Don't change us, change the world

YESTERDAY THE annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction heard from Italian researchers that women over 40 might now have the same chance of having a baby through IVF as women in their twenties. The breakthrough was conveyed to us through excited newspaper headlines, and indeed it conjures up all sorts of dreams.

Although the gradual decrease in fertility leading to the menopause would once have come as a blessed release to women tired out from bearing children throughout their youth, these days the biological clock seems to work against us. More women than ever before now hit their thirties and forties having deliberately delayed having children - usually because they've been looking for a good partner or working too hard - and the numbers who then start trying to conceive when their ovaries are winding down is constantly increasing.

The press reaction to this advance in reproductive technology was optimistic, and you can see why. There's a dream scenario ahead - that one day women might feel as secure as men in putting off having children. This would mean an end to those novels and television series, from Bridget Jones's Diary to Sex in the City that are based around the premise that the world is full of thirtysomething women who are desperate to get married before it's too late. But will this breakthrough really smash the biological clock?

If so, we will all be cheering. It would be glorious if women could choose to have children at any point over three or more decades of reproductive life. But we should hold off the cheers for quite a while. Medical breakthroughs tend to be presented to us through rosy-tinted spectacles. Fertility advances, in particular, are often presented as miracles, as though all uncertainty and suffering over reproduction will now be swept away. Yet the reality never lives up to the hype.

For generations the idea that science should be able to banish the messiness of natural reproduction has been held up as one of the highest goals of medicine. But despite the best efforts of thousands of committed doctors and drug companies and compliant women, reproduction remains a pretty hit-and-miss affair. One study of rates of IVF success published in The Lancet in 1996 showed that even women of 25 to 30 stood only a 16 per cent chance of becoming pregnant from each treatment.

Many miserable women go through four or five complicated and invasive treatments and yet never achieve their longed-for child. In addition, the effects of the fertility drugs and the implantation procedure, both on the child and the mother, are still open to question. Two prominent British women who died recently of cancer - Liz Tilberis, editor of Harper's Bazaar, and the journalist Ruth Picardie - understandably believed that the fertility treatments they had endured had encouraged the growth of their ovarian and breast cancers.

Where the treatments involve procedures such as introducing otherwise unviable sperm directly into the egg, or using frozen embryos, the doctors who carry out the procedures will frankly tell you that they do not know what the long-term effects will be on the resultant children.

These concerns do not mean that women shouldn't go for these treatments if they think the longed-for benefits will outweigh the risks. But we should never put our faith in the doctors to iron out all the glitches of the natural world. And maybe, rather than looking to medical science for easy answers, we also should look at why women are turning away from having babies when it is physically easier for them to do so, in their twenties.

Fertility specialists often refer to their older clients as "career women". Career women still operate in a man's world, one in which the masculine model of workers without domestic responsibilities disadvantages those who have them. Somehow, we have internalised the idea that this is as it should be, that women in their teens and twenties who have babies are unambitious and irresponsible.

But maybe it's the world around them which is unambitious and irresponsible. Why should we assume that it is better for women to fit into the traditional career model for as long as they possibly can, rather than trying to build a world that might suit them better, a world in which employers accept that workers have domestic responsibilities? Affordable childcare, longer parental leave and better opportunities for returning workers might allow more women to have children before their ovaries give up.

The quick fixes of medical science are all very well, but they are no substitute for a world in which women have real control of their bodies and their lives.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Arts and Entertainment
The Vienna State Opera
opera
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'
musicLilly Wood and Robin Schulz bag number one single
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories