (!).


THANK YOU so much for posting this.

penultimate toothpaste squeeze

My mom was 36 when she had me, 38 when she had my brother, and she was younger than the parents of a lot of the kids I grew up with. This makes me really grateful that I've never noticed anyone telling me I might run out of time and started worrying about another unlikely potential problem.


WHYYY did I read the comments???

*bangs head against desk*

elysian fields

@enic I don't want to look. What kind of shit are people saying?


@enic Ay ay ay. I skimmed a little. Closed the window when I realized there were a bunch of dude names in the comments spouting BS "science facts" to back up their patriarchal nonsense.


@elysian fields Basically that anyone who has kids when they're older is going to be decrepit by the time their kids are teenagers, never get to meet their grandchildren, responsible for a HUGE INCREASE in autistic and chromosomal issues, that women are biologically designed to have children early in life and therefore should do so, and disagreeing with the facts about fertility later in life that are presented in the article.

Also, judging by the usernames, mostly by men with opinions on when women should have babies.


@enic I remember reading somewhere recently in relation to this article that the age of the sperm contributor increases the chance of problems (autism? Down's Syndrome? Maybe both?) for the fetus by 50%. So advanced age of the man is at least as much of a problem. But they never seem to want to hear that for some reason.

@enic "Women are biologically designed to..." Oh man. Rage. No people, women are designed to have babies at the age IN WHICH THEY ARE HAVING BABIES. Like at age 39 as this article suggests.

Miss Maszkerádi

@S. Elizabeth I like to reply to those particular sort of evo-psych comments with an innocent, guileless "Designed by who?"
This tends to upset people because the sort of smug pontificators on "biological programming" also tend, in my experience, to be a particularly self-satisfied and smug variety of atheist. So if I play my cards right and get lucky with the way they word their responses, I can Socrates everybody off into a big tangent about whether or not God exists. Then while they're all turning on each other and ripping the thread to pieces (and away from the topic of telling women what to do) I sit back, raise my eyes gratefully to the heavens, and paraphrase St. Augustine: "O Lord, make me stop enjoying the tormenting of idiots, but not yet." B-)


Well this explains a whole lot about why, when I got married last year at the ripe old age of 28, my grandmother "congratulated" me by telling me I had better get pregnant RIGHT NOW because my ovaries are going to shut down and shrivel up when I turn 30.


@Scandyhoovian That's exactly what my MIL said when I got married (at age 31)! She continued to stew over it or yell at my husband until I got pregnant three years later. She doesn't seem to quite grasp that it happened on the first try, and she's of the opinion that without a baby before age 25 or something (to prep the tunnel? I have no idea), it's apparently a miracle birth at this point, like with ninety-something-aged Sarah in the Torah (if I'm remembering that story correctly). Actually, the only reason she "let" my husband marry my foreign self was because he was about to turn 30 and she thought HE was over the hill too.

up cubed

Both of my grandparents had my parents at about age 40 (no modern fertility assistance). My parents are totally fine (obvs). This isn't exactly a new thing.


Hey, mine too! Although my paternal grandma did say that everybody at the obgyn's waiting room assumed she was there for her daughter. In 1950.


Stand back, Janet, we're doing science!

It's nice to see this debunked, especially since one of my close friends is going through this right now and it makes me want to kickpunch her stupid doctors.

My own thoughts about reproducing aside, maybe we can start rethinking how we frame having vs. not having kids? Maybe being ambivalent about it is okay, and it not happening is okay, and not this GIANT SCHISM in your life if you don't, or just happen not to even though sometimes you thought you might?

@commanderbanana I think it's hard because for many people, it *is* a great schism, or isn't, or is if you have the kid, etc etc.

I never thought I wanted kids and then found out I probably wouldn't be able to conceive. I had a weird period of grief that felt so bizarre. It did and in some ways still does feel like such a big loss.


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