The Perplexing Decision of Waiting to Have Children

A review of  The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock by Tanya Selvaratnam says the book has an important message but fears it will be lost on those who need to hear it most.

Fundamentally, Selvaratnam believes that Western, working women have gotten complacent about the possibilities of late childbirth. She herself waited until she was 37 before trying to conceive. After three miscarriages and an IVF attempt that was called off when it was discovered that she had cancer, she wants to remind younger women that it’s not always that easy.

While it seems reasonable to wait until you have found the perfect partner with whom to raise a child and the financial stability with which to do so, if all those things don’t happen until you are in your late thirties it may be much, much harder than you think to have a child of your own.

But this warning will probably fall on some deaf ears.Those who are still in their twenties may misinterpret the intent. They don’t want to hear about how fertility begins to drop off in the late twenties, and even more so in the thirties. They know someone who had a baby in their late thirties or even early forties, so why even think about all the people they know with fertility problems – or even consider there are many others who don’t divulge their secret pain?

The review suggests that young women should be learning about the potential decline in fertility when they are in high school during sex ed classes. Though they are even farther away from child-bearing years, it might be a good idea to plant the seed early that a woman’s fertile days are numbered. And they might be receptive since they are not in the midst of enjoying the life of a happily child-free, single, career woman. But I imagine that would not go over well and be looked at as premature pressure to forgo a career path and settle down.

When we are in an age in which a 23-year-old is considered to be living an “alernative lifestyle” for being married with two children, what chance do we have in warning young women not to wait too long? We will just get responses like this to a survey that said the ideal age to have children is 25:

Do you know what I was doing at 25? Dancing on bars after 4 too many shots of Jagermeister. Dating as many men as possible to figure out that guys who kick in your car door probably aren’t the marrying kind. Working my way to the top of the journalism food chain, first at FOX in Salt Lake City and later ABC in New York City, both of which involved 10-hour workdays. I was traveling. New York City, Mexico, London, Italy … you get the idea. I was grabbing myself a big ol’ handful of life whilst trying very hard not to create it, because that wouldn’t have been ideal. For me.

Of course every woman should do what she feels is best for her. But what is best? The best chances for a healthy baby are in the late teens or early twenties. But too many couples are not prepared for parenthood at that age. So is it best to wait? What should be the actual benchmarks? How much education, how many years in a career, how much money in the bank? It can make a woman’s head spin. 

In my book, if young women can’t see that the older women who are telling them not to wait could be themselves in a decade, they lose the best perspective on making this important decision.

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