This week, Insight on SBS aired an episode about ‘delaying’ motherhood. If you haven’t seen the program, it’s a panel conversation featuring everyday people with lived experiences of a particular issue. Often when I watch, I laugh, I cry, and I always learn something. This week, I raged.
This particular episode was called ‘Delaying Motherhood: why career isn’t the main reason women are giving birth later in life’. It told the tales of one couple and a few women who had been in relationships with men that hadn’t worked out. When push came to shove (rather than thrust coming to push) some of these women in their late-thirties and early forties had either given up on having kids or decided to go it alone—using a sperm donor from a fertility clinic or a guy they’d found online and screened themselves.
These women openly discussed their experiences of realising their fertility challenges at an age that made conceiving a child difficult or impossible. The regret. The heartache. The lessons. In 2021, this is still a brave thing to do.
The women in the panel and in the Insight audience had been in relationships with men that hadn’t worked out. They had tried, but ultimately not been successful in their dream of having a family, and shared their pain of surrendering to their infertile fate. They faced the melancholy music; they would not be a mum. The future of having a family was what they’d always envisioned but now they had to grieve.
While host Kumi Taguchi did ask about ex-husbands and previous relationships, the pointed aspect boiled down to this: what could us women do to better navigate our way through fertility? None of their exes appeared on the show.
Isn’t this an issue for all of society to grapple with? Women and men?
From the time we become sexually active, our parents and educators ensure we’re all acutely aware of the need for contraception—how to not get pregnant (and avoid STIs). Why aren’t we even remotely aware of the realities of fertility? We’re not told the cold, hard facts about sperm-and-egg-age and baby-making success until we’re old and it’s potentially too late. Why aren’t we given the heads up about how physically, emotionally and financially devastating the IVF rollercoaster is? For women and men. This critical information needs to be taught to teenage boys and girls so they know what’s what and can factor this into their decision making from the get-go.
I wish I’d known the odds. I wish I’d been more diligent about not putting my rapidly-drying-out eggs in the wrong basket in my thirties and ending up at this point: 41 and childless after four failed rounds of IVF with donor sperm. But I also wish the men I’d been in long-term relationships with in my twenties and thirties had been better partners. I wish they’d taken their fair share of the fertility reins.
Like so many other societal issues, the takeaway from this episode of Insight seemed to be— ‘what are you women going to do to help yourselves out of emotional, physical and financial disadvantage?
So I wonder, what do men want? For themselves? For their future? For their lives to look like from the age of 40 (when the Peter Pan life becomes increasingly hard to sell) until they die? What do they want for society? For the women they love; their friends, family members and partners?
When are we going to expect men to take the same responsibility for not accidentally impregnating women AND purposely impregnating women they love, respect and want to build a life with?
When will responsibility for fertility become equal for both parties? It’s unconscionable that we’re conditioned not to expect this basic biological equity. Having done some hard fertility yards, I encourage everyone, men and women, to open your eyes. Read up on fertility so you understand the reality if you might want a family one day, and watch these incredibly brave women share their fertility stories on Insight. Hopefully one day we’ll see an episode called ‘Delaying parenthood: the cost of waiting to have kids’, and we’ll hear from men too.