When I turned 30 in March of 2011, I felt good. I didn’t feel “old” or “past my prime.” In fact, I thought to associate those two phrases with 30 was ridiculous. While I had enjoyed my 20’s, they were marked by the typical trappings of the young adult. In my 20’s I was poor, I didn’t have a steady job, I was a student, I lived in a tiny apartment, I lived with my parents, I drank too much, I didn’t exercise regularly, I stayed up too late and the list goes on and on. I enjoyed myself, but that word “myself” was a key factor in my 20’s. I was very focused on me and that made me pretty self centered. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad way to be when you are 20. You need to be self centered so you can figure out what the hell you’re doing with yourself, which is exactly what I did.
By the time my 30th birthday rolled around, I had a career, I had a house, I was on my way to having a husband and overall, I felt like I was in a good spot. This was also around the time that I started thinking more seriously about a family. I felt like I had done what responsible people do. I had gotten all my ducks in a row before thinking about bringing another life into my world. My husband and I talked about it, we set a timeline and I still felt good.
Then yesterday I was listening to NPR on my way home from class and here comes Fresh Air where Terry Gross interviewing Judith Shulevitz, author of a recent article in The New Republic entitled “How Older Parenthood Will Upend Society.” Shulevitz is the science editor at The New Republic and had her first child at the age of 37. I listened to the interview. I read the article. I had a mild panic attack.
Now, before I go much further, I would like to make a few disclaimers. One, I think Shulevitz raises some interesting points, but I don’t agree with all of them. Two, I’m not a scientist, so this post is just me and my own neurosis. And three, I am not disparaging young parents, middle aged parents or older parents. I have respect for all parents, regardless of age.
I think the first reason this topic hit me so hard, was when I was listening to Shulevitz describe these “older parents,” I realized she was describing me. For instance, when she writes in her article, “A college-educated woman had a better than one-in-three chance of having her first child at 30 or older,” I thought, yep, that’s me. And later when she observes:
A REMARKABLE FEATURE of the new older parenting is how happy women seem to be about it. It’s considered a feminist triumph, in part because it’s the product of feminist breakthroughs: birth control, which gives women the power to pace their own fertility, and access to good jobs, which gives them reason to delay it. Women simply assume that having a serious career means having children later and that failing to follow that schedule condemns them to a lifetime of reduced opportunity—and they’re not wrong about that. So each time an age limit is breached or a new ART procedure is announced, it’s met with celebration. Once again, technology has given us the chance to lead our lives in the proper sequence: education, then work, then financial stability, then children.
This also pretty much describes me. I don’t like the fact that we still live in a society that claims to be “equal” in terms of how they treat women and men in the workforce, when it is clear in the way most professions are structured, that they are not friendly to women who want to work and have children. Whether women “assume this” or it is just their reality, still has the end result that Shulevitz discusses in her article. Not only are professions not suited to having young children, institutions that women attend on the journey toward those professions are not child friendly. I think about my own graduate program that I attended at a large university in Texas. The on site childcare was hardly reliable or high quality and bringing a child to class was simply not an option. To paraphrase Shulevitz, you’re not going to show up to a class in law school with a baby carrier.
I’m not going to lie. This is where I start to get angry. I spent all this time working on myself, going to school, finding a profession I enjoyed and was good at, landed myself a job and now you’re telling me that I would have been better off having children and doing all those things? I am oversimplifying and my anger is not directed at Shulevitz, but rather a society that in my mind, has made it damn near impossible to do these things at the same time. In other words, it is terrifying and frustrating to me that all this time I thought I was being responsible and that in fact, it may just turn around and bite me.
This is where I take a breath.
A few important things I need keep in mind. I am still a few years away from Advanced Maternal Age (AMA). Charming term, isn’t it? And this is just one article and one point of view, but it definitely makes you think. Also, it is important to mention that this isn’t all about women. Men of world? Read the article. It will give you a lot to think about too.
All of this being said, I’m still confident in the choices I’ve made. I would not have made a good mother in my 20s. I was afraid to hold an infant, let alone birth one and raise one and so forth. I was not stable and maybe most importantly, I was not ready. And I know you can never truly be ready, but when the time finally comes, I want it be celebratory and exciting and joyous.
And probably what is most important? Is that I still believe it will be.