At the beach with my family recently, I got a rare lone moment with my mother. For a vacation, the week had been chaotic. Both my boyfriend and I had to work through the trip, and “relax” had ended up to be more of a line-item on our to do lists than a state of being. Add to that ten family members with differing vacation agendas (bike rides! fireworks! beach!), one of whom was a toddler, and my mom and I had hardly hardly had a moment just the two of us.
Then at last, I got some time…even if it was only as we drove to pick up ingredients for fish tacos. In the car we talked about her business, my recent move to LA, and my relationship, which is very happy and now a year old. And then from her camp, this interjection:
“You know, sweetie, you really should think about having kids. You only have a few more years.”
Oh, really? Thanks, mom. I’m 31, but I must have forgotten. Also while my boyfriend and I openly plan to tie the knot, we’re not even married yet.
But here’s the rub: she has a point.
Putting aside her well-intentioned but nonetheless imploring grandbaby eyes, I do need to actually think about it. Because, in order to consider your choices, you need to have the facts. And the facts are, up to this point, something I have never looked at – have even actively ignored.
My choice to ignore these risks stems from two places. The first of which is the obvious, healthy reason: Why worry about something that I can’t affect? Just because it was biologically ideal for me to have a child at 27 doesn’t mean that I was in any position to be pregnant then. The second reason, however, is more insidious. I didn’t want to talk or think about biological clocks because there was a part of me, that didn’t want to be judged for worrying about it by others or by myself.
I realize, with some chagrin, that this is the same part of me that might judge a stay-at-home mother, or a girlfriend who gives up her job to follow her boyfriend to another city. In fact, there is a distinct part of what I might perceive as a feminist independence inside myself, that perhaps isn’t feminist at all, but is instead a self-conscious choice to ignore a sensitive subject because I don’t want to face its stigmas.
But it’s time to face facts now, because it’s true: I’ve always thought I wanted a child, two probably. “But later,” I would joke, “when I can afford a nanny.” And while, yes, having a baby when you’re not ready for it is a terrible, terrible idea, the reality of parenthood for most people is not full-time help.
So, maybe there’s a third reason for my baby blinders. Looking at the facts means facing what it takes to be a parent, not in a fantasy tomorrow, but within a range of today.
At 31, I find myself in what feels like one of the most professionally important times of my life. In fact, I’m only beginning to be able even to think about adding wedding planning to my mix, much less wee tiny ones. And wee tiny ones are a lot more work than picking tablescapes. Being a parent requires you to put your children’s needs first, for decades. So, how do I feel about the idea that in two years I could be not traveling to Europe, or taking a job that I don’t want because my child needs private preschool? Pretty scared.
And the thing is, for woman it’s twofold, still. Beyond the fact that I have to carry it and breastfeed it, Gail Collins, said that “the biggest challenge facing my generation of American women is the work-family balance”. Ann-Marie Slaughter quit her dream job because “women still can’t have it all.” Even with a rad husband who’s totally game for kids, until society has things like paternity leave, flexible work hours for parents and mandated workplace childcare, the baby weight (pun intended, thanks) risks falling on me.
When I told my mother that I was writing this piece, she told me that having me was the best experience of her life. (Aww, momz.) And I don’t doubt it. Only, I wonder, is there perhaps something better? Someday, a day that is now sooner rather than later, my partner and I will have to weigh the risks and make up our minds.
Am I so old, already?
Image by flequi.
Reproductive facts from Web MD and The Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters.
Alison Steedman is the editor at Dating & Hookup. She lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their histrionic cat, Charles Dickens, where she still carries on a nostalgic and long-distance love affair with her 20's in Brooklyn, NY. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @yosteedman, and you can also send her your writing at [email protected], both of which make her very happy.
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