Friday, November 18, 2011

Delaying Motherhood for Education

As salaam alaikum,

I read this line in this article a few days ago, and I was livid!

Okay...maybe not livid, but offended, maybe? Put-off? I'm struggling to find the word that correctly describes the sentiment...irritated?

Anyway, here's the article: Fertility Math? Most Women Flunk, survey finds.

The article discusses that most women are not aware that your fertility drops markedly between the ages of 30 and 40, and they often do not seek fertility specialists until too late and then bear the frustrations of fertility treatments. Since I've been in medical school (and I think before this), this was not news to me. I knew that women had a narrow reproductive window between puberty and menopause. In medical school, I was told by one of my (female) professors that since the majority of the women in the class were over 23, we had passed the optimum age of childbearing. I was aware that amniocentesis becomes indicated for women at the age of 35, the age at which your risk of miscarriage with amniocentesis becomes equal to your risk of having a child with Trisomy 21 (Down's syndrome).

And I remember seeing the graphs showing the exponential increase in risk of having a child with Down's contrasted with the exponential decrease in a woman's fertility.

And I have come into my womanhood in a veritable state of horror as I watched each year pass...23, 24, 25, 26...

I will have celebrated five birthdays in medical school. I was a young, nubile 22 when I started, and I will be a nubile though not-as-young 27 when I graduate. I'd hoped that I would meet someone during medical school. And try as I might to secure something for myself, I was unable to.

And then articles like this rub salt into my wounds:

The trouble is, such thinking can cheat a woman out of her options, Collura says. It’s one thing to postpone children in order to pursue education or a career, fully knowing it might be more difficult to get pregnant later. It’s another thing to be surprised by infertility.

“This is not about empowering women and women’s rights,” she says. “This is about science and biology 101.”

That is precisely Holly Finn’s point. She wishes she had realized earlier the effects that endometriosis and age might have on her ability to conceive. If she had her way, she’d tell women ages 26 to 34 one thing: "Start having babies now."
So, I'm in that age group where this woman tells us to start having babies now. I don't know about other women in the 25-34 demographic (now that I'm no longer in the 15-24 demographic for nearly two years now...), but not all of us are in the position to conceive babies nor raise those babies in stable homes because of...

DING DING DING! You guessed it, lack of a partner!

And I'm not sure if it was my choice, rightfully, to postpone children in order to pursue my education or my career. It's not like eligible bachelors have been knocking on my door. Without griping about the quality of men--which I won't, because, genuinely, there are good men out there--suffice it to say that a man who fits into my life hasn't come along yet. Could it be because I've spent four years of college, four years of medical school and one year of public health school pursuing my education and am about to, insha'Allah, spend 3 years in residency, working towards my career?

I mean, because you could put it that way. If I had at least stopped in college and got a job, maybe it would have been easier for a man to fit into my life. Now, with all of the years of professional school, I'll have more letters behind my name than I'll have a chance to have children because my fertility window is narrowing...

I'm not sure if that's the message they're going for, but really, I think for most women, it's more complicated than a choice to have children earlier.

Married or otherwise partnered women who want to have children someday and are in their 20s and wait until their mid-to-late 30s to start trying to have children? Okay, maybe they are ones who you should tell, start having babies now...and even then, I don't know anyone like that. Most women who I know who are having children later are doing so because they were married or partnered later in life. I'm not yet 27, but I'm almost 27. That could be me!

I just get...defensive, yes, that's the word I'm looking for! ...I get defensive reading these things. No, I am not delaying childbearing to my mid-30s because of my career. I know the biology of fertility very well and, yes, with a family history of endometriosis and other unforeseeable elements that could limit my fertility, I want to have children sooner rather than later as will make sense in whatever my future relationship is. Don't wave a finger at me, faulting me for my later childbearing...

Because, for that matter, I could be a mother now. I almost had a high school boyfriend who would have been my first, the way he was interested in me, if I had not put him down because (1) I wanted to come into my Muslim identity and I didn't think he'd be supportive and (2) I wanted to focus on my studies. I was a sophomore in high school when we exchanged letters, back and forth, in which he told me I was the one. His touch was tempting, but I knew Islam was the way I wanted to live and I knew I wanted to go to college. There would be more boys later.

He was my last chance...for early childbearing. Since then, I've come into Islam and am coming into my own, graduated from college, completed my MPH and insha'Allah will graduate medical school. He graduated from college, too, and now has a toddler with a woman who would not have fertility problems because she was in her 20s. I had no other potential suitors until 25, but even then, I had adopted the "no children until 2015" model, the year I would insha'Allah graduate residency.

What do I say to this? Yes! Delay children, for sure, for education. Too many studies, here and abroad, point to children and families thriving more the more educated mom is. Can you come back and continue education after children? Yes! But should you rush into some relationship for the purpose of having children? No!

And I know, I know...the article is not calling on women to do that. According to the survey, women really do not know that their fertility declines so much as they age. Fair. Let them know that. But the tone just sounds like it's pooh pooing women for delaying motherhood for education or career.

My position? Do what makes sense! As I have been exploring, we all find our mates at different times in life. Those of us who are married or partnered can make a choice about when to have children that is best for the pair. And we should not feel guilty if the desire for children was not great in our lives and then becomes stronger as we age. Those of us who are unmarried and single do not have that luxury, and we should not feel bullied, guilted or pressured into settling for men who do not make sense in our lives for the tick-tocking of a biological clock. As a Muslim, I know that God will provide.

Even if I were to conceive my first child at 39, with a 5% chance each month of getting pregnant and with a higher risk of Down's Syndrome, God will provide because such has been the substance of my prayers.


That being said, women, be smart! Especially "educated" women, educate yourself about your body, your fertility, so you know the risks of choosing to have a child when.


  1. I am surprised that more women don't realize that its all downhill after 35 or

    But I am trying to be optimistic. I think if it came down it, I may consider doing something drastic like freezing some of my babies before it's too late.

    Thinking about this though puts a conversation I had with my Egyptian roomate and her friend yesterday. 29 and above is considered and old maid here, and with good reason. They get the whole clock is ticking phenomenon all too well.

  2. Ooh, freezing eggs! That's a great idea! I think I'll do that if I hit 33 and I'm still single...that's 6 years away! *tear*

    God knows best is all I can come up with, and the fact that I am not yet 30, hehe...holding out hope!