Last month, British Fertility Society Professor Adam Balen told Newstalk Breakfast that contraception should come with ‘don’t leave it too late’ messaging around getting pregnant. Since his comments were published, we've had DMs and Whatsapps from our community panicking about his warnings. Now, the new president at one of Cambridge University’s last single-sex colleges has announced the introduction of fertility seminars - but just for its female students. Two clickbait headlines around fertility, two troublesome viewpoints. Here’s why we’re so frustrated…
Both perspectives are incredibly unhelpful in encouraging and empowering people who may wish to get pregnant at some point in their life to engage with their fertility.
Let's start with Professor Balen's comment:
‘With cigarettes, you have health warnings about the adverse effects of smoking. You could have that on contraception, whether it’s a pack of condoms you get from the pub or the contraceptive pill.’
Smoking is a lifestyle choice, reproductive control is a human right - and its sole purpose isn’t always birth control. There is no one size fits all with the contraceptive pill. Not every person takes the pill to delay an eventual pregnancy. In our recent survey of over 1000+ people, nearly 70% of pill users have taken it for other reasons including managing heavy, painful or irregular menstrual bleeding, PCOS or acne.
Over to Murray Edwards College President Dorothy Byrne’s comment that it’s become “almost forbidden” to ask women about their plans for children:
“Young women are being taught that they all have to do well in school, get a degree, be successful in their career, and be beautiful. The thing that is getting lost along the way is that you forget to have a baby, which I nearly did.”
Here we go again: not all people with uteruses can, or wish to, get pregnant. Beyond that, introducing fertility classes alongside classes for the foundations of these students’ careers just reinforces the prevailing and damaging idea that women’s defining career milestone will be exiting the workforce to have a baby. Given that 77% of working pregnant or new mothers are discriminated against in the workforce, it’s not a positive situation.
As for students who are currently/or become pregnant during their studies? According to campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, they’re unable to receive the protected provisions of flexible working, maternity leave and nursing facilities of working mothers, and are being forced out of education as result. Byrne’s statement actually excludes those who didn’t ‘get lost along the way’.
Finally, both parties fail to acknowledge that getting pregnant isn’t a solo situation (unless you’re a Komodo dragon). Placing the fertility and pregnancy conversation purely on women is just another version of sending the boys to watch a video in the other room when it’s time for the ‘period talk’ at school. Reproduction and fertility should be on the curriculum for everyone. NB: Cambridge University hasn’t yet announced the rollout of these classes to students with penises, too.
What Needs To Change
- We don’t need scary headlines about ‘plummeting’ fertility.
- We don’t need declining fertility graphs on condom packets, or stickers on pill packets.
- We don’t need presumptions about people’s fertility and reproductive health.
- We don’t need antiquated gendered takes on family planning as we're starting our careers.
- We do need better, holistic sex education in school that sets us up to make informed choices about our lives.
- We do need better parental benefits and support from employers, so that people have a feasible choice to have children earlier in life.
- We do need honest, open and non-sensationalist conversation about the realities of the fertility journey.
No more clickbait. No more 'empowering' missteps. Who's with us?