Women are constantly being reminded that their biological clocks are ticking.
Aunts, moms, and friends are known for shouting out irritating lines like, “Do it while you can—before you go gray!” and “Isn’t it time you start thinking about babies?”
But the pressure to get pregnant young doesn’t only come from aunts who want a cuddly baby to hold. Researchers have found again and again that younger women have fewer complications during pregnancy and healthier babies.
After age 35, things all start to go downhill. A woman’s fertility plummets, her eggs dry up, and her risk of preterm labor, miscarriage, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and hypertension goes up with every year that passes. What’s more, after 35 the risk of having a child with Down syndrome increases. all of these increased risks send women into a tailspin to figure out how to get pregnant before the time bomb goes off at age 40.
The age of the mother has long been considered the most important factor in determining the odds of a child having developmental problems, according to The NY Times—so much that any women who gets pregnant after age 35 often feels tremendous amounts of guilt and worry. and women often find themselves scheduling their lives around getting pregnant before 40.
But the tables are suddenly turning after a study found that children of older dads are at an increased risk for autism and schizophrenia. and the real kicker here is that children of older moms are not at an increased risk.
The Times reports:
The risk of chromosomal abnormalities, like Down syndrome, increases for older mothers, but when it comes to some complex developmental and psychiatric problems, the lion’s share of the genetic risk originates in the sperm, not the egg, the study found.
The study published in Nature concluded that older men pass more gene mutations down to their children than a younger father because the rate of mutations increases with age. What’s more, mutations occur more frequently in men than women because sperm have to divide multiple more times than eggs.
This is only one study and further research needs to be done, but reactions to the findings have been strong and abundant. the New York Times article attracted over 500 comments, and ne reader wrote in, “I don’t think I have seen an article spur so many comments as this one.”
Why all the passionate interest in the study? Many people wrote in to criticize the study and point out that the study sample of 98 families was too small, and the anti-vaccine groups also stepped in to make their case that vaccines are the “real” culprit.
Interestingly, several older soon-to-be dads wrote in to share their concern about the fate of their future child. one commented: “I’m about to have panic attack.” (The odds of an older man fathering an autistic child are still low–although the study authors do suggest that younger men freeze their sperm.)
But the most surprising emotion came from women who guiltily expressed relief that for once they weren’t the ones “responsible” for their children’s problems.
Farnaz of Orange County, Calif., wrote in:
For once the finger is pointed at ‘fathers’ vs. ‘mothers’. I hate to admit that this is refreshing, but it is!
When this study hit online news sites and started circulating around the Internet universe it was as if women were breathing a huge sigh of relief. one mom friend of mine sent out the article and included a simple message:
Letting mom’s off the hook for something!
Of course, this study isn’t about moms and their twisted relationship with guilt or about pointing fingers at dads. It’s about the hundreds of thousands of children who are affected by autism and schizophrenia and researchers’ tireless efforts to figure out what’s at the root of these developmental problems. that said, the reactions to the study results are fascinating and can’t go unnoticed and they do say something about our society: Women are tired of always being the ones at fault.
What’s more, there’s something deeply satisfying about imagining a man looking at his calendar and realizing that he needs to put off climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and starting his own tech company so he can have a baby.