Women’s fertility problems are not theirs to bear alone. Men are also delaying childbirth | Alexandra Collier

Twow and half a year ago I opened my legs so a doctor could inseminate me with a stranger’s sperm. At 39, and single, after years of dating, I finally realized that having a baby – which I desperately wanted – not only happen.

So I took my life by the ovaries and decided to try single motherhood using donor sperm. The result – equal parts joy and furious mayhem – was a little human currently rattling wooden trains near my feet while talking to himself in a happy sing-song.

Like many single women in their 30s, I’ve been diligently searching—and hopefully for a family—in the difficult task of dating. At the same time, I wrestled with the impossible question of whether I should pursue motherhood alone. Meanwhile, articles about women delaying motherhood leading to age-related fertility issues filled my news feed.

While it is true that women are having children later in adulthood, these articles have recently conceded that women’s fertility problems are not theirs alone – often their childlessness is because they cannot find a male partner. But having a partner is only part of the story.

One of the overlooked issues for heterosexual women’s fertility is that men are also delaying having children.

I first encountered this reticence in my happy partnership of four years. The reason the relationship ended when I was in my late 30s? My boyfriend was not ready to have children.

After the demise of that relationship, I kept hitting this frustrating ceiling in my dating life – men who were ambivalent about the idea of ​​having children.

There was a man who was already into our budding romance until I asked if he planned to have kids and then a few days later he broke up with me via text. There were several guys who confessed that they were too self-involved to be fathers. And there were the undecideds – the ones who got pissed off when the subject came up, but were possible, can be open to the idea of ​​children.

A good man is hard to find, but a good man who wants to have children at the same time as his female partner is even harder to find.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the median age of mothers is and fathers rose by about 17% between 1975 and 2020. Men are also older than women on this ascending scale of parenthood – suggesting that they often partner with younger (and more fertile) women to have families.

In a recent Nordic study of childless, university-aged men, the authors found that in most high-income countries, the parental age of fathers has increased for those having their first child and that more men remain childless. Men, it is concluded, delay childbirth.

Part of men’s indifference to parenthood is the delusion that men can father a child until a mustache age. But male infertility increases over the age of 40 – and is a key factor in men’s growing childlessness. Attention men: despite what you think, you can’t necessarily make babies forever.

Buried on the first page of the study, in unemotional language, is the smoking gun that makes me sit up in annoyance: “A significant proportion of young men desire to have children at an age when a female partner of similar age would have reduced fertility potential.”

This echoes what long-time fertility specialist John McBain witnesses in his offices at Melbourne IVF. “One of the most disturbing situations we see is where a man says ‘I’m not ready, not quite ready yet’,” says McBain.

Then, he explains, as the woman ages into her 40s, the man leaves her for a younger option (who he is now – ta da! – ready to have a child with). “And the older woman, his partner for all these years, now has fertility problems.”

Australian men, like those in Nordic countries, appear to be delaying childbearing – given the fact that single women are now the largest group using donor sperm through assisted reproduction.

Interestingly, all the 20-something Nordic boys in the study claim to be mature enough to have children – they’re just not ready. But most 24-year-olds have an inflated sense of their adulthood – I certainly did.

But is maturity what stops men from having children? Women – myself included – complain that some men fly around like Peter Pans, refusing to shed their elfin selves to take the burden and beauty of a baby in their arms. To become a father, they have to stop being big babies so they can take care of one.

The irony is that maturity is achieved through experience – through action, for example the act of raising a child. It’s a chicken-and-egg conundrum. Some men think they have to grow up to have babies. But often men grow up when a baby arrives (a fact of which women are frustratingly aware). Based on what I see in the men around me, becoming fathers requires this act of maturity to be applied to them, but they don’t actively seek it.

The Nordic study found that many young men want their finances, education and career and a stable partnership in neat and sensible order before having a family. In short, they want the stability we all crave, but rarely have enough of before we become parents.

If stability is a prerequisite for fatherhood, our disturbing contemporary existence is anything but – told by a barrage of information that tells us every hour about climate disasters, horrific violence, disturbing inequality and financial strife, so that we feel as if we are in a vortex live. of – real and dramatized – uncertainty. Maybe that’s what scares the hell out of some men when it comes to prospective fatherhood.

Because it’s not that men don’t want children. A 2021 Victorian study of Australian men’s behavior and attitudes when it comes to seeking information about their fertility found that men desire parenthood as much as women, but view fertility as ‘women’s business’.

A husband of a friend confirms this. “I didn’t really think about children,” he says, now a very good father to three of them. But his wife tells me a different story. “My biggest fear was that I would end up like my great-aunt, single, without children,” she says.

My friend’s husband, like most men, doesn’t need to contemplate parenthood – it’s a thought bubble that usually floats exclusively over a woman’s head.

Children are like so many things the world has bestowed upon men: more pay, respect and power. They can be postponed or evaded until they inevitably, or not, just happen.

Alexandra Collier is an award-winning author based in Melbourne who has written for theatre, screen and print. She has a forthcoming memoir about choosing solo motherhood

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