the fairy tale of fecundity


almost every single person with a uterus is told at one point or another to mind their biological clock. questioned if they’re worried about it told that they should be. some even state that their ticking is so loud neighbors can hear it.

while fertility and pregnancy certainly changes as ones age does, the focus on the health of the person carrying the pregnancy follows a long history of ascribed responsibility. ‘maternal impression’ was once used to explain birth defects and genetic disorders, attributing the actions or even the thoughts undertaken by the pregnant person to be ultimately responsible for the state of the baby. a notable example is joseph merrick, whose elephantitis was attributed to his mother having had an accident with an elephant while pregnant. despite having long been debunked, the notion of the pregnant person’s responsibility as an ideal incubator has not subsided, with strangers frequently feeling the need to give unsolicited advice.

collage by marina manoukian

collage by marina manoukian

as a result, there’s often the pressure of having a child before 35—the magic number of fertility—because after that you are a ‘high risk pregnancy’ by default. other choice descriptions are ‘geriatric pregnancy’ or ‘advanced maternal age’, despite the fact that most people will have menopause around the age of 50, generally suggesting fifteen more years of fecundity. people over 40 also have the second highest rates of unintended pregnancies, after teenagers aged 15-19, so why the mania about impending infertility? 

pregnant people over 35 “are often treated as if they are in need of the level of care necessary for any high-risk pregnancy; and they are treated differently even if there is no scientific basis for different treatment and there are no medical problems evident”. there are multiple studies and articles detailing potential threats and problems that might arise for 35+ pregnancies and while no pregnancy is without its concerns, age is often treated as a blanket issue. doctors might ask for additional tests and label them as high risk despite any other consideration for their overall health. some claim that hypertension and anxiety genuinely increase for pregnant people over the age of 35, but some studies show that simply being treated as ‘at risk’ tends itself to increase anxiety.

35 is claimed to be the age in which there is a steep drop off in fertility and as a result people are encouraged to get pregnant sooner rather than later. a frequently cited statistic is that less than 30% of people aged 35-39 have a chance of conceiving. “Rarely mentioned is the source of the data: French birth records from 1670 to 1830”.

none of this is to say that as one gets older complications may not arise and that there aren't any difficulties in getting pregnant. a study done in the more contemporary 2004 showed that in people aged 27-34, the chance of conception in the first year is 86%, while among people aged 35-39 the number drops to 82%.

it is only recently that the health impacts of older sperm are being discussed, and lo and behold, "our research suggests that men, too, have a biological time clock," said Brenda Eskenazi.

of course they also have a biological clock. they’re also made of biology.

collage by marina manoukian

collage by marina manoukian

the temporal viability of eggs is rarely set against that of sperm. a person is born with a set number of eggs that gradually decrease as they drip out month by month. but sperms are not set. they regenerate and copy themselves, and as more and more copies are made throughout a lifetime more and more changes will arise in the copies. “after puberty men continuously produce new sperm. mutations can occur and accumulate in the DNA of sperm-forming cells, and environmental exposures can change the genes in sperm themselves”. such mutations may be neither intrinsically good nor bad but their influence exists.

often there are also claims about the increased likelihood of spontaneous abortions (also known as miscarriages) in cases of pregnancies over 35. the chance of a spontaneous abortion is typically attributed to the pregnant person, despite the fact that the age of the impregnating person has been shown to increase the risk of spontaneous abortion, independent of other factors including the age of the pregnant person.

this is neither to advocate nor disparage pregnancy at any age but to underline the arbitrary locations of where we believe fertility and viability lie. a pregnant person over 35 is repeatedly made aware of the risks, but plenty of people impregnate others well into their 60s and no one asks them if they’re worried about their geriatric state and the impact it might have on the child. despite having first been described in 1912 the paternal age effect rarely finds a mention in parenting magazines or websites.

often, having a child later in life leads to generally positive outcomes. a 2016 study from denmark finds that being an older parent is “associated with less frequent use of verbal and physical sanctions towards children”, while a study from sweden in the same years found that “fertility postponement even up to maternal ages above 40 is associated with positive long‐term outcomes for children”. not to mention that a person who bears a their last child later in life (past the age of 33) has two times the odds of living up to the top 5th percentile than those who bear a child before the age of 29.

[[funnily enough, while giving birth can increase telomere length (which is one of the factors associated with aging) leading to longevity, castration has also been shown to lead to a longer life expectancy/life span]]

on the other side of this, while people should have children at whatever age they wish, people should also be able to disregard the act of being pregnant altogether. in scotland, a 22 year old is currently petitioning the NHS to change their guidelines in order to have a hysterectomy due to her debilitating pain, persistent bleeding, and needing to take iron supplements as a result. her initial request was denied primarily due to the fact that she doesn’t yet have children as well as her ‘young age’, as NHS stipulations say that a person must be at least 35.

that magic 18th century number of fertility.

collage by marina manoukian

collage by marina manoukian

The depiction of women as prepregnant might seem at least unduly one-sided when an ethic of anticipatory motherhood is at work in reproductive policy strategies without a concurrent ethic of anticipatory fatherhood, especially given the fact that most men also become fathers”. examples of the lop-sided obsession with fertility are innumerable. in United Automobile Workers v. Johnson Controls, Inc. the company sought to exclude fertile people with uteruses because of the risk of lead toxicity, a seemingly noble endeavour, while fertile people without uteruses were happily welcomed onto the payroll. the CDC has put out guidelines for those who might be pre-pregnant ranging from not owning cats to taking folic acid because “you may not be ready to have a baby, but your body’s been preparing for years…”.

the notion of a biological clock implies a debt owed to biology that we can’t ignore for the sake of our own desires. that the well-being of future generations should always be prioritized and it is the responsibility of all fertile parties to protect and fortify their fertility.

but if this imperative is truly a biological imperative than every fertile person should be equally subjected to its scrutiny.

and they’re not. because it’s not.

and as always, such advocates of biological imperatives freely pick and choose what biology they wish to impose, participating in their own form of shitty kleptogenesis.


marina manoukian is a reader and writer and collage artist. she currently resides in berlin while she studies and works. she likes honey and she loves bees. you can find more of her words and images at or twitter/instagram at @crimeiscommon.