You may have heard that the average age of first-time mothers is rising — and there’s good reason. In the United States, studies show that the first-time maternal age rose to 26 by 2014. And while that doesn’t seem very old, statistics show first-time maternal age is increasing because more women are waiting to start families until 30 or older.
But, as more women and couples choose to delay starting families until their 30s and 40s, fertility specialists are seeing new waves of patients who are being considered “socially infertile.” This form of infertility has led to more and more women and couples seeking out help with conception through in vitro fertilization and other fertility treatments. And, it’s also created a new discussion on fertility, birth rates, and society’s approach to raising children.
What Is Social Infertility?
Social infertility is a term to describe women who have difficulty conceiving naturally thanks to their age or other factors, such as sexuality. In most cases, social infertility is used to label fertility patients and situations that are far more impacted by age and delaying parenthood due to social and cultural pressures, as opposed to couples who have difficulty conceiving thanks to health or biological issues.
In most social infertility cases, individuals or couples who are exploring the start of parenthood are at or over the age of 40. While those who start families earlier in life may gawk at the idea of social infertility — because the simple solution seems to be having children at a younger age — the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, there are a variety of reasons why people choose to delay starting or adding to their family:
Finances. Choosing to start a family comes with a hefty price tag, whether a baby is conceived naturally or with the help of fertility treatments. Knowing this, many couples choose to hold off on having a baby until they are able to reach a certain financial threshold, pay off bills, or afford a larger home. Unfortunately, couples who wait for the perfect financial situation often face difficulty because of the state of the economy — a factor that’s completely outside of their control. For many millennials, the idea of juggling the cost of a family with student loan debt or stagnated wages and limited job opportunities only increases their chances of social infertility.
Work-life balance. Walking away from the office at the end of the day isn’t easy when there’s more work to be done. This is especially true for many women who feel they have to achieve more in a shorter span of time before having children so that any time spent out of the workforce doesn’t impact them negatively. In fact, many women say they purposely delayed having children because of the negative impacts motherhood would likely have on their careers, or because they finally reached a career level that they worked towards for so long and weren’t ready to give up. Because many elements of parenting often fall on women thanks to social norms, many women see the difficulty in juggling their hard-won careers with maternity.
Social pressures and personal goals. It’s not easy to be the first among a group of friends who decides to have a child, nor is it effortless to balance personal dreams with the demands of childcare. Social pressures that create the perception of “one or the other” — that is, a booming social and personal life or having a family — have lead to an increase in social infertility. More and more couples and individuals are delaying child rearing so that they can personally grow and explore; and while those activities have many benefits, they can create a further delay in having children.
Delayed marriage. Decades ago, the number of women on university campuses was much smaller than it is now, with college or higher education of some form being almost a requirement for getting ahead in life. Naturally, pursuing an education delays marriage and “settling down” into family life by several years, if not more depending on the kind of career or work options that follow. As more and more men and women wait longer to couple up, the age at which they begin trying for a baby increases, leading to potential difficulties.
Sexuality. Gay and lesbian couples face an additional hurdle when it comes to having children — namely supplying both the egg and sperm. While becoming pregnant is possible through the use of donor egg, sperm, or embryos, the process can be emotionally difficult. That’s because for at least one partner, the conceived child won’t be biologically their own. Same-sex couples also may face discrimination from friends, family or society when it comes to starting their family — leading many to delay or heavily weigh the pros and cons of having children. In some cases, gay and lesbian couples even have difficulty selecting a fertility clinic that will help them because of discriminatory policies that refuse services to same-sex couples.
For many couples, there’s no one cause of social infertility; in fact, a mixture of multiple factors is often the reason for delaying parenthood until an age when conception becomes more difficult.
Combating Social Infertility Through Egg Freezing
For many, the so-called “perfect time” to have a baby comes long after nature’s prime window for conception occurs, making it difficult and frustrating to start the adventure into parenthood. One of the greatest struggles surrounding social infertility is the knowledge that if a couple had chosen to start trying just a few years earlier, circumstances may have been different.
Luckily, more and more researchers and physicians are realizing that social infertility is a growing problem, and are offering solutions that help combat this issue. The top option? Considering egg freezing. While there’s no “perfect” age to freeze your eggs, fertility specialists have determined that women who do so before their mid-30s are more likely to have success at becoming pregnant as age 40 grows closer than women who don’t freeze any eggs at all.
The Costs of Egg Freezing
Egg freezing can be costly but offers a backup plan in situations where women aren’t exactly sure when they’ll be ready to start families. Egg freezing allows women to achieve personal, career or financial goals without intense worry of infertility, and can provide an additional pathway to parenthood. One of the largest benefits of egg freezing is that it acts as a backup plan for many women and couples, allowing them to try conceiving naturally but with the safety net of knowing there are healthy eggs in storage, just in case.
For same-sex couples, egg freezing also gives the option of having multiple children who are genetically related, since the same donor sperm can be used during the IVF process, even for children born years apart. This is especially a benefit when both partners want to experience pregnancy but have biologically related children.
Fighting social infertility isn’t easy, but understanding its causes (and effects) can help couples of all ages, sexualities, and social statuses to determine the best time for having kids — with or without the help of egg freezing and IVF.
To learn more about freezing your eggs, speak with Your Fertility Friend and get your questions answered today. You can complete our short form here.