did the pill create a fertility crisis?

“Fifty years ago the pill ushered in a new era of sexual freedom. It might have created a fertility crisis as well,” blares the new issue of New York Magazine.

The cover features an attractive young white woman with a pill — presumably The Pill — perched on her extended plaque-free tongue.

Having been on the pill for five years before trying to conceive, I picked up the issue trepidation. The last thing I wanted was a puff piece proclaiming that I’d made all the wrong decisions about contraception in my 20s.

A quick read proved that, according to the author, the “fertility crisis” is not caused by the pill per se – that is, the pill doesn’t ravage your reproductive system as the title suggests — but by women who are using the pill to put off childbearing till a later age.

Um, so more women are using the pill to postpone childbearing? It’s harder to get pregnant when you’re approaching 40?

So what will be the topic of New York Magazine’s next feature? “Puppies Are Cute?”

To be fair, there’s some subtly here. The author makes — actually more like belabors — the point that because the pill masks the nuances of women’s cycles, pill users can miss signs of abnormalities such as light periods or frequent missed periods.

And in fact, that’s exactly what happened to me. After experiencing fairly regular periods for my adolescence and early 20s, I came off the pill and realize that I wasn’t having cycles at all.

But here’s the thing: even if I had known the outcome, I doubt I would’ve chosen to have a child in my 20s. In most ways, I think, it was the right decision. The conditions of my life – in terms of money, jobs, travel adventures and relationships – are better for having postponed kids.

And that’s something the article refers to but doesn’t fully address: the contradictory social conditions that shape human behavior around childbearing.

Nearly everywhere in the world, higher maternal age at birth of first child correlates with better conditions for women overall. And women who have a lot of kids at a young age tend to be poorer, less literate, and so on.

So whereas in western countries we have hysteria about the “advanced age” of (mostly wealthier and white) mothers-in-waiting, in places like Gaza, India, and even in poor enclaves in the west, we have hysteria about the high fertility rates of (mostly poor and of color) mothers.

This is beyond the scope of the New York Magazine article, which ends with anxious musings on a future in which young people routinely freeze their gametes for use at a later date.

But rather than wring our hands over what constitutes excessive use of technology, we could focus on something more basic and meaningful: expanding everyone’s access to a spectrum of services – from assisted reproduction to contraception and abortion to public school sex education that includes thorough discussions on different types of contraception, infertility and menopause.

 

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One Response to “did the pill create a fertility crisis?”

  1. I think you make very good points. There’s a lot of pressure from society _not_ to get pregnant until you’re in your mid-twenties at least, happily married, well educated, etc. And then suddenly it all reverses.
    Plus, for those of us with issues that are most-likely age unrelated, the pill can be helpful. It kept my endo at bay for years, who knows what would have happened to my fertility if I hadn’t taken it…

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