As a woman who gave birth to her first child at the age of 18, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to want a child and not be able to have one. In a society that values it’s working families, it must be heart breaking to be constantly reminded that for whatever reason, you have been denied the fundamental right of every human being, the right to procreate.
Finance writer and mother of 3, Justine Davies, witnessed this heart break first hand when she wrote a piece called ‘What Price a Baby?’ for her Money and Me blog on the news.com.au website.
“‘What Price a Baby?’ was basically looking at the costs of IVF. The blog got a big response. But it also got a lot of comments from people who said there were a lot of reasons why people don’t have kids and IVF is just a small component of that,” Justine Davies told Australian Women Online.
“This wasn’t something I’d really sat down and thought about and when I did, I realised there were no books on the market for them and there was really no information out there.”
The author of How To Afford a Baby and How to Afford a Husband, interviewed 17 men and women in Australia about their experiences of childlessness for her latest book, aptly titled, AN INCONCEIVABLE NOTION.
While men can father a child well into old age, women only have a window of some twenty years before the odds of conceiving begin to fall and then menopause closes that window forever. Perhaps this is why a woman’s biological clock will start ticking at around 35 years of age. But what if Mr Right doesn’t show up until you’re well into your 40s, or he just doesn’t show up all? Emily and Pam are two women who found themselves in exactly that situation.
“Emily’s in her forties and is currently going through IVF and Pam is in her fifties now. Both of them said that by the time they were in a place where they were ready to have kids, their relationships were breaking down and they missed the boat.”
Although the average age of first-time mothers is rising, there’s a lot to be said for starting a family at a younger age. When I had my first child at 18, the general consensus among my family and friends was that I had ruined my life and whilst I’m the first to admit it wasn’t easy, looking back, I have no regrets. It is my belief that had I waited for the ideal conditions to start a family, I would be childless today, instead of the proud mother of two young men aged 18 and 22.
Justine Davies agrees. “When I started having my children at 30, a lot of my parents’ friends said: Don’t think about it too much. Don’t worry about whether you can afford it.. You just do it and you work your life around it. I think there’s quite a mindset these days with people thinking they have to build up their career before having kids. Whereas a couple of generations ago people were a lot younger when having kids.”
When reading the stories of infertility, I was shocked by the level of anger and resentment displayed by some of these individuals towards single mothers and in particular, teenage single mothers. While I can certainly understand their frustration, as someone who had her first child as a single 18 year old, I couldn’t help but feel a little insulted by these remarks.
In their defense, Justine Davies said, “I guess it’s probably natural that if there’s something you’ve worked really hard for, particularly if it’s something you’re emotionally invested in like having children, and you’re doing all the right things and you’re still not succeeding, then it’s natural to feel resentment towards people who seem to fall pregnant at the drop of a hat. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to feel this way. But I can understand how they would feel pretty hard done by.”
Hardly done by, is probably the most accurate description of how many infertile couples feel in a society that is focused on the needs of parents and their children.
“There’s so much stuff in the media that is parent focused and there’s really not much for people who aren’t parents. So if you’re trying to have kids or know that it’s not going to happen, this would be like rubbing salt into a wound,” said Justine.
“Every second thing Kevin Rudd says is about working families. In Wayne Swan’s budget speech, it was working families will benefit this way and working families will benefit that way. I was sitting there having written this book, thinking there are a lot of tax payers out there who aren’t working families.”
Sometimes the divide between parents and non-parents widens even further and the amount of government assistance for families is one of those polarising issues.
“Even if I’m blogging about family tax benefits or something equally boring, there are a lot of comments from non-parents about how it’s not fair because they pay lots of tax and get no benefit and parents get all the benefits. Then there are parents who post comments saying they work as well and their juggling families and their raising future tax payers and all this sort of thing. It becomes such a ‘them and us’ issue.”
“One thing I learned through the writing of this book is actually to think about what I say before I open my mouth because often we’ll open a conversation with somebody with ‘Do you have kids?’. Often the next question is ‘Why not?’ or something along those lines. But for people who don’t have children and are sensitive about it, it’s almost like you’re meeting them for the first time and slapping them in face.”
“No matter what you do for a living or what your hobbies are, kids are a topic that’s easy to chat about because so many people have them. But childless couples are excluded from so much of that conversation.”
“The other thing that surprised me about writing this book is that pretty much everyone I interviewed and particularly the women, said that they felt like a failure. These are women from a huge cross section of society, all of whom have achieved significant things in their life. But all of them said they felt like a failure and for me it was a real shock that they would feel that way.”