We women have been told for years that we could have it all. We tell it to our little girls, too: want to be an astronaut? A Supreme Court judge? A plumber? No problem! And if you want to be a mom, don’t worry. That can always be squeezed in.
There’s a difference, though, between how men are able to squeeze in parenting and how women are able to squeeze it in. I’m not only talking about the negotiating over who arranges the doctor’s checkups, who shows up for parent-teacher interviews, or who stays home when Johnny has the flu. Both parents can perform these sorts of functions. But there are some things that, much as feminists might like to forget, only women can do. Men cannot get pregnant, give birth, or breastfeed. And these tasks can’t necessarily just be “squeezed in” when it’s convenient.
Though I had my children young, I didn’t have an easy time of it. I have two lovely daughters here, one son in heaven, and another whom I never knew because I miscarried so early. One of the blessings I had, though, was that even though I lost two children, my husband would just look at me and I’d be pregnant again. Were we to try today, chances are it wouldn’t be as easy.
It seems almost unfair, but women’s highest rate of fertility is between ages 20 and 24. It stays pretty high until age 30, when it slowly starts to decline, with the rates after age 35 falling pretty quickly, just as the rates of miscarriage and birth defects start to climb. I’m 36 right now. I feel as healthy as I did at 25. I exercise just as much, I’m in good shape, I eat well, I sleep better. Many women feel at their peak in their mid-30s. Why shouldn’t this be a great time to start a family?
Unfortunately, one’s reproductive system may not cooperate. At age 24, 86% of those who want to be pregnant will get pregnant in a year. By age 35, it’s only 52%. And this doesn’t mean couples are infertile—they may still get pregnant. It’s just going to take a lot longer. And when one is 35, that extra time is very hard to bear.
Too many women are told to put off marrying and having children until they are established. You wouldn’t want to rely on a man, after all. And you wouldn’t want to sacrifice your identity—meaning your career—so get that first. Feminism has told women that not only can we have it all, but we should have it all. But maybe trying to have it all exacts too high a price. Instead of trying to have it all, maybe we should concentrate on going after what we want most right now. It’s okay to live your life in chapters. After all, in our ageing society it’s more and more likely that today’s young adults are still going to be working in some capacity at 70 or even 75, so it’s not as if one’s career years will magically end at 55. If we take a decade off at the beginning to have children, then we still have many decades to meet our career aspirations.
Some women would dearly love to start a family, but they’re lacking the rather important ingredient called the man. That’s a very difficult place to be. But as Beverly Hanck, the Executive Director of the Infertility Association of Canada, recently told Reader’s Digest, if you’re 28, and in a happy, healthy relationship, now may not be the time to start your Ph.D. It may not be politically correct to say it, but we need to be honest if we’re going to avoid heartbreak in the long run.
We can have it all, just not necessarily at the same time. And that’s not a bad thing. There is a time for everything, but that doesn’t mean that time will always be on our side. Let’s use the time we have now wisely, and we’ll likely find that our priorities will still fall into place.