Deferring parenthood - Maybe we can’t have it all after all

THOUGH the days leading up to Christmas can be a time of great pressure and some considerable frustration for parents, the vast majority of people consider parenthood a wondrous privilege and one of the — if not THE — defining factors of their lives.

Their deepest and most satisfying relationships and probably all of their hopes revolve around their families.

For most people their children are the great joys through which their lives ebb and flow.

And that is just as it should be.

Each era has to confront great, new issues brought about by social evolution, great medical or scientific advances. All of these conspire to challenge women — to a much greater degree than men — in a way that our mothers and fathers never imagined possible.

Egg freezing, once confined to women whose prospects of motherhood were threatened by sickness, is on the cusp of becoming a “lifestyle choice”.

The process may soon allow women to harvest their eggs at what they consider an optimum age and use them later to attempt pregnancy. Parenthood and all its tremendous commitments and rewards can be put on hold until a successful career is established or until after the seven wonders of the modern world are seen.

This advance, if it is to be considered that, brings all sorts of issues to the forefront and a whole new range of pressures to bear on young women.

It puts the “I” argument to the very forefront of the family debate: “I” am not ready to have children; “I” must work on developing my career; “I” am more than a biological conduit for offspring and “I” will cheat the fertility clock by using the advantages science gives me.

There can be few points in the never-to-end argument about the rights and privileges of the individual and the obligations to behave in a way that sustains and enhances society that meet with such potential for vehement dissent.

The belief sets that so polarised Ireland during the divorce and as-yet-unresolved abortion debates could enflame this debate too. Like the divorce debate, it will be informed by economic considerations as much as anything else.

Already concerns are being expressed by medical professionals about the new pressures this option might bring to bear on young working women.

Dr Mary McCaffrey, a consultant obstetrician, gynaecologist and former president of the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association, has ominously warned that “it may turn into another pressure by employers whereby... it would turn into a social expectation that they [women] would defer or postpone pregnancy”.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has described egg freezing as “an experimental procedure that should not be offered or marketed as a means to defer reproductive ageing”.

It that ever happens, and sadly it is impossible to say that it will not, then we will know we truly are part of an economy rather than a society.

Suggesting that for many ordinary working women the sum total of women’s liberation is a bigger mortgage, an extra bedroom, a job outside the home as well as one inside, might be just a tad far-fetched but, nonetheless, it is a reality for too many stretched and stressed parents of our time.

Egg freezing may, in time, offer choices that might ease that burden but if it puts the family on a par with a career or seeing the world then it could not be considered an advance. Anything that undermines the pre-eminence of the family must be suspect.

Is it possible we should learn to accept that it is just not feasible for everybody to have a perfectly timed life, with a career beyond the glass ceiling, a dream partner and a 4x4 full of shiny children, even if science makes it possible?

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