You dating anyone?
Is it serious?
Maybe you’ve just broken up with someone. And you were together for a long time.
Maybe you and your partner have been “trying” for ages. Maybe things aren’t working out for you.
Perhaps you’re 31 and straight and single and you haven’t met anyone you like lately but every time you do, you find yourself doing maths in your head: How many dates until I decide if this is serious? Two? Five? Ten? How many dates until I decide HE thinks it’s serious? Five? Ten? And then, how long should we be dating until it’s socially acceptable for us to move in together? Six months? A year? Two? Then, how long until maybe we get married? Another year? Then, it might not be smart to start trying straight away? So… another year? That would make me… 34?
And then, what if we break up and I’m 35 and I have to start all this again?
Men don’t do these kind of maths. They don’t have to.
Women are hyper-aware of their age when it comes to fertility. Or rather, the age of their eggs. The internal image we all have of those pesky eggs, just sitting inside us, quietly rotting.
That women have a “biological clock” is not news. It’s been part of the culture’s mainstream dialogue for at least 20 years. Remember Ally McBeal and her dancing baby?
Which is why it was remarkable that, this week, a high-profile woman saying that she was pregnant at 41 caused such an instant and incensed reaction.
Camilla Franks is a fashion designer who makes beautiful kaftans, beloved by Oprah. Last weekend, she told the world that she and her fiancé had been trying to have a baby for some time, had been exploring medical options, and had finally fallen pregnant naturally.
“I went to all these meetings and appointments all driven from complete fear that I couldn’t have a child.
“It was the wrong advice and it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t true and I was told I had to potentially go down the path of IVF and it was absolute BS,” she said. “So I think, take a lot of it with a grain of salt.”
Listen to the Mamamia Out Loud team disagreeing about fertility fear, below. Post continues after audio.
Franks’ “advice” was irresponsible, misleading and anti-science, said The People. The eminently sensible Lisa Wilkinson wrote and spoke beautifully about her own struggle to conceive a child after 40, and the series of miscarriages she suffered as a result.
People nodded, and wagged fingers.
Don’t tell women they can control their fertility, the message went out. It’s fake news. Over 40, only 5 per cent will be successful in falling pregnant naturally.
So, come on, ladies, hurry up.
You know who weren’t nodding and wagging their fingers?
The hundreds of thousands of women who are in their 30s and yes, early 40s, who haven’t had babies. And maybe want to. Or desperately want to. But life hasn’t gone that way for them. Yet.
Those women were quietly salved by Franks’ news. Maybe, they were thinking, the fact that my boyfriend of five years just broke up with me and I’m 35 doesn’t have to mean that I’ll be living with cats for the rest of my days.
Maybe, just maybe, there could be an extension on that bleak deadline that’s been drawn across my life.
I will tread carefully here, because one woman’s story is exactly that, but I am an old mother. I had my first baby at 38. My second at 40. If I had my time again, would I have done that earlier? No. Because I didn’t meet the man I wanted to have my babies with until I was 33. And we were both experienced enough to know not to tumble into something as serious and life-changing as parenting without stress-testing our relationship first (and thank God for that). Until then, life had taken me in many different directions, difficult relationships had fractured, I’d spent lots of time being single.
Were my partner and I lucky that it worked out for us and we now have two energy-sapping kids at home? Yes. You know who else is ‘lucky’? People whose lives follow the socially acceptable script that the modern world has set out for them – meet someone at uni, maybe. Date for a few years. Be in a happy, loving, healthy relationship of respectful equals. Don’t get pregnant too young, that would be BAD. Maybe get married around 25 or 26. Don’t leave it too long to have that baby though, that would be BAD. More maths…
If that’s your life, cheers to you. But for many of us, that’s not how it went.
There are plenty reasons why a woman might be 35, want to be a parent but not be one. But you know what’s unlikely?
That she’s sitting around thinking, ‘I’m going to be fertile forever. There’s no hurry here. I think I’ll just focus on my career and stockpile cash/experiences/excellent holidays/bad relationships and get to it when it suits me, maybe in another five years or so.’
Fertility isn’t a choice. And nor, more often than not, are the circumstances that leave a woman desperately wanting a child, and not having one.
What’s not helpful to that woman who’s in her 30s and wondering why her life doesn’t look like all those other lives on Instagram, with their neutral-coloured nurseries and their ‘THREE MONTHS TODAY’ milestone cards?
More stress and more shame.
Listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, below. Post continues after audio.
She doesn’t need to be reminded that her body is about to betray her.
In 2017, there isn’t a western woman alive who hasn’t been reminded that all the advances of feminism can’t fight nature and science. The Tick Tock message has been received loud and clear.
That’s why women are piling into IVF clinics and getting their fertility tested at 26 and freezing their eggs. There’s a generation of already anxious young women being told to hurry the hell on and have a baby. Go on, do it. If you’re between the ages of 25-35, just do it.
If you do it younger than that, you’re probably a bit irresponsible. If you do it later, you’re probably pretty selfish.
Letting those women hear a true story about how some people DO fall pregnant naturally after 35 (and they do, they really do, I did) is not going to suddenly make them put their feet up and decide to spend another five years guzzling prosecco and counting their money.
But it might make them just a little less afraid and ashamed that their lives aren’t following the ‘right’ script.
Maybe it will silence that damned clock for five blissful minutes.
She’s also the author of a new novel, The Mummy Bloggers, and a parent to two small people.
Originally from the north of England, Holly has lived in Sydney for more than 20 years, is a card-carrying member of Generation X and loves stories above most things (not the aforementioned children, obviously, that would be a bad look).
- Lisa Wilkinson on her miscarriages and the “unfair” fairytale we tell women over 40.
- Why designer Camilla Franks wants women to put careers before motherhood.
- “There’s a positive side to failed IVF that no-one tells you about.”
The award-winning podcast Mamamia Out Loud is doing their first live show. There will be laughs, disagreements and you can meet the hosts afterwards! We’re also donating $5 of every ticket price to Share The Dignity so grab your friends and come along to share the love and laughs, get your tickets here.