Last summer, there was an article about women’s fertility that appeared in the Atlantic called “How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?” It kind of left me breathless. Though her conclusions are up for debate, Professor Jean Twenge asserted that fertility issues might not be as much tied to age and declining fertility as we have been led to believe. She proposed that if you have fertility issues when you are 38, you might have been just as likely to have them at 28; age might not be the problem in every case. If what she wrote is true, it might take a little bit of psychological weight from some “older” women trying to have a baby and offer hope to women whose biological clock is beginning to thump instead of tick.
I myself can prove Twenge’s point — it took just as much effort for me to conceive my first child at 27 as it did for me to conceive my last child at 37. There was not a smidge of difference in my fertility. However, some in the medical profession might remind us that it’s an immutable fact that at 40, our eggs are considerably older than they were at 27, and that difference alone affects the process. While some aspects of our fertility might not change with age, some inevitably will. Mother Nature has some house rules that can’t be broken.
And though there was no difference in my fertility when I had a baby at age 37, there was a difference related to my age — and I am not talking about the relatively loud crackling sounds emanating from my knees when I try to stand up from sitting on the floor with my toddler daughter. You see, when I had my first child at 27, I did what most parents do: I imagined him growing up. In my mind, I saw his first day of kindergarten, his senior prom, his college graduation, his wedding day. I saw him having a baby of his own. I’m already excited to be a grandmother some far-off (VERY FAR OFF) day, when I can whisk children off to toy stores and ice cream shops and drop them back with their parents just in time for the sugar crash and the overstimulation to hit as I shut the door behind me. I made plans.
From the time my baby girl was born, however, I felt an added urgency to our relationship. When I started imagining things for her, I came to the rude and abrupt reality that I will — in the best case scenario — always have ten less years with her than I will have with my firstborn. I will have the chance to see ten more years of my oldest child’s journey in the world — ten more years of his grand adventure — than I will ever see of hers.
When my firstborn turns 18, I will be turning just 46 years old. That’s not old at all. I’ll only be 50 when he graduates from college. But when my little girl turns 18, I’ll be 55, and I’ll be almost 60 when she graduates from college. If she decides to wait a while to marry or have children, I could be in my 70s when she has them. Though that’s not that old in this day and age, it’s not that young, either… and of course, nothing is guaranteed.
I have tried not to dwell on it because there’s nothing I can do about it, but I can’t help but think about the fact that 37 years separate me from my daughter. My own parents had me when they were about 27 and 28, so I can kind of imagine what it will be like when my oldest is turning 39, like me, and where I might be in my life then by looking at them now. But then I add ten years to the equation, and my heart sinks a little bit. When my daughter is almost 40 like I am now, I’ll be closing in on 80, and I know from experience that she will still need me — a lot. Will she go through a pregnancy without me? Will she go through menopause without me? Whenever I have to leave her and my boys, it will be too soon. I better start taking my vitamins and laying off the Diet Coke.
My greatest fear in life is that I might outlive my children, but my second greatest fear is leaving them here without me and missing out on them — and that fear is certain to come true at some point. I don’t want to miss anything. I want to see as much of their stories as I can. I can’t imagine having to go and not know what happens to them. And I’m not okay with not having control over this. I know that sounds irrational, but welcome to Motherhood. Not much is rational here.
So when I read the Atlantic article, I was thrilled to think that my friends and other women who want or need to wait to have children might have more time than they previously thought. At the same time, I was sobered by the fact that time is merciless and relentless, and there is never enough of it. If there are unknown fertility issues, waiting to have a baby means having less time to work those issues out. Even if there are no fertility issues, though, waiting longer carries a side effect no one can elude: less time on earth with our children.
I believe that it’s worth thinking about in the discussion about fertility and how long you can (or want) to wait to have a baby. Of course, we can’t plan everything. People have to work and build careers, people have to find the right partners, people need the resources in place to raise a child, people just plain have lives that sometimes get in the way of having babies. We can’t always help when we can have a baby. I myself waited almost five years to have my last baby after my third child. I could have taken the plunge sooner, but I didn’t, for various reasons. Now, I think of that as five less years with her and I try not to second guess them, because when and how I had my babies gave me the specific children I have, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Are there blessings to having a baby when you are older, wiser, and more life experienced? Absolutely. If I didn’t have other children when I was younger, would I even think about the difference? Probably not. And I would never not have a child just because of my age or encourage anyone else not to have a child just because of her age either — children are blessings no matter when they come. However, having a baby this close to 40 changes the way I plan for my future, and it changes the way I treat and consider myself and my body and my time. Suddenly, this aging jalopy of a body is a lot more precious to me — in a more significant way than it was when I was 27 and had my first and felt like a lot more was a given even if it really wasn’t. I always needed this body to run as long as it can, but now there is an added weight to that endeavor.
Pass the sunscreen and the green smoothie, please.