To have a baby, or not to have a baby? That is the anxious question.
Most of my LA girlfriends and I are in our mid-20s now. It’s starting to matter in primal ways we were always told it would, but didn’t really believe we’d feel the pressure of. Suddenly, here we are. One of us is married, a couple of us live with our boyfriends; most are in relationships, and a few gals are single and/or dating casually. What we all have in common are the gnawing questions simmering on the backburners of our brains. These questions creep up on us unbidden when we’re making love, driving past a preschool, staring at the big-eyed angel in the high chair at CPK, or while we’re looking at pictures of our cousin’s new baby on Facebook. Do I want a baby? What about my career? When would be the best time to have a kid? With whom? What if I wait too long?
Sometimes the questions aren’t even creeping up, they’re put in the spotlight by curious friends and relatives—most of them parents—asking, “So do you think you guys will be getting married soon? Don’t you want have children? The clock won’t stop ticking, you know!” Yes, we know. We’re aware, thanks. Right now we’re going to laugh with you and act like it’s something we’re strongly considering, but the truth is, we are so far from having a kid that we’re beginning to question whether it will happen at all.
Every amazing woman I am privileged to have as a friend in this strange LA bubble is a career woman. It would be difficult to live here if you weren’t. We are actresses, musicians, producers, writers, cosmetologists, models, comediennes, photographers, and directors. We are all creative artists, working in the industry of entertainment, the heartbeat of Los Angeles. To be an artist here is not a pastime, it’s a living, or at least one that we have devoted our lives to. We wouldn’t still be here otherwise. Whether you’re a chef, graphic designer, or a publicist, if you’ve chosen to live in LA chances are you’re striving to reach the top. I think the same goes for most big cities, like New York, London, etc. It’s too competitive to just try out, too cutthroat to half-ass. You will be ignored, swallowed, or discarded if you are anything less than 100% committed to your craft, and even then, only a few of us will reach our goals. Our lives leave very little time for familial pursuits, at least while we’re so young and still not where we want to be professionally.
There are fellow artists I’ve met who are also mothers. Whether they were able to have a baby while still trying to make their careers, or they waited until they were secure in their positions to start a family, these women have my deepest respect. To be a mother seems an amazing, incredible job on its own; to juggle that with the demands of a workplace is awesome to me. I think. Because there’s a sad part of me that wonders if being a mom is something you can be partway committed to as well, even if it’s the larger part of, say, an 80/20 family-to-work ratio. And that’s being generous, more often it seems like 40/60, if that. The career women I’ve grown close to who have kids almost always, somehow, end up confessing to me their feelings of guilt over being a “bad mom”. They’re stuck on set—as a hair dresser, make up artist, producer, actress, etc.—and can’t make their daughter’s soccer game; cook dinner; tuck their son in; nurse their infant; sooth their rejected teenager; or simply just hang out and play Wii as a family. Set hours are usually 12 to sometimes 20-hour days. Maybe these women take months off in between projects, therefore further balancing the family-to-work ratio. Maybe their partners are at home with the kids, maybe nannies. I don’t know the full reality of their lives, and I am in no place to even think of judging them. But I cannot help but observe and question, for I have my own future ratio to consider. If I can learn from talking with the ladies I admire and respect, whatever their job and mother-status, I try to listen with open and searching ears.
As children of the first generation of women to be fully embraced in the professional world, some of us know the pros and cons of being a latchkey kid. As for myself, I was homeschooled with my four younger siblings by my stay-at-home mother, my working father also chipping in to help with our education, and both my parents were “there” for us. My family upbringing was very unconventional, but very intimate, which as also had its pros and cons (though mostly pros, in my opinion). One friend of mine was basically raised by her extended family while both her parents worked, and another friend of mine feels like she raised herself and her siblings, splitting time between her mom and dad’s separate houses. Some of my peers loved the unsupervised independence that having working parents gave them. Others wish they’d had more dinners as a family, or that they now were able to view their parents as close friends who were involved in their lives when they were younger. More often than not, I find it’s a mixed bag. What kid doesn’t want to play video games all day, or eat whatever they want from the pantry, and visit whatever friend they liked when they desired? But that same kid may also have wanted to learn how to cook from their mom, to have her help getting ready for the homecoming dance. A boy may have wanted to have his dad in the crowd at his kung-fu tournament. These are the moments my coworkers wish they had more time for, both men and women. The women, to me, seem to feel the guilt in a deeper, more instinctive way.
I think all of my girlfriends want to have kids someday, when they’ve found the right man, achieved financial security, and satisfied their aspirations. Finding the right man seems fairly probable, although we have our share of doubts about that. Still, chances are we’ll find someone who meets our mate criteria well enough to venture out on parenthood with, and if we don’t, we may just conceive ourselves. Modern technology has made that an option. Reaching financial stability isn’t so out of reach, and it will enable us to buy a house outside of LA—‘cause “I’d never want to raise kids in this crazy city!” we all declare ideally. But that last one… Satisfying our aspirations… That’s the clincher, the one we’re never sure of, the one that may swallow up all of our fertile years.
If only women were like men in the sense that we had decades to decide if and when we want to have offspring. The physical unfairness never fails to vex me. Men can shoot out living sperm into their 60s and 70s, occasionally even older than that. Women technically can have a baby up until menopause, which usually onsets in the late 40s-early 50s. I said technically, and it occasionally does happen. Realistically, though, our fertility will begin to decline when we’re 25-years-old. That’s my age, I realized with a feeling of panic. I, like 40% of people polled by IntegraMed America, had thought that women’s fertility didn’t decline until we were 35, a whole decade of significant difference. Don’t believe me? http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/47017.php.
In 1992, the average age of a woman undergoing fertility treatment was 33. That number has slowly risen alongside the average age of marriage. Let’s imagine that the average woman in fertility treatment has probably been trying to conceive for at least a couple of years. She’s told herself maybe her body just needed to fully rid itself of the birth control she’d been on since she was 16; that maybe it’s her partner’s fault; or maybe she somehow misses having sex in the crucial time of her ovulation. Month after childless month went by until it became urgent enough for her to seek a specialist’s care, and now she’s spending thousands of dollars on progesterone injections and in vitro fertalization (IVF). After 30, your chances of conceiving naturally drop as much as -20% every five years. That’s almost in half by the time you’re 40, then it declines even more rapidly. After age 35, your chances for conceiving with fertilization treatments are only 24%. http://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/news/20040618/fertility-treatment-less-successful-after-35.
Our ideal childbearing years are between 15-30. Between 30-35 is pushing it, and after 35 the odds of a full-term, healthy pregnancy go way down. I have only eight years until I turn 35. My friends and I are more than three quarters of the way through our fertility gap, meaning we essentially have four to five years left to conceive easily; have an uncomplicated pregnancy; and give birth to a healthy baby. Four years is not much time. I, for one, am not even remotely ready to have a kid. While I’m somewhat financially stable enough to support a child at this moment, my professional position is anything but secure. The project I’m working on right now could be cancelled at any time, and it could be months before I book another job. That’s the nature of any self-employed artist. I’m not ready to have a kid emotionally, mentally, or ideally. I’m in a committed relationship, which puts me a step ahead of my single friends towards the goal of ideal, shared parenthood, but my boyfriend and I are not even talking marriage, much less having children together. I don’t know if he’s the one, and he doesn’t know if I’m the one. I’m not even sure I believe there is a “One” out there for any of us. The odds of having a compatible parenting mate seem to be a combination of wisdom, patience, communication, and a little luck. I can imagine telling my boyfriend, “Babe, I’ve got roughly five years to have a baby, so let me know if you think you’ll be ready to be a dad by then, and if so, we should probably get married next year so we’ll have enough time to enjoy being alone together before we start trying.” Ugh.
I’ve never wanted to be one of those couples who are trying. It sounds so fatalistic and expensive, with life-shattering consequences if conception never happens. Will he leave me if I can’t have his baby? Am I defective as a woman? Is God punishing me? Have I lost my purpose in life? Will I forever feel incomplete if I never carry a child in my womb and nurse it to my breast? Will other women shun me from their conversations of pregnancy and childrearing? Will I be a social outcast? Will I be alone? Maybe that last one sums up our most deep-rooted fear.
My body is currently at its most fertile, and I don’t plan on getting pregnant any time soon, but even if science somehow made a way for me to conceive and have a healthy kid twenty years from now, do I even want to have a baby? Do I ever want to take a pause from my career, risking being left behind and never reaching my professional peak and reward? Will I lose myself if I become a stay-at-home mom, even temporarily, and resent my choice to have kids? I am overwhelmed by all the various potential regrets and consequences, and panicked at the decisions that would need to be put into place right now if I want to have a family. It seems every girl I know is feeling this way, even if only subconsciously. Possible solutions: freeze our eggs for later IVF, or gestation in a baby momma, both of which are very expensive to do, and are not even guaranteed to work; or, adopt.