A few readers write in:
I read Amy Klein’s article (and your accompanying post) with great interest. Whenever the fertility issue arises in my group of friends (as it does often, given that we are a group of professional women in our mid- to late 30s), I inwardly cringe. On the one hand, it would be viewed as incredibly anti-feminist and mean to say, “Maybe you SHOULDN’T wait to have a baby. Maybe you SHOULD put your career on hold for a year or two. You’re 38. All the statistics show that the chances of having a baby drop precipitously from here on out.” On the other hand, it’s incredibly dishonest to say what I’ve learned you’re *supposed* to say in these situations: “You have plenty of time! Don’t worry about it! Look at (insert celebrity)! She had a baby at (age over 45)!”
It becomes a political issue at work, as well. Several years ago, I became a professor.
My husband and I already had one child and we wanted a second. Our strong inclination was to try for the next baby right away given that we were in our mid-30s. Every single one of my female mentors and peers on the faculty, however, STRONGLY dissuaded me from doing so. “Wait until you get tenure,” everyone cried, “No one will take you seriously if you have a baby so early in your career.”
My desire to avoid fertility issues won out, though, and I became pregnant at the end of my first year of at the university. While having our second child has not impacted my productivity at work, a number of my female colleagues have treated my childbearing almost as a personal offense. One colleague, in particular, who waited to have children until she attained tenure and who is currently in the midst of a difficult battle with infertility, seems incredibly resentful. I’m convinced that I made the right choice, but I didn’t anticipate the political fallout from women who have negotiated the fertility minefield differently.
Just as doctors are sometimes reticent to talk to patients about obesity, I get how the fertility topic can seem like a third rail. This to me is total bullshit from a medical perspective and a real disservice to women. A lot of women don’t think about their fertility at all. In fact, as a young woman, I spent way more time trying to make sure I avoided pregnancy.
My husband and I are currently embarking on IVF (I’m 39, he’s 44) and it’s just plain hard. Injections, appointments, copious blood work – just to name a few of the things you have to go through (multiple transvaginal ultrasounds anyone?). I, and many of my Ivy League, high-income friends, really didn’t give our fertility the weight it deserved relative to work, school, travel and even mate selection (e.g. “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t be selecting guys based on cuteness or income but rather paternal fitness”).
I don’t regret my life, because it has been pretty freaking awesome, but dammit I really would have appreciated looking at these charts and having an honest dialogue about what my future options would be. To a person, all the women in my circle totally underestimated what it would take to get pregnant over the age of 35. I work in science, so yes, I always knew IVF was an option, but to be candid, my present self would gladly skip all these steps to do something my body (and my husband’s, for that matter) were much better suited for 10-15 years ago.
That quote from NOW you cited is why I’m in conflict with organized feminism. By all means women should be free to pursue their academic and professional goals, but that doesn’t reflect a holistic representation of womanhood. I want to be a mother, and it’s hard to accept that now something that should be natural has to happen so unnaturally.