Are you sitting comfortably? Then’ll I’ll begin. Aaaargh. Just aaaargh. Please stop all the lectures about declining fertility. They are about as relevant to today’s women as an old episode of Listen With Mother.
It’s a fertility apocalypse out there, says last week’s annual meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Lisbon. Women are leaving it too late to try for a baby and then being shocked when either Mother Nature or science fails to deliver.
The British Fertility Society has waded in by claiming middle-aged celebrities who produce ‘miracle’ babies without confessing to IVF, surrogacy or a donor egg are misleading fans into thinking they, too, can start a family in their 40s.
I’m not sure I agree. I don’t know any sane woman who looks at Laura Linney (a son at 49), Geena Davis (twins at 48), Holly Hunter (twins at 47) or Cheryl Tiegs (twins at 52) and thinks: ‘Now there’s a plan.’
For that would suggest the two best educated, most emancipated generations of women in history, the Gen Xs and their younger sisters the Millennials, don’t understand you can have a baby in your teens, 20s and 30s but your 40s are a bit of a gamble. And actually, I think they do.
There’s a lot to say about why women are postponing motherhood but a lack of biological nous, as claimed by the medical community, is not the killer issue.
We should talk instead about the eye-watering cost of getting on the property ladder and the near impossibility of doing so in London.
Women can’t buy a home in which to nest until they have saved up a big enough nest egg.
We should also talk about the crushing expense of childcare, some of it offered by people with fewer qualifications than if they’d gone into animal husbandry.
How can the average woman afford to have a family if she can’t cover the cost of going back to work afterwards?
And then there’s hardcore corporate culture still found in the British workplace.
Blue-chip employers still tend towards presentee-ism (the old jacket over the back of the office chair job) and not output as a measure of performance.
Maternity leave and the family-friendly option of working flexibly from home remain a bar to motherhood for the truly ambitious.
Add to this list the fact that not every woman who’d like to become a mum meets a man who’s dad material, and that even if she does, male sperm counts are flatlining.
The ESHRE conference heard that only one in four men today has good quality sperm.
Fifteen per cent have such poor sperm they’d need assisted reproduction to become fathers.
So it’s not all about Eve. Listen With Mother died of old age in 1982. It’s time these finger-wagging fertility lectures were switched off, too.
Today’s women watch TED talks, run multinational corporations and bits of the Free World, and are looking for a cure for cancer. They know how to have a baby in time. They get the biology, so don’t nag.
Make it easier for Gen Xs and the Millennials to buy a house, take a career break and find affordable childcare and I promise they’ll breed like rabbits.