Science Festival Shames Women for Delaying Babies

One of Britain's top reproductive scientists used her time speaking at the British Science Festival to remind women that their "biological clocks" are ticking. Now all sorts of UK media is covering it — you know, in case there might be one woman in the world left who doesn't realize that fertility declines with age.

The Daily Mail covered the story with typical panache, pointing out that "family planning shouldn’t be just about avoiding pregnancy — it must also tell women about the risks of delaying motherhood." Without this insight, women might end up childless and "haunted." And don't you think your career plans or lack of money are an excuse to put off babies, young lady.

Newcastle University experts said women shouldn’t necessarily use their career as an excuse to delay motherhood – as working life doesn’t get easier with age. And they questioned whether today’s couples are less willing to put up with financial hardship than previous generations.
Professor Mary Herbert, one of Britain’s leading reproductive biologists, said: ‘The most important message is for women to have their babies before the clock strikes 12."
[...] Britain’s biggest science conference heard that while some women will be lucky enough to become pregnant in their 40s or 50s, many face heartbreak.

The Mail concludes by noting that older mothers are "more prone to arthritis, depression, cancer and heart attacks as they bring up their children."

But The Daily Mail is self-evidently ridiculous!, you say. Fair enough. If we take away the Mail's layers of bullshit, however, we're still left with the fact that the UK's biggest science festival gave time and space to a professor warning ladies that their fertility is like Cinderella.

There's nothing new in what Herbert and her panel colleague said, no new facts or findings about fertility. The panel is pitched as two Newcastle professors "concerned that too many women are leaving it too late to start having babies." It's just the same old shaming of women who delay (or decline) motherhood.

I believe there's a way to raise fertility awareness and talk frankly about fertility science without it coming off as condescending or cajoling (this Atlantic article from Jean Twenge being a good example). But this was not it. Shame on the British Science Festival for giving a panel to people more concerned with spreading a social agenda than, you know, science.

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