I’m one of those women who always knew that I wanted to have kids, which, I suppose, is fairly common of somebody born in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Through my twenties I met American women my age who said that they either didn’t want kids or plan to have them in their early forties. That didn’t seem like much of a plan, so I assumed that they don’t want to give their game away.
Then there is the unnerving phenomena of dithering would-be-mothers. Am I ready? Am I not ready? And I’m probably not ready yet, but I’ll know when I’m ready. Elle columnist Corrie Pikul doesn’t know if she’s ready. At 35, she’s not sure if she wants to:
Until recently, babies weren’t my priority: I had to find a career, a partner, myself. I’d deal with the motherhood question later. Now I’m 35 and married. “Later” has arrived — and I’m still solidly, intractably ambivalent. My husband, also undecided, looks to me for guidance and motivation. I figured the issue would somehow resolve itself: Like Alyson Hannigan’s character on How I Met Your Mother, I’d grab my husband one day and half sexily, half scarily demand that he “put a baby in me!” Or, after many heartfelt, wine-soaked conversations, we’d decide we were too selfish/broke/inept to have children of our own, and toast to a future of aunt- and unclehood. Instead, now that I’ve entered the five-year period when fertility experts strongly urge women to get busy, the indecision is agonizing.
Ms. Pikul is agonizing over wrong things. I can assure her that she’s not going to be a perfect mother, but imperfection doesn’t stop us breeders. If she and her husband put their mind to it, they can swing it financially, I can assure her of that too. If she’s afraid that parenting will change her life forever, again, no need to worry because it will. She can’t figure out what motherhood will be like from observing other mothers, because her body and her mind will change through pregnancies and post-partum. It’s biology. It’s also an experience she has to live through to understand.
Trying to figure out how many more years of fertility she might or might not have is an exercise in futility because she can’t know for sure until it’s too late. Likewise trying to figure out whether or not it’s her biological clock that she hears ticking is a waste of precious time. She might sort out her emotions — eventually. When it’s adoption time. Perhaps the fact of her dithering in and of itself should tell her something. Then again, Ms. Pikul’s occupation requires her to dwell on things, and so she dwells on her indecisiveness for our entertainment.
What Pikul needs to consider is where she wants to be five years from now when she’s forty. Or fifteen years from now when she’s celebrating her 50th Birthday. What about her old age? She might want to interview childless post-menopausal women and see what they have to say. One of my former co-workers once opened up and said that she regrets her childlessness. I hear it’s a pretty common sentiment.
Not that childlessness is always wrong. If you are Condolizza Rice, it’s probably worth it, but most childless women will not end up Secretaries of State. In any event, absence of a progeny is not a prerequisite for the job. If a dithering 35-year-old still wants to party — well, that’s an entirely different matter, but as many mothers, I’m sure, will testify, care-free life is much less satisfying than a normal human life cycle. Considering that youth will slip away regardless, is our indecisive would-be mother looking forward to middle age?
My mother-in-law had six kids. Each Christmas her house fills with laughter of her many grandchildren. I envy her because I know that unless my children will turn Orthodox (unlikely), I’m not going to have old age like hers. As a matter of fact, the way people breed now I’d be lucky to have any grandchildren at all.
Le Nain Brothers, A Vist to Grandmother, 1640s.
I don’t like the culture of not breeding, and I find graying societies are joyless. I also don’t understand why any woman needs to take 35 years to find herself, as Ms. Pikul claims to have done. If she thinks that she had to figure out who she is, well, maybe she did, and maybe she didn’t, but once she has a baby, all her self-discovery might just go out of the window. Also, what’s the value of her self-discovery, if it doesn’t deal with most important question in life: Do I want to have children? I find it peculiar that the question didn’t come up when Pikul was getting married. And what is self-discovery if not a search for purpose in life, a void traditionally filled by children. All that money she gave to her shrink and costly hobbies could have gone to a college fund.
S.E. Cupp hit some of the similar notes in her latest column:
I recently had the pleasure of sitting on a Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute panel with two remarkable women, Phyllis Schlafly and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), as we discussed the role that women have played in conservative activism. Listening to them wax poetic about marriage and motherhood, I felt pangs of guilt and disappointment that I hadn’t yet experienced either. And not because I hadn’t found the right guy, couldn’t afford kids or couldn’t conceive, but because I didn’t really want to.
Despite the efforts of a few courageous women like Schlafly and Bachmann to celebrate the family, one of the consequences of second- and third-wave feminism has been that motherhood has become an afterthought, the thing you do you after you’ve done everything else, if at all.
My mother was no feminist. She just wanted to raise a happy kid who had the opportunities she didn’t. But thanks to the persistent march of liberalism, feminism and secularism, the society that once raised girls to become women who get married and have a family is now the same society that raises girls to remain perennially youthful, become pop singers or reality stars and have children out of wedlock so their baby bumps make the cover of People magazine.
Cupp is not very generous to her generation. I’m saddened that feminism inspires the shallow live-in-the-moment lifestyles of many contemporary American women.
Although recent medical advances enable us to extend fertility, at least to some degree, parenting is easier on the young. A forty year-old might not have the energy for 2 am feedings and toddler-chasing excursions. Younger mothers are probably less likely to overthink their duties and overprotect their progeny. Younger mothers are going to be younger, more energetic grandmothers — a huge benefit for the entire clan.
In any event, I hope my children’s generation will do better breeding-wise. I hope they will learn from the mistakes of women my age. I don’t want my daughter agonizing over her fertility, and I don’t want my son to marry a woman with whom he’ll be unable to have children. I am going to teach them that family is very important. That there is no greater joy in life then to hold a beautiful toddler (from one to two is my favorite age, turns out) and to teach your children what you know. I think it’s a mistake on parents’ part to assume that either parenthood will come naturally or it’s optional, and therefore it’s unnecessary to bring up future parents.