For all those who have delayed parenthood comes a moment of truth, a realization they have not made the decision to have a child and will therefore remain childless. Candace is 43. She says the timing has never been quite right for her to have a baby, although she has not ruled out the possibility altogether. “You have to be a realist and not a romantic about children. It’s easy to fantasize about having a baby … I’m not sure it’s right for me at the moment.”
The woman who at 43 has still not decided to have a baby will probably join the increasing numbers of women who are choosing never to have children. Recent statistics have shown a definite increase in the number of women choosing to remain childless. In I982, 4.9% of all women of childbearing age were voluntarily childless. By I995, the percentage had increased to 6.6%. (National Center for Health Statistics, I995) Although there is a shift towards later childbearing, statistics show that this increase in childlessness is likely to continue among younger women.
Aside from those who decide not to have children, there are those who want children very much and are unable to have them.
Tremendous advances have been made in infertility treatment over the past two decades. Of the nearly 5 million American couples who report difficulty or delays in achieving a live birth, I.3 million will receive medical advice or treatment for infertility. According to the American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine (I989), professional treatment aids approximately half the women who seek help for fertility problems.
For those who have, for whatever reason, postponed having a baby into their mid- to late 30s, infertility can be a devastating blow. “I know it’s covered in the papers and I knew it was a risk, but I still didn’t think it would ever happen to me,” says Gina, 37. “After six months of trying I went to the doctor and he said, ‘Give it time. You’re not as fertile as you were. If you haven’t conceived in another six months we’ll do something.’ I hadn’t, so back to the doctor. He referred us to a clinic, but the first available appointment was three months away. Meanwhile, nothing happened. We had tests. They went on for months; each test had to be done only at the most fertile time of the month, so that took months to arrange. In the end they discovered I had blocked tubes, probably as a result of an appendicitis operation I had when I was a teenager. The discovery that there really was something wrong was appalling. I felt I only had about three years left.” Gina conceived two years later on her second attempt at IVF (in-vitro fertilization).
Many women find infertility is a terrible irony after years of using contraception. “I was on the Pill for I2 years. Then I discovered I had never ovulated to begin with. Those pregnancy scares I had when I’d taken chances before I went on the Pill, all those years of swallowing hormones-it all seemed so pointless. I was really angry and distressed.”
Rachel had always wanted children, but didn’t marry until she was 36. “We tried for a baby immediately. Nothing happened. After about nine months we started to do temperature charts. They seemed to show I was ovulating, and so then there was the awful business of trying to time sex for the most fertile time in my cycle. Those temperature charts started to dominate our sex lifePaul said he couldn’t stand being told when to perform. He thought I was being neurotic. Once he found out it wasn’t his sperm that were at fault, he lost interest in the whole process. I was devastated-if I didn’t have children, what else was there to look forward to?”
Those who remain childless, whether by choice or not, often find themselves put under considerable pressure by others. Questions such as, “So, when are you going to have a baby?” or
“Don’t you think it’s selfish not to have children?” are heard frequently. Some women do feel pressured into having a child by the outside world. “I had been putting it off and putting it off, and I’m not sure I really wanted a child. But then I thought, this is something almost everybody does. Will I feel I’ve missed something?” Pressure is put on women to have children by family and friends and, notoriously, by parents wanting grandchildren.
“My mother went on and on about having a grandchild and finally I said, ‘My career is important to me. If I have a baby, will you take care of it while I go back to work?’ She agreed-and it has worked out really well for us.” Others are not so lucky or do not give in to parental pressures. This can create a lot of stress in family relationships. “My mother complained about it so much, how unhappy I was making her, that she couldn’t see the point in life if she didn’t have grandchildren, that I started avoiding her.