• Thu, Jun 21 2012

Help Young Women ‘Have It All’ By Being Frank About Fertility

New mothers in their 40s are a rapidly growing demographic in the United States. A wealth of fertility options does make this belated motherhood possible and I couldn’t even finish this sentence without including the rampant celeb mommy coverage of older mothers. But between all the headlines about Sarah Jessica Parker perhaps expanding her family at age 46 and pressures to swing by graduate school and be utterly successful by 30, it’s no surprise that many young women my age may have a skewed idea of their fertility prowess. Even among my own circle of educated, fairly accomplishment young women, misconceptions about when the baby shop closes pervade. One of my friends who has about five years on me was offended when her gynecologist, upon asking if she wanted children, urged her not to wait. To get on it ASAP as a 30-year-old newly married lady. She was floored that her own doctor was cautioning her about her biological clock. But considering that my friend does want children “one day,” that gynecologist was being a good gynecologist.

None of this is to suggest that babies are not possible over the age of 35, as we all know here in the mommy blogosphere that that’s simply not true. But the ease with which some of my peers assume that they’re going to get pregnant down the line concerns me. Knowing what I do about fertility — that being the basics — I would be getting pregnant next year if I knew for sure that I wanted to carry. Preferably around my 26th birthday. That way should I decide upon having more than one child, I would have about a 10 year cushion in which to expand my family. That being said, I’m most certain that I’d like to find my children through adoption.  And so unless I wake up at 34 and suddenly change my mind, my own personal fertility isn’t much of a concern to me.

Yet, in an effort to not veer into didactic 1950s territory of suggesting women marry straight out of high school, I should clarify that I’m not advocating that women marry or partner up young. Nor do I think young women need to be coaxed or herded into marriage with a cultural waiving of their withering uteruses. Rather, I look to my older feminist mentors and teachers to be frank with my fellow ladyfolk about our childbearing window. The feminist crux of choice should absolutely be respected in colleges and universities as girls in their late teens and 20s entertain thoughts of graduate school, PhD programs, and very demanding careers. But glossing over the birds and the bees isn’t doing us younger women any favors. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the older women who I’ve grown up admiring, both in print and in my personal acquaintance, it’s that regret for a family can weigh as heavily as a fumbled job interview.

Young women are more than capable of making their own decisions with regards to their respective paths, careers, family, and yes, “having it all” — whatever that means to them. Guilting younger generations into the maternity ward certainly won’t make for an empowered cohort. But cluing us in on the limitations of our bodies at an early stage absolutely will. With the important footnote that our childbearing years are not in fact endless, we can consider whether we actually would prefer a doctorate to that third baby or a high-powered job that might keep us from our partner for days on end. There’s no shame in prioritizing the demanding work of a family over a 60-hour-a-week power job. But we all know that there exists the possibility of regret.

(photo: Tinydevil/ Shutterstock)

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  • Katia

    Well I think not having a family might be even MORE regrettable than a fumbled job interview. Not just AS regrettable. But the science is there. So women can plan their lives if they want or just leave it open. Were feminists tryIng to advocate hiding that women have biological limits on childbearing years ? Did that happen ?

  • AM

    I’m also a young, childless feminist woman in my twenties. And you know what? I don’t think anyone has kept quiet to me about my biological clock. Does anyone else on here feel like they weren’t told over and over again about needing to have babies before the age of 30? I do not mean to be dismissive of the biological clock because it is a fact of life, I just think people are overestimating woman’s ignorance of their bodies’ limitations and underestimating that in order to have children certain things need to be lined up ahead of time.

    • Lindsay

      I’m 35, I have been asked when I’m having kids since I was in my early 20s by various family members. They really do eventually give up asking, but then I got married and my mom started buying baby clothes. Anyway, I was always taught that the cut-off is age 30, not age 30. Maybe my family is just weird because my mom had her youngest child when she was 41. But my husband’s mother also was 35 when she had her first child. It’s all well and good to say, “You better have a baby by the time you’re 28,” but if a woman doesn’t find a good spouse to have/raise that baby with in the first place, she most definitely will never “have it all” unless she’s wealthy enough to pay for a nanny, a chef, a house-cleaner and a personal assistant, because those are all the roles that a stay-at-home mom or dad will play. If you have a baby without a spouse, you have to do all that and work full time, too.

    • Lindsay

      I meant to type that I was taught the cut-off age is 40, not 30.

  • Katia

    I think the large number of articles may have to do with the fact that women also like to talk and write about their own feelings. Also it’s a real issue. you can’t be in 2 places at one time do how can you be both a star at work and home in your 20s? And how many dads want to be house husbands? Some are great but it’s way less than half. So how can we have what men have? And do men have it all ?

  • T.

    As a Childfree woman, I think that you can’t have it all. Period.
    I personally am searching for a doctor who would do me a tubal ligation, and for the life of me I can’t get one.

    You want kids? Go and get them. If you are in your 20, it is relatively easy.
    Thinking about business, every woman who make a kid in her 20 is likely one less competitor for me in the workforce :)

    Also, I agree with AM. I can assure you that I have been throughly illuminated about the drop in fertility after your 35.

  • CW

    We are actually much closer to freeing young women from the constraints of their biological clocks now then we were when I was in college in the late ’90′s. Today, young women can have their eggs frozen for use later on. It’s still experimental, but I hope by the time my daughters are in college that the technology will have advanced to the point where it’s something I can give them as a graduation gift. One of the reasons why I decided to drop pre-med in college is because I knew that I wanted to have a larger family and that I didn’t want to have my kids super-close together. Spending until age 30 or later in med school and residency would make that goal extremely difficult to achieve. But if I could’ve frozen my 22 y.o. eggs, that would’ve taken a lot of pressure off of me. Instead of feeling like I had to start my family in my 20′s, I could’ve spent those years pursuing further education and job training.

  • Eileen

    Ordinarily, I would say that women aren’t stupid and know that they shouldn’t expect to start having kids in their late thirties or forties. BUT then in the last couple of months:

    1) My boyfriend – an intelligent, educated 20-something man from a fairly well-off family – commented that my plan of trying to start having children between 28 and 30 involves too much planning, and I need to be more flexible. Now, I do need to be more flexible about some things, but being realistic about fertility is not one of them.

    2) My coworker – a young woman who definitely wants kids one day – was shocked when I mentioned, offhand, that while men continuously make new sperm, women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have.

    So there are still likely some fairly clueless women out there. But I think most women are familiar with the fact that if they want kids, they should try to do it by age 35. Even celebrities who have kids later talk about this simple biological fact, so I don’t see how they’re misleading anyone.

  • aliceblue

    I agree that no one should hide the true fact but it seems that all these “you better get knocked up early” articles ignore the fact that many women prefer to have kids with a husband Yes, there are women who want to be mothers no matter what & are willing to do the tough single mom job, but many other women 1. don’t want to do it alone (happily childfree no way would I do motherhood without back-up); 2. can’t afford to; 3. have religious reasons not to. One’s 20s might be the best time physically to have children but one has no control over when she finds a husbands/partner.

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  • Emily Hodges

    I am 29, and single and will not have children until I am married.. Please stop telling me the biological clock is a ticking time bomb. I realize this, but will not get married just so I can avoid the “what if” factor.. I am not that much older than you, and have realized in the past 3 years that I can plan out my life, and it probably will go the oppositie direction.. Articles like this make me so frustrated.. Why don’t you write for men’s blogs and tell them to start marrying women again.