admin On September - 17 - 2013

Breaking news! Women’s fertility may have been…gasp… manipulated by patriarchal institutions!

I admit it—I dropped the ball on this one, academically speaking. When I was teaching I did spend a great deal of time talking about the medicalization of women’s health (as well as a host of other health issues that become a public health boogeyman thanks primarily to the medical-industrial complex that is big pharma) and the shockingly high number of fertility-related tragedies—not least of which are the Dalkon Shield and Norplant. But as far as the actual data on women’s fertility in relation to age goes, I honestly didn’t pay it much mind.

But I imagine that it’s in part due to that proverbial ticking of ye olde biological clock that’s changed that, prompted in part by the fact that virtually everyone in my social circles has gone into full-on baby-making mode. I’m inundated (albeit happily) with a plethora of photos and videos ridiculously adorable offspring popping into my email inbox and facebook newsfeeds.

Which is why I was both fascinated and a little thrilled to read about Jean Twenge’s work. For those of you who missed it, she conducted a pretty extensive meta-analysis of the fertility data that has guided the counsel provided by the medical profession to women approaching the end their child-bearing years for decades. Rather, to women who were thought to be nearing the end of their most fertile years.

And lo’ and behold, she discovered not only that the fertility data had been manipulated, but that much of it was based from statistical information gathered from the 17th to 19th century. Yes, birth and pregnancy records used to form the basis of 20th century public health guidelines come from a time when not only was the life expectancy of both women and men dramatically shorter, but there literally did not exist such a concept as PUBLIC HEALTH. And of course, a time when responsibility for any fertility issues was placed firmly at feet of those dang barren women. The deeper you go into the baby-making data rabbit hole Twenge explores, the worse it gets.

Which of course begs the question, whose interest was it in not to inquire further into the correlation between age and fertility? Twenge addresses many of those questions in an excellent piece in The Atlantic. There are, of course, technical issues regarding data gathering that come into play—fertility data is not as simple to gather as it always appears, especially as procedures like IVF become more prevalent. But that does not, as she mentions, explain why nobody even questioned the reliability of the data itself.

Because I tend to believe that the socio-political dimensions of the private sphere as it relates to feminism and women’s health, will provide far more insight into any endeavours to answer that question.

With the rise of the Tea Party and the reactionary anti-feminist, pro-family values, anti-science movements continues to find purchase in the soil across that country and, sadly, in Canada under Harper, it’s easy to see where the support for doctrine that is designed to confine women to the public sphere would come from.

We have been fed the line that once we hit 35 our uteri become some kind of repository for toxic waste, from whence new life shall never come. Granted, it’s somewhat more difficult to conceive, and the likelihood of multiples increases.  But there are no guarantees that you would have gotten preggers earlier anyway.

But I am happy to learn that my uterus is not, in fact, some Saturn-like barren wasteland incapable of sustaining human life simply because I’ve been privy to more than a few handfuls of earth’s revolutions ‘round the sun.

One procreative obstacle down…one fairly important one to go…