Veronica Hendrix

*I don’t know if anyone caught the irony of two reports released last month about women and their fertility, but I did.

The Guttmacher Institute’s “U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions: National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity’ report says teen pregnancy rates are up 3% for the first time in more than a decade.

And what the report also found is that the gap that once existed between African American and Latina teens has closed with rates among black teens now at 126.3 per 1,000 pregnancies and rates among Latinas now at 126.3 per 1,000.The pregnancy rate among white teens is now 44.0 per 1,000. Guttmacher is a national think tank that has studied sexual and reproductive health for the past forty years.

The numbers are slowly trending up according to the report that aggregated 2006 data on young women between the ages of 15-19 years old. Whether or not this is a trend that will continue or just a fluctuation in time remains to be seen.

Then there was the fertility study published by the University of St. Andrews and Edinburgh University in Scotland. It found that by the time a woman reaches age 30, she has lost nearly 90 percent of her ovarian eggs. By age 40, fertility decreases even more dramatically with a woman having only 3 percent of her ovarian eggs left, according to the study which involved 325 women in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe. This is the first study that has measured the rate at which women lose their eggs as they get older.

It turns out that women are losing their eggs at a much faster rate that had previously been thought. So the biological clock is not only ticking, it is ticking faster and more furiously.

The juxtaposition of the two reports is a bitter irony. On the one hand being a teen mother is certainly something our culture does not advocate for a whole host of reasons. Teen mothers are not only more likely to delay, defer or discontinue their education; they often lack sufficient income and the maturity to raise a child. But the biggest concern is that they have an increased risk of giving birth to low weight babies which can lead to physical and developmental problems for their child. When do have children, the reality of being a parent with all its rights and responsibilities are grown up shoes they have to fill overnight, literally. It’s a daunting reality nonetheless. And most of them raise their children as unwed mothers with limited support and resources from the biological father.

On the other hand you have young women who delay or defer having children for a whole host of reasons as well. They have grown up in a culture where women’s goals and ambitions are lauded.  They have been told that endless possibilities await them and the expectation is that they pursue those possibilities. They have seen women play an integral role in every facet of life from the pastorate to politics and everything in between. So they decide to spend their twenty’s with educational pursuits with an eye focused on their career aspirations.  And if they keep their nose to the grind stone, they create success the good old fashion way – they earn it. But it comes with a hefty price at the end of the rainbow.  When these young women decide to have children, not only are they faced with difficulty in finding a husband – because most of them do want to get married  even though marriage rates are trending down nationally too – but their fertility has decreased significantly.

Women have changed, times have changed but nature has not and will not change. In fact is it has been unyielding. Fifty years ago women weren’t face with this quandary.   It wasn’t this all or nothing throw of the dice. But now it is.  And it’s a duplicitous duality that women face if not today, then some day, perhaps tomorrow. It’s ironic that those whose life path led them to nurture children early in their lives envy those who have chosen to nurture their careers. And those who have choose to nurture their careers often envy those who chose to nurture children in their fertile years.

It’s a double edge sword for women today. And no matter which way the blade swings, it still cuts. For some, deeper than others. (If you have comments about Veronica’s View, email them to [email protected].)