I turned 35 four months ago. For about a year I saw this number coming like a dark shadow from the sky. Every few months the panic of my narrowing fertile years crept in. Will I have a baby? When will I have a baby? Do I even want to have a baby? How much time will I have to figure this all out?
Like most American women I grew up with the notion that marriage and family would be an inherent part of my future–signposts of a successful transition into adulthood. In my later twenties, as my first live-in relationship dissolved, it dawned on me that I could choose a life of being single and child-free and that that life could be pretty damn good. I envisioned my free, spontaneous life writing at small cafes in France and hiking in Argentina.
For almost 10 years now, the pendulum has swung fully in both directions from an aching inner call to experience the rite of motherhood to a near certainty that I don’t want to be a mother in this lifetime.
As a modern maiden there are endless possibilities for how I can live my life. I can travel, pursue my PhD, spend time on personal development, create art, dedicate myself to activism, start a business or climb the corporate ladder. I can choose to live with a partner, in community or all by myself. I have the opportunity to be really focused and pour myself into one thing or be completely spontaneous. While I have no illusions about women having equal access and privilege–there’s still plenty of healing to do there–there is a lot of fun and freedom for the child-free American woman to enjoy.
As I move through my mid thirties I feel as if I’m just finally coming into the full expression of being a woman. I feel more confident, empowered, healthy, sexy and feminine than ever before. I feel at home in myself. I have learned how to relax and I am also ready to do really big things in the world.
I could go on reveling in this stage of my life for quite some time and, well, most of the time I do.
Then, there are the subtle–and not so subtle–reminders that my eggs have an expiration date.
I went for my annual exam just after my birthday and suddenly, just because I hit the magical number of 35, there was a sudden grave concern about breast cancer and the inevitable fatality of my fertile years. “Well, 37 would be fine but 36 even better than 37,” she said about my chances for conceiving.” The pressure is on.
It’s funny how often such a personal and profound decision becomes casual conversation with just about anyone. I’ve been in a committed partnership for over three years now so for many the logical next steps are marriage and children and invariably those questions come up. However, I think the covert cultural expectations for women in all scenarios can be overwhelming. I’m constantly given a range of encouragement and advice from, “You’d be the best mother,” to flat out warnings “don’t do it.” I’ve even received several unwarranted suggestions that I might consider freezing my eggs.
Then, there is the often heartbreaking and very real journeys of friends and the women that I work with that are struggling with their fertility. Indeed there seems to be an epidemic of “infertility” (which is a loaded word that I think gets used more often than it should). Certainly a record number of women are having miscarriages and difficulty conceiving. There is a long discussion to be had about why this is happening but some of the major factors are 1) health and nutrition, 2) exposure to toxins, 3) stress and anxiety, 4) an imbalance in masculine energy and 5) age. Even with all of our medical advancements once a woman hits a “certain age” (which can’t be predetermined and is slightly different for all women) it can become harder and eventually impossible to conceive and grow a baby.
So we have the dilemma of the modern maiden. How long do we remain in ambiguity? How long do we relish our freedom or give everything to careers? And, if we really consider it a choice, is motherhood something we wholeheartedly want for ourselves?
I’ve found peace in acceptance that I am a whole woman whether or not I give birth. While I’m frolicking in all of the possibilities I am preparing my body and my life the best I can for the possibility of pregnancy. I lean into my faith that my path will continue to unfold exactly how it is supposed to and that cycles of creation are the most beautiful mystery of all.
Lara Catone teaches classes on how to understand and optimize your fertility cycle. Check out her schedule and online course here.
photo credit: wearethecity.com