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Delaying Motherhood, why career isn't the only reason...

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

By Jennifer Luu

The stereotype of the selfish career woman is a “fallacy”according to fertility researcher, Professor Georgina Chambers.

*Emma Sweeney (not her real name) desperately wants to have another baby.

As an only child, who grew up feeling lonely without any siblings, she’s determined to give her baby son a little brother or sister.

But after splitting up with her partner last year, and now aged in her mid-40s, Ms Sweeney is concerned she’s out of options to fall pregnant naturally.

Ms Sweeney said she wishes she hadn’t delayed becoming a mother.

“It's a tremendous regret and I carry it every single day, there's not a moment of my day that I don't wish that I had done things differently in my 20s and in my 30s,” she told Insight’s Kumi Taguchi.

“We just think we have all this time and actually, we don't.”

Professor Georgina Chambers, a reproductive medicine epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales, said women are increasingly giving birth later in life.

“In 1980 in Australia, the average age of a woman giving birth was 26. It's now five years older at about 31,” Professor Chambers said.

Professor Chambers said the trend is being driven by women having their first child later - with one in two first-time mums now aged over 30.

Pursuing an education and career are part of the reason why women are putting off childbirth. However, Professor Chambers labelled the idea of the selfish career woman a “fallacy”.

The age at which people advance their careers - in their 20s and 30s - coincides with when a woman’s fertility is at its peak.

“Men and women both want to pursue their careers, but it's not that they aren't having children for some sort of career orientated-selfishness - that's around just the timing of education and careers,” Professor Chambers said.

Emma is desperate to give her son a sibling but needs to find an egg and sperm donor to do so. Source: Insight

Professor Chambers said career-building is not the number one cause of women giving birth later.

“The reason women…aren't having children when they would like to, or when it's biologically optimal for them to do so, is because they haven't found a suitable partner,” she said.

“That's the main reason women delay childbearing. It's not so much because of career.”

It’s an idea that hits close to home for Ms Sweeney, who is currently seeking donor eggs and donor sperm to fulfil her dream of having a second child.

Ms Sweeney had always assumed she would meet the perfect partner.

“I thought that I would meet the right guy…have the family, and that this would be something that I would share with someone,” she said.

“But as it is, I'm sharing it with my little boy and hopefully…with his little sibling.”

Professor Georgina Chambers is a reproductive medicine epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales. Source: Insight

Faith Agugu also took for granted the belief that she was going to become a mother.

Desperate to fall pregnant, she dated a series of unsuitable men, who either weren’t compatible or didn’t want children.

At the age of 45, after multiple relationships and an unsuccessful round of IVF, Ms Agugu made the “very, very difficult” decision to stop trying for a baby.

“I remember when I made that final choice…I really fell into a depression and I had to go through a grieving process,” Ms Agugu said.

“It really made me feel less of a woman.”

More than a decade later, Ms Agugu is leading a fulfilled life without kids.

“I realised that I could be a mother in so many other ways…I have three godchildren and I'm a psychotherapist. I work with people, I support people,” Ms Agugu said.

“I feel like I experience mothering in a very different way, which feels very fulfilling for me.”

Faith Agugu thought that she was going to become a mother.

Source: Insight

With reproductive technologies like IVF and egg freezing growing in popularity, there’s hope women will be able to preserve their fertility and delay motherhood for longer.

However, Professor Chambers said these technologies are only “part of the solution” – and that they won’t solve the issue of age-related infertility.

“There’s an underlying societal problem that women are needing to resort to egg freezing and to medicalise their reproduction,” she said.

“As a society, we really need to be doing much more to support women and men to have children when it's biologically optimal for them to do so.”

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