Sunday, 19 May 2013

How to improve female fertility: avoid selfish men

Women understand it gets harder to become pregnant as they get older. But they don't always have a choice



kate garraway 
 Kate Garraway in the poster to make women think twice about putting
 off pregnancy. Photograph:

The new "Get Britain Fertile" campaign features a photograph of presenter Kate Garraway, made up to look elderly and pregnant. Her wrinkles and white hair juxtaposed with a fecund belly illustrate the main thrust of the campaign – to make British women aware of the decline in fertility by their 30s and 40s.
However, is there a grown woman left in Britain who's not already aware of this? Moreover, when are we, as a society, going to address a painful truth: that where timing is concerned, female fertility is not, as is often supposed, controlled exclusively by women, but also very much in the power of the men they are with?
There's much that's well intentioned about GBF. It claims to be aimed at both men and women. Garraway, an ambassador for the campaign, says she feels fortunate to have had children relatively late, and wants women to make "informed choices". However, GBF taps into the culture of misogyny surrounding female fertility. It feeds the urban myth of women "refusing" to have children because of careers, partying, or holding out for Leonardo DiCaprio.
These delusional "picky" females have been figments of the collective imagination for so long they need to be dusted down. Indeed, GBF is accompanied by a survey, stating that many women aged 18-46 are concerned about practicalities: ranging from loss of earnings and workplace inflexibility, to childcare costs and housing. All crucial issues, but for the purpose of this article, let's look at the third of women who say they want children but haven't yet found the right partner.
In my opinion that one-third is an underestimate. Even not finding the right man often turns out to be a euphemism for: "I met him, I spent years with him, but ultimately, he wouldn't have children." Put bluntly, many of these women at their fertile peak didn't refuse anything, their men did.
Like it or not, this is how men influence female fertility and, ultimately, female infertility. The mere thought is enough to inspire feminist panic: women, not men, should control their fertility. Who could disagree? It's also true that some women don't want children, period. And yet how many of us have met (or even been) the thirty-fortysomething, forced to abandon a long relationship because the man wouldn't start a family?
Such men may feel that the relationship isn't right, or don't want their freedom curtailed, or other reasons, all as valid as a woman making similar decisions. It only becomes unfair, verging on selfish, when men keep such insights to themselves for too long. These are the time-wasters, what I'd term the fertility-drifters, who think nothing of keeping women dangling for years on end.
It's not that these women are pathetic wimps, rather that often they can't win: if they push, they're pushy (humiliating); if they don't push, if they're respectful and patient, they'll waste even more time. Frequently, these men go on to start families with younger women, leaving their original partners scouring dating sites, lampooned as desperadoes on the hunt for viable sperm.
Some might say: "Diddums, that's life." Fine, so long as we acknowledge that this is something many women put up with during their fertile years, and that to castigate them is unfair. Sometimes it's not women who are picky, it's men. Ergo, such men should at least be part of the ongoing debate about late female procreation. After all, a stalled relationship at the wrong time with an immature, untruthful, or simply unwilling, man, is enough to compromise or even destroy a woman's fertility. If the GBF campaign really is aimed at both sexes, perhaps they need to include a photograph of a man with the caption: "Play fair and, by the way, sperm deteriorates too." Meanwhile, women may need another mantra – don't let anyone waste your precious time.