If a woman really wants to have kids, she should quit obsessing about finding the perfect man to father her progeny, says Suzanne Harrington.
She can do it alone.
LEONA turned 40 this summer. She is a well-paid healthcare professional with a wide circle of friends. She is attractive and sporty, and confident and outgoing. She ended her last relationship earlier this year, and has been internet dating ever since. She goes on dates — she looks good, and is extrovert — but one of two things happens. Either she is not interested in seeing the person again, or, if she is, and they have a few more meetings, they run when she says that she wants a baby. Right away.
Leona is part of a demographic of women who wanted children, but ‘not yet’. Then, when ‘yet’ arrives they are under considerable pressure. This is where dates become man-scans, the sizing-up of potential baby-daddies — which Leona says is stressful, and not a great premise for starting a new relationship.
Human beings are living longer and enjoying a marvellously elongated youth, but nobody told our ovaries. Lady eggs did not get the memo.
Reproductively, we are still operating on a Stone Age model, when our peak fertility clashes with exams, university, building a career, or just having as much carefree fun as we can.
Then, when those of us who want to have babies decide that now is a good time, our eggs may have since got tired of waiting and gone into retirement. Hence the so-modern-it’s-like-sci-fi option of egg-freezing for Apple employees. A wonderfully progressive, enlightened idea. Just one snag. Not every woman over the age of 35 works for Apple.
For everyone else, we are sliding under the fertility shutters just before they clang shut for good. IVF is expensive, and stressful, and has a success rate that falls from 32%, for women under 35, to just 2%, for those aged 45 and over; its chances of success decrease from 20% to 13% between the ages of 39 and 40 (source: UK Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority). As a solution, it’s massively hyped (like anything profit-driven), but the reality is far from ideal.
So what can a baby-hungry girl do? There are two options. One is traditonal, the other more radical (but workable). The traditional is straightforward — get partnered and pregnant while still the on the egg-tastic side of 35. My own baby hunger started when I was 28 — an irrational, uninvited and surprising desire to get knocked-up. I caved in after five years of ignoring it, and had my first child when I was 33, and my second at 36. Their father was around until the children were one andthree — I could not have done the tiny infant stage on my own, not even slightly. Some of my fortysomething friends have young adult children, because they became pregnant in their early 20s. This is regarded by the middle classes as a lesson in what not to do — a baby is not compatible with a woman’s education, career or freedom of movement, but really what younger mothers are doing is an exercise in delayed gratification.
You become a parent when you have the physical and mental energy to run around after toddlers, then hit your own life running in your 40s, as your contemporaries, now with toddlers, lurch about like zombies, hit over the head by late motherhood. But early parenthood is not an option for many. Personally, if I had become a parent in my 20s I would have probably left the baby on the bus, or worse.
What if you are in the middle of a PhD or major career action when your ovaries are perfectly aligned for conception? What if you wait, and then, like the many Leonas out there, cannot find the right partner who also wants to become a parent at the same time as yourself? Here are your choices: you either (a) get a dog or (b) do it yourself.
This is not flippancy — I know quite a few (a)s and just as many (b)s. Overall, the (b)s have the hardest time initially, but are happier longer term. These are women who wanted children, couldn’t find the perfect man, because perfect men — like perfect women, and unicorns — don’t exist. So they just did it. Got pregnant — that was the easy bit — then carried on without being in a relationship with the father, but with the hands-on-support of friends and family. You know, in matriarchies, like lions and elephants.
Let go of the word ‘nuclear’. If you can do that, then the rest is good planning, good friendships, and perhaps living with other parents who have similarly aged children. Co-parenting with other parents. It works. And it means you get to have your baby, if that’s what you truly want, rather than missing out because you believed the myth of the perfect nuclear family.
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