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.

Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
artSistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

    Time to stop running

    At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence