I’m Sorry, But You Can’t Put Your Biological Clock on Snooze Forever

March 2, 2012  |  

There are some women who’s biological clock is ticking so loudly in their ears that they think they may never have a chance of becoming a mother, and then there are others who have hit the snooze button in favor of waiting for that special someone to father their child or until their career settles down to start changing diapers. Regardless of the reasons these women aren’t mothers, both realize they don’t have forever to make that dream come true, but a new scientific breakthrough suggests that they actually might.

Dr. Jonathan Tilly, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, has discovered a way to extract stem cells from women’s ovaries that are capable of generating new eggs. If the scientists are able to fertilize the eggs and turn them into embryos, Dr. Tilly believes “we might get to the point of actually having an unlimited source of human eggs,” meaning age and menopause will no longer prevent women from being able to bear a child.

Middle-aged women everywhere seem to be applauding this research, which is no doubt impressive. Kimberly Seals Allers, founder of MochaManual.com, told The Grio Dr. Tilly’s research is “good news for black women” who, for whatever circumstances, may not be able to have children until much later in life.

“Most studies have pointed to a priority on career, education and financial stability and the lack of suitable marriage partners, which has pushed childbearing to the back burner,” she said.

Seals also points out something we’ve all noticed in recent years, which is that women have become increasingly comfortable with being older mothers.

“I  like to throw in the ’40 is the new 30′ phenomenon,” she said. “Black women feel younger, [so] becoming a mother at 40 and beyond just doesn’t feel as old anymore.”

But just because you feel 30 doesn’t mean your body isn’t in fact 40. Ovarian failure and a decrease in the number of eggs women produce is just one aspect of being a mature mother. There are other health risks that have been well-documented in women as young as 35, although 40 is the typical age where physicians have real concern. At this age there is an increased risk of chromosome abnormalities leading to Down Syndrome, the possibility of miscarriage is increased, and the risk of chronic health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure is elevated. Imagine how much those risks increase with just another 10 years of age. Sure, those statistics are general and the potential for developing any of these issues has a lot to do with your individual health at the time you conceive, but no matter how good you look or how fit you feel, your body is the age that it is and these risks are there.

The feminist in women has looked at this data with the attitude of, if men can have babies until they die why can’t women? Well, there is a huge difference between a man being able to impregnate someone and  a woman getting pregnant: Men don’t carry babies, women do, and nine months is no short amount of time. Plus, men aren’t without risk either. Studies have shown that babies born to men 40 and older have a higher risk for autism. So the bottom line is that no late-stage pregnancy is without risk, no matter how much science might be able to tweak what is biologically possible.

I can understand the strong urge to become a mother, and that life circumstances sometimes get in the way of making that a reality in your 20s and even your 30s but this issue goes far beyond gender equality. At some point we have to ask if the ability to do something means that you actually should. We also need to look at the fact that perhaps out innate biological clocks operate the way they do for a reason, and menopause is our body’s way of telling us you’ve passed your time.

The advances that modern science have made are truly astounding but sometimes the greater good needs to outweigh selfish desires when it comes to our health. Becoming a mother is not just about you, it’s about the baby and when you choose to become a mother you have an obligation to make sure that you will be around to raise that child. If that means your age won’t allow you to become a mother in the traditional sense, I think the ultimate form of self-sacrifice is to accept that truth and realize there are other ways to parent that won’t put you or someone else at risk. And for women who know they want to become mothers, they need to build that into their life plan like anything else. At some point, no matter how much science can do, it will be too late.

What do you think about the potential for women to have babies at any age? Do you think at some point women are too old to be mothers?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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