Being a product of high school graduation in the 1970s, this writer expected to begin having children in his mid-twenties at the latest. I remember that even as a male, at 24 and not remotely near finding a suitable mate, I was starting to feel a little old.
Part of what contributed to this feeling was the fact that my parents married as teenagers, worked hard and built a great life, retired early and were young enough to enjoy their children’s maturation process into adulthood.
In 2014, much of that thinking has changed.
According to Mother Nature Network, mnn.com, studies have shown the average age of first parenthood is rising in the United States. One report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the average American woman’s age when she had her first baby rose from 21.4 years old in 1970 to 25.6 in 2011.
A separate 2012 CDC report found that today’s U.S. fathers are 25.1, on average, at the birth of their first child.
In Europe, people tend to delay parenthood even later. In the Netherlands, for example, the average first-time dad is 32, and the average first-time mom is 29.
There is also an increasing trend of not having children as well. The Los Angeles Times chronicles the percentage of married women ages 40 to 44 who had no biological children and no other kids in the household, such as adopted children or step kids, reached 6% in the period from 2006 to 2010. That’s a small but statistically significant jump since 1988, when only 4.5% of married women had no kids.
The increased numbers echo a wider trend over recent decades, as more American women have reached their 40s without bearing children. Federal statistics on older women suggest some found themselves unable to have children, while others chose not to have them. Some may still be planning to raise children later in life.
Couples might also shy away from becoming parents because it has become a more intense job. Parents now spend more time and money on their children than they did decades ago, studies from the Pew Research Center and the journal Demography show.
A Pew Research Center survey three years ago found that Americans rated love, lifelong commitment and companionship as more important reasons to wed than having children. Earlier Pew surveys found a shrinking percentage of adults who said children were very important to a successful marriage.
While the ages of first child bearing and the statistics that reflect childless couples by choice are increasing, there is a break through procedure for women that want children but are unable to conceive.
News.yahoo.com reports nine women in Sweden have successfully received transplanted wombs donated from relatives in an experimental procedure that has raised some ethical concerns. The women will soon try to become pregnant with their new wombs, the doctor in charge of the pioneering project has revealed.
The women were born without a uterus or had it removed because of cervical cancer. Most are in their 30s and are part of the first major experiment to test whether it’s possible to transplant wombs into women so they can give birth to their own children.
Life-saving transplants of organs such as hearts, livers and kidneys have been done for decades and doctors are increasingly transplanting hands, faces and other body parts to improve patients’ quality of life. Womb transplants — the first ones intended to be temporary, just to allow childbearing — push that frontier even farther and raise some new concerns.
The transplants have ignited hope among women unable to have children because they lost a uterus to cancer or were born without one. About one in girl in 4,500 is born with a syndrome, known as MRKH, where she doesn’t have a womb.
The technique used in Sweden, using live donors, is somewhat controversial. In Britain, doctors are also planning to perform uterus transplants, but will only use wombs from dying or dead people. That was also the case in Turkey. Last year, Turkish doctors announced their patient got pregnant but the pregnancy failed after two months.
The dailymail.co.uk also shares in a January 13, 2014 article, the first baby from a donor womb could be born next year after nine childless women received transplants.
The women, who were born without a womb or had it removed due to cancer, received organs donated by close relatives.
They will soon try to become pregnant through IVF in a pioneering trial in Sweden that gives hope to thousands of childless women in the UK.
The new wombs, taken from a mother or other living relative who has completed her family, will not only allow the women to experience the joys of pregnancy but will mean they have babies that are genetically their own.
Those whose mother was the donor will be using the womb that carried them for nine months to carry their baby.
The groundbreaking transplants bring hope to at least 15,000 British women of childbearing age. However, the method is controversial because it involves taking wombs from living donors. The Swedish team favors it because the organs are generally in better condition and a better immunological match.
A strong proponent of this miracle procedure is wombtransplantuk.org. Their mission statement reads, “Our mission is to further research into Womb Transplantation and to raise money for a clinical program which would fully fund women wishing to undergo the procedure. We believe that this group will grow once the clinical outcomes have been fully evaluated.”
There are many thousands of women in the UK who either do not have a viable womb or who have had their womb removed following cancer or another serious illness. Here are a few facts:
• One in every 5000 women in the UK is born without a womb.
• In 2007 alone there were 2,200 women aged between 15 and 44 who were born without a womb.
• In the 15 to 24 year old age group in the UK, around a thousand young women have hysterectomies every year.
• Hysterectomy is still a commonly performed procedure for the treatment of cervical cancer – many of these cancer victims have not completed their families when they have their wombs taken away.
While there are many ethical, religious, health and practical concerns regarding this break- through procedure, fortunately we live in a time period where the options for delayed child rearing, not having children or the ability to have children when you are initially physically unable to is increasing.
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Sources: www.mnn.com, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news.yahoo.com, www.dailymail.co.uk, www.wombtransplantuk.org, www.usatoday.com, motherboard.vice.com, www.psychologytoday.com, www.huffingtonpost.com, articles.latimes.com, photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons.