Times Story Suggests Would-Be Mothers Don't Understand Biology

Apparently a lot of women think that looks have more to do with conception than age

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There are enough women who think that they won't have a hard time getting pregnant as they age to make a very troubling New York Times trend story. The article chronicles some women over 40 who say they look and feel young enough to get pregnant--"Everyone in my life told me how young I looked for my age ... I assumed it was the same on the inside as it was on the outside"--but have come to the shocking realization that as they chemically, surgically, botoxically, and physically prune their outsides, their insides continue to deteriorate. Of course there at least a few women out there, some of them quoted in the Times, who are confused, but the article presented as a trend makes women look dumber than we think (and hope!) they are.

Do that many women really not understand that pregnancy gets harder with age? No, argues Slate's Jessica Grose. "When I.V.F. has six times as many search results as there are days in the year, and the average age of an I.V.F. recepient at a typical clinic is 36, it's truly remarkable that women who ostensibly took high-school-level biology do not know that your fertility declines as you age, no matter how much yoga you do." Plenty of women get it. Okay, maybe there are some out there who think that keeping up their appearances has an effect on fertility--but it's certainly not a trend, continues Grose.

I'm not denying the fact that there are some living, breathing women who are so uninformed about their own biological processes that it comes as a total surprise that it might take several I.V.F. cycles to get pregnant when you're over 40 (the New York Times found several who were willing to put their names in print!). But pretending that this is something common, or trendy, takes away from the messy reality that most women who wait to have children aren't doing it because they believe they are endlessly fertile. 

Perhaps some of the women quoted weren't actually referring to their appearance, but how healthy they are, argues Jezebel's Irin Carmon in a tweet. "To be fair to 'too young-looking to be infertile' women, some sound like they were talking about health not looks." Even so, the Times sure doesn't position it in that light. "I’d based a lot of my self-worth on looking young and fertile, and to have that not be the case was really depressing and shocking," Melissa Foss told the Times.

The article also makes it seem like women are ignorant enough to get all of their medical advice from celebrities. The story posits that older pregnant stars and the media are to blame. "The unreality is reinforced by Hollywood, much to the growing dismay of many obstetricians and gynecologists. Not only are stars in their 40s now celebrated as bona fide sex symbols (Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, Salma Hayek, the list goes on), but judging from media coverage, they seem to be reproducing like rabbits." Yes: all women get their medical information from celebrity magazines. Oh, wait, they don't, Jezebel's Margaret Hartmann points out. "Plus, common sense would dictate that celebrity behavior isn't the main reason women are starting to try for a baby later in life."

Not to mention, Hartmann continues, the Times interviewee's talk of Jennifer Anniston being responsible for misinformation because she doesn't mention IVF in her baby-making plans isn't "all that fair. It makes it sound like Aniston is supposed to say in every interview, "I'd like to have babies ... but I'm super-old now so I may need to do numerous rounds of IVF. And even then there's a good chance that I won't be able to conceive, so don't follow in my miserable, lonely footsteps, ladies!"

And, finally, the Times story makes it seem as if women end up childless because they are so uninformed about the way their bodies work. But, protests Hartmann, "in general, women aren't simply forgetting to have kids by the time they're 40 and, in the meantime, are assuming that all is well because their hair is shiny. Many women wisely don't want to have a child until there's some stability in their life, and they may not be in a relationship, career, or mindset that's conducive to baby-making until they're past 40."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.