Roughly one in four teen girls become pregnant at least once by age 20 and fully half of all pregnancies in the United States are reported by women themselves as unplanned. Not too good.

By posting some intemperate thoughts about sex, love, relationships, pregnancy, childbearing, the media, public policy, our dogs, and other topics, we hope to spark a two-way discussion about how best to bring down the high rates of teen and unplanned pregnancy in this country. And who knows…from time to time, we might even offer up a few cogent thoughts that will be helpful.

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20-Somethings, Popular Culture, Relationships, Unplanned Pregnancy
September 15, 2014

Alarm Clock

“Your biological clock is ticking.”

How many childless women in their late 20s and early 30s have heard someone (or several someones) say that to them? As if they don’t know it (or want to hear unsolicited commentary about their ovaries in the first place).

Some of these women don't want to have children. But some want to have a baby...just not until the time is right. That could mean getting married first or finding the right partner, finishing their education, or securing a good job. To accomplish those goals, they can use long-acting methods of birth control such as the implant or the IUD that are more effective than what was available to their mothers.

But even as they plow into their jobs, relationships, and marriages, there remain, for some, lingering doubts about postponing childbearing. Some know that as a woman moves through her 20s and 30s, her body produces fewer eggs. What if they wait too long and by the time they’re ready to be mothers, their body’s reproductive system has shut down? They may even have read that (according to some scientists) by the time a woman is 35, 95% of her eggs are gone.

This suggests that some “oops babies” (those babies that were not planned) are not always an accident. Some women, and perhaps their partners, believe it’s better to have a baby while you can—even if you’re not ready financially, emotionally, or partner-wise—than not be able to have one at all.

An article by Carl Djerassi in the September 25thNew York Review of Books speaks to an interesting alternative for women who can afford it. 

Djerassi, an emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford who helped develop the birth control pill, writes that women in their 20s and early 30s can harvest and freeze their young eggs. “Then, when they decide they want children later in their careers, they will have the option to conceive using these eggs—which could be fertilized by the sperm of their partners at this later stage in their lives, or from a sperm bank.”

Women have been able to store already fertilized eggs for some years now. This more radical procedure, which surfaced in some news accounts a couple of years ago, allows a woman to store and freeze unfertilized eggs and then, when she is ready to have a baby, fertilize the eggs with an injection of sperm. Costs of this procedure are high at first, Djerassi says, and well-off women may be the only ones who can afford it right now.

Some people may worry that this latest procedure will encourage women to fly solo as mothers, particularly if costs for the process decline. They may wonder, what will happen to the traditional family unit? They need not be concerned.

Yes, some women may prefer being single moms. But we know from longstanding research that most young women want someday to be married or in a stable relationship. They also hope to have children after they have found someone with whom they can share the joys and responsibilities of raising those children. Being able to store their eggs for the future buys them a bit more time to find the right partner for themselves and father for their (future) children.

And that, in the long run, is good not only for the individual couple, but for the rest of us.

(Djerassi’s autobiography, In Retrospect: From the Pill to the Pen, will be published in November).

Authored by: Laura Sessions Stepp

Laura Sessions Stepp is a senior media fellow at The National Campaign and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Prior to her arrival at the Campaign, she worked as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post for 26 years. Most of her writing has focused on millennials from the time they started school until the present. She contributes columns to and The Huffington Post and has written two books published by Riverhead/Penguin: Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children Through Early Adolescence and Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both. Laura has twice been a visiting scholar at the Board on Children, Youth and Families, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. She is married and has three grown children.

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