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.