One in eight women experience infertility in the United States, making it as common as breast cancer, and yet public discourse on the matter is limited to say the least. The US Department of Health and Human Services reports a variety of things that can increase a woman’s risk of infertility including, age, smoking, excess alcohol use, stress, poor diet, athletic training, being overweight or underweight, sexually transmitted infections, or health problems that cause hormonal changes. Men can also experience infertility and the Department of Health and Human Services lists those risks as well.
An interesting phenomenon directly related to infertility has to do with the growing trend of US women waiting to have children. Since 1990, the percentage of new mothers over the age of 35 has risen by five per cent. In 1990, teens had a higher share of all births (13%) than did women ages 35 and older (9%). In 2008, the reverse was true—10% of births were to teens, compared with 14% to women ages 35 and older. About one-third of couples in which the woman is over 35 have fertility problems.
Infertility can be treated with medicine, surgery, artificial insemination, or assisted reproductive technology. Many times these treatments are combined. In most cases infertility is treated with drugs or surgery. But, as Leslie Goldman notes in her column, the process isn’t easy, both physically and emotionally.
I was shocked to realize that the number of women experiencing infertility is so large, but then when I thought about it, I’ve known of numerous women who have experienced infertility. As a feminist who believes that work and family can and should be an option for all women, I do feel as though we are doing a disservice by not discussing the issue of age impacting infertility more. We need policies in place that make it easier for women and men to have children while they are building their careers so that women don’t feel an obligation to wait to have children.
As for the later age at which women and men are marrying –that too impacts the decision to have children at a later age, but apparently not as much as one would think. Since 1990, the rate of births to unmarried women has risen from 28% to 41% in 2008. I don’t really have a suggestion of where we go from here, I just wanted to bring some awareness to an often times hidden topic. Leslie Goldman wrote her column to let women know they are not alone. There is a community of women just waiting to share their experiences and to offer advice.