UAE: Here's why 25% of couples choose to postpone parenthood after marriage

Expats say need for two salaries, financial security, and lack of family support lead to delays


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Wed 21 Feb 2024, 1:15 PM

Last updated: Thu 22 Feb 2024, 11:08 AM

One in four couples puts off having children after marriage, UAE doctors have said. While the country has traditionally had larger families, societal shifts, economic pressures, and changing lifestyle preferences have contributed to a decline in fertility rates and a tendency towards delayed childbearing.

“One in four couples decide to put off having children in order to concentrate on developing their professions or obtaining financial security," Dr Amal Hassan Abddelaziz, head of obstetrics and gynaecology, Thumbay University Hospital, Ajman said.

Dr Amal Hassan
Dr Amal Hassan

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As per the Reproductive Health journal, a notable change occurred in fertility rates across all GCC countries, including the UAE, from 1990 to 2009. The study further shows that the UAE's total fertility rate (TFR), factoring in the expatriate population, dropped significantly from 4.5 children per woman in 1990 to 1.4 in 2019.

The article titled, ‘Gender roles perceptions and ideal number of children…’ also revealed social attitudes, beliefs, and values are identified as significant factors influencing desired fertility.

Medics stressed the average age of first-time mothers has been growing over the past 10 years. “Statistics show that, by 2020, the average age rose to around 30 years old, from about 26 in 2010,” she added.

Fertility issues

Doctors explained late pregnancy poses a significant challenge due to declining fertility. A woman's fertility peaks in her early to mid-20s and starts declining in her late 20s, with this decline accelerating after 35, and significantly dropping after 40, increasing the risk of miscarriage and birth defects.

Dr Hoda Soliman, Consultant Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Al Zahra Hospital Dubai, said, “This trend of delayed parenthood has been prevalent for the last few years. According to recent figures, pregnancy after the age of 35 and even 40 years has considerably increased. It is now common to start a family a bit later in life. Previously, having children in their thirties was considered late but nowadays we are seeing an increasing number of pregnant ladies in their forties.”

Having said that, delaying pregnancy doesn’t come without complications, especially in women over 35-40 years old.”

Dr Hoda Soliman
Dr Hoda Soliman

Assessing risks

Doctors stressed risks may include an increase in the medical conditions during pregnancy like having gestational diabetes, hypertension and increased caesarian section rates.

Soliman added, “It may also increase the chances of chromosomal abnormalities in babies like Down syndrome.”

Dr Lobna Sallam, Obstetrics and Gynaecology (Women care) in Prime Hospital Nad Al Hamar said, “Unfortunately, not all couples end up having children in the future. So, my advice for any couple who wishes to delay the decision of having kids is to possibly seek medical advice before marriage and go for counselling to weigh the pros and cons and then choose the best medical option.”

To understand the reasons and the imminent problems revolving around this, Khaleej Times reached out to a few expatriate couples who had postponed parenthood.

Sarah and Ahmed (surnames withheld as privacy request) are a Jordanian couple in their mid-30s. Sarah is a real estate consultant, while Ahmed is an architect. They narrate their demanding careers consumed much of their time and energy, leaving little room to contemplate parenthood.

“The pressures of our work led us to delay starting a family. While Ahmed struggles with design deadlines, site inspections, and client presentations, I'm engrossed in client meetings and property viewings all the time. So, we rarely get time to stop and consider our lives beyond work,” said Sarah.

Lack of childcare assistance

She explained the couple doesn’t have the support of their extended family to help with childcare because they are expats living in Dubai. “We would be completely responsible for juggling our busy work with the obligations of having a child if there were no grandparents or other family members around to help. There is a further degree of anxiety when we consider managing motherhood without the support system we would have at home."

However, the postponement has led them to face various difficulties, including issues related to infertility. “Months went by with no progress, despite our best efforts and optimism, which left us disappointed, and we began to have second thoughts. The sense of urgency only got stronger, and our aspirations of becoming parents were clouded by the resulting worry and uncertainty.”

Sarah and her husband then started looking at several different methods to increase her chances of getting pregnant before deciding to have medical assistance. “I started going to acupuncture treatments in the hope that it might help me become pregnant by rebalancing the energy flow in my body. Ahmed, on the other hand, committed to a strict workout regimen and a healthy diet since he thought that physical health would be important.”

Now the couple is trying to redefine traditional timelines by adopting a more deliberate approach to starting a family. “We are exploring various fertility options at Thumbay University Hospital, including assisted reproductive technologies like IVF and egg freezing,” added Sarah.

Exorbitant costs

Similarly, Anil and Priya Menon (name changed to protect privacy), who had an arranged marriage, wanted to strengthen their relationship before entering parenthood.

But little did they realise that their delayed decision to start a family would lead to several complications. “When we were younger, my husband and I always thought that ‘age is just a number’. Both of us were busy working. I had odd shifts at work and my husband also worked late hours. But when we realised that I am not conceiving naturally, my colleagues suggested that I try alternative forms of medicine.”

Time passed, and Priya continued investing money in various treatments. It was during this period that her husband learned about a renowned IVF specialist in the UAE.

“This meant the start of a new cycle of allopathic treatment, involving medication, injections, egg extraction, and embryo transfer — a prolonged process that concluded with an unsuccessful IVF cycle.”

Undeterred, the couple embarked on a second cycle, which, fortunately, proved successful. “We were overjoyed. However, during the entire journey, we incurred expenses exceeding Dh100,000, and these costs are not covered by insurance. But we have nothing to complain about as, today, we are the parents of a lovely little girl.”


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