While I was interviewing single women in their thirties for my documentary Seeking Happily Ever After, the word “control” came up constantly. It popped up when women spoke of their schedules, career paths, and even love lives (admittedly to a fault sometimes). Hey, Janet Jackson’s song “Control” was practically an anthem for many of us. The one part of their lives these women could not control was their ticking biological clock—and they were not happy about it.
No matter how far we’ve come in reproductive technology, there’s still no getting around the fact that women’s fertility plummets after 35. It’s unfair, it even sucks, but it’s true. Some of the women I interviewed felt deep worry and even fear about the window shutting on them; many did not want to talk about it, much less acknowledge it. Too many put their hopes in egg freezing if they didn’t marry before age 35. What they didn’t know is that the procedure of freezing one’s eggs is meant for women in their 20s, when fertility is at its peak. Chances for a successful procedure after age 36 are slim.
While screening the film and giving talks around the country, my producer Kerry David and I were asked repeatedly: “So what am I supposed to do? I’m not ready for a baby now!” Or, “I always dreamed I’d get married first before having a baby. But what if I don’t find the right partner? Should I get pregnant on my own?” I hated these questions because I don’t have a comforting answer.
So I was interested to read Anna Jesus’s opinion letter “Pregnant in Medical School” in The New York Times on March 2, in which she talks about getting pregnant while being in medical school in her 20s. She hadn’t planned to have a baby until her career was established but was told by fertility experts that she had a condition that would make pregnancy particularly challenging if she waited, and increase the chances of chromosomal abnormalities in her future baby. So she and her husband went ahead and had a (healthy) baby. Jesus is candid about how balancing school with parenting has left her “close to smashing my head through a window”; but she also says the last several months have been some of the most fulfilling in her life. She is juggling dirty diapers, many thousands of dollars in school loans, and brutal nights of studying—but for her, it was the right decision.
No matter how far we’ve come in reproductive technology, there’s still no getting around the fact that women’s fertility plummets after 35. It’s unfair, it even sucks, but it’s true.
In an article of response, Jessica Grosse suggested in Slate’s XX Factor blog yesterday, that if having children is “very, very important” to women—adding, that it’s certainly not that important for a lot of women—maybe it’s best just to find a way to do it. She adds: “It might not be Baby Bjorn ad perfect, but it may relieve some infertility and career woes that a lot of women experience down the road.”
I agree with Grosse. I also think that, in general, women who are approaching their mid-thirties and truly do not feel ready emotionally should not push through it. Parenting is hard enough when you really want to do it. Yes, this can lead to regrets for those who can’t get pregnant later; but it can lead to regrets for women who have the baby and desperately wish they didn't. ACK, I wish I had the right formula to help make the call. What I do know is that women have to at least think through this issue before age 35 and ask themselves the tough questions. Because the deepest remorse, I truly believe, comes from a decision being yanked away because it was too scary to think about. It's far easier to find peace with our choices when we know that we explored the options with intention, and did the best that we could at that time.
I am a journalist, filmmaker, author, wife, and mom to an 8-year-old daughter. My most recent project is I Love Mondays: And other confessions from devoted working moms. Other projects explore raising only children, happily ever after, raising strong girls, and hot topics for Jewish women.
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