I’ve always known I wanted children. When I was a little girl, I used to fantasize that someone would abandon an orphan on our doorstep. In my imagination, my mother would be too busy with work to care for the child, so he or she would become “mine.” This impulse never left me, and in my early twenties I’d often boast of my intention to have five children (likely to the dismay of my boyfriend at the time). Back then, of course, thirty still seemed old, and like most of my friends, I assumed I’d be married well before then.
It didn’t turn out that way, though. Now I, along with many others I know, have found myself in a difficult modern predicament. Do we keep waiting for love, hoping it’ll come into our lives before our biological clocks run out, or do we take matters into our own hands, prioritizing the baby before the man, whatever that may look like for us?
Though society tends to characterize childless, single women in their 30s as being either overly career-minded or, perhaps, fearful of commitment, there are any number of reasons why one might end up un-partnered but wanting children in what are considered to be critical years of fertility.
Here are just a few:
- You haven’t met the right person to start a family with yet. It’s no small matter to decide with whom to spend every day for the rest of your life, and a lot of what goes into finding that person within the ideal timeframe has to do with circumstances either beyond our control or reflective of our unique paths in life;
- You’ve fallen in love with someone who doesn’t want children, which occurs more often as you get older because many 35+ men already have children and therefore aren’t interested in starting a full-on second family;
- Your long-term relationship may have ended right at the point at which it was expected to transition into the marriage-and-kids stage;
- You might be involved in a same-sex relationship, or;
- You haven’t yet been ready, emotionally, financially, or for any of the other innumerable reasons. To understate things tremendously, having a baby is a big responsibility!
Whatever the reason, it’s heartbreakingly difficult to navigate this situation. My friends and I talk in circles about what to do next, with no clear answers presenting themselves. Some are choosing to freeze their eggs. Some are holding out for things to happen in the ‘natural’ progression. And some, like me, are frozen by the anxiety of it all. None of us want to audition baby daddies rather than date for love. None of us want to go it alone via IVF, but all of us want children very, very badly, and we realize that there’s no guarantee this will happen for us if it’s left to chance.
While I can’t give advice on what to do next if you, too, find yourself in this situation, I can provide you with some peace of mind as you try to reconcile the pressures of biology and society with your current reality.
I have a friend who, at 35, had chosen to freeze her eggs, much to the dismay of her practitioner. He told her that the age panic we all feel is a western construct, and that women have babies over the age of 35 quite naturally all over the world. He’s not wrong. Research increasingly shows that a lot of the fear-mongering the media is engaged in regarding a woman’s alleged need to have kids before reaching her mid-thirties is not backed by scientific data.
Here are a few actual facts to help those of you grappling with this issue to sleep better at night, knowing you may have more time than you think to find the path that’s right for you:
- The statistic that women over 35 have a 1 in 3 chance of getting pregnant after a year of trying comes from an analysis of French birth records collected between 1670 and 1830. Today, around 80% of women between the ages of 35-39 will get pregnant naturally within a year of trying. To put this in perspective, that number is only 85% for women under 35. – The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant
- Both natural conception and IVF studies show that number of normal embryos produced by women remained unchanged between the ages of 29 and 37 and rose only slightly thereafter until the age of 44. – The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant
- Similarly, in early genetic testing, 99% of fetuses are normal when a woman is 35. Ninety-seven percent are normal at age 40. – The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant
- A new study finds that women who begin having children (albeit naturally) after 33 have a better chance of living longer than those who had their last child before 30.
- Over half of fertility problems are due to male issues. – The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant
- According to the NYT, it’s the father’s age that’s responsible for birth defects, not the mother’s. Random genetic mutations that become more numerous with advancing paternal age may account for 30% of all autism cases, yet men are rarely made to fear their own biological clock!
- As of 2012, 15% of first-time mothers were over 35, and the number has only continued to rise in the years since. Births outside of marriage are also increasingly common, which means that if you do decide to go it alone, you’re not actually alone in doing so.
I hope this helps, at least in preventing you from making a major decision that will affect the rest of your life out of (mostly irrational) fear. Take a deep breath, stop blaming yourself for what’s outside of your control, and remember that you, like all those lucky moms who were able to do things on a socially acceptable and physiologically ideal timeline, deserve to have the things you want in life.
Do you feel pressured to have kids by a certain age? How do you handle that?
Images via Lily Glass