What is it about turning 40 that seems to change the way we think about our fertility? While my intelligent self knows that there can’t be much difference between my 39 1/2-year-old body and my 40-year-old body in terms of its reproductive health, that doesn’t stop my more emotional self from thinking, at times, that I’ve missed the boat.
According to this GMTV report from January 2010, I definitely have. Research by St Andrews and Edinburgh Universities found that only 12 percent of a woman’s eggs remain by the age of 30 and only 3 percent by the age of 40. Now, those statistics really are depressing but are they accurate? I have come across plenty of women – personally or in the media – who have become mothers after 40. That said, I also know women who are struggling to conceive.
In this section, I hope to share stories and experiences that might help other women who have questions about fertility. There will be stories of women who have had children later in life, women who have decided not to have babies, women who have desperately wanted children but who have now come to terms with living childfree, women who have tried and succeeded at IVF and those who have tried and failed and women who have decided to go it alone, via donorship and insemination. Check out the other pages under the fertility tab for different topics. I’ll also share resources that could prove helpful to women with fertility questions or who are seeking support.
I have many of my own thoughts on pregnancy and motherhood, which I’ll go into in coming days. In the meantime, here is a blog I posted on April 2 on Just As I Am – An Experiment in Self Acceptance that pretty much says how I feel: The Baby Gap.
The Baby Gap
I wasn’t going to post today, it being the weekend and me trying to practise balance and all that. But then I love writing on my blog and really felt moved – by some feelings that came up last night – to write today, so here I am. I’ll make sure I do lots of balanced things for the rest of my day and weekend, promise. Sometimes, too, the writing just flows. At other times, my thoughts are more jumbled – I think yesterday’s post is an example of that or maybe that’s my perfectionism talking. I hope I made some sense with my musings on truth.
So, the baby gap. No, I’m not referring to the junior section of the U.S. clothing store and nor am I talking about the period of time some parents deliberately leave between having their various offspring. I’m using the word ‘gap’ here more in the context of that familiar warning on the London Tube – ‘Mind the Gap’, meaning watch out for the void, the chasm, the space where there’s something missing. So what’s this all about? Well, you guessed it, I’m talking about the absence of babies or children.
I was out last night with a delightful group of ladies having a lovely time over chocolate brownies and pink fizz to celebrate a birthday. Now, I’ve learned over the past few years the futility of comparing my life to anyone else’s (‘compare and despair’, ‘the grass is always greener’ and all that). But it’s actually not that easy to turn off the feelings. I’d say the majority of the women, or perhaps all, were younger than me, some by 10 or 15 years, and several were already well into motherhood, with one or two babies. Those who didn’t have babies were in their 20s. Now this isn’t to say that I didn’t have a lovely time and wouldn’t do it again in a flash but inevitably – as a 40-year-old single woman without children – some feelings come up when I’m in that situation or they surface when I get home. I think I do a much better job today than I ever did in the past of accepting I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be – and this blog is indeed about self-acceptance, in all areas – but that doesn’t stop me questioning certain things or pondering my future.
I guess the big question is will I ever have a child of my own, naturally, and if I don’t what will that feel like, emotionally and physically? Will it bother me? Will I just move on or will I have a lot of feelings to ‘work through’? Will I try IVF? Will I adopt a beautiful child and love it as though I’d given birth? I guess the wonderful and scary thing about the future is we can’t predict it. Deep down, I have to say, I do trust I’ll have a child naturally but I have no real reason to believe that, other than an instinct and a sense that my body, inside, is pretty young and healthy. I guess I’ve also learned that there isn’t much point pondering this question for too long or worrying about it but then I don’t think I’d be human if I didn’t ponder it a little, from time to time.
At this stage in my life, I can say I know women and men in a whole range of situations in relation to babies and children – mothers of many, women who have deliberately and contentedly opted out of having any, women who are struggling to conceive naturally, others who are struggling to conceive through IVF, others who have been successful with IVF. I know single women my age and older, some who long to have children and some who have accepted they won’t. Some who accepted that fact with ease, others who had to work through feelings of regret, bitterness, anger even. I know single mothers and fathers, parents of children with disabilities, parents who’ve gone through the unimaginable heartache of losing a child. I know ‘miracle’ mothers, those women who’ve been told they could never have babies but then suddenly got pregnant or others who had the same experience but then sadly miscarried. I know women who’ve terminated pregnancies earlier in their lives only to wonder if that was their only chance. It’s an emotional rollercoaster just writing about it – imagine what it’s like to live it! I also know women who’ve adopted or taken a child into their care. A friend who’s bringing up her natural daughter on her own recently commented to me that I would never know what it felt like to have a child naturally if I never did. I guess that’s very true. But then another friend who’s become the legal guardian of a beautiful girl told me she didn’t think she could love the child any more even if she had given birth to her. It’s as though she was her own.
I can’t say I particularly know where I’m going with all this but it was on my heart so I wanted to write it down. I honestly think I would feel a sense of loss if I didn’t conceive and give birth. It just seems such a natural thing to do. But nor am I under any illusions (or maybe I am because I really don’t think you know what it’s like until you’re actually in it) about how difficult it is, at times, to be a mother or father of a young baby or bring up children, particularly as a single parent. I definitely wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog if I had young children, that’s for sure – but then am I writing this blog to fill the baby gap? Or maybe I would be writing this blog as the little one slept.
I have so many other questions related to this fascinating topic. For example, do men feel the same? If men without children are hanging out with a group of fathers, do they feel a sense of loss? Do they ask themselves, will it happen to me? I guess it depends on the man. Just as it’ll depend on the woman. And here’s another topic I often discuss with friends my age: is our constant searching for a ‘purpose’ – a fulfilling and satisfying career or a mission in life – a product of the fact that we’re in our late 30s or 40s and don’t have children to worry about, something that would have happened far less often if we’d been born 20 years ago. But then I think women and men who do have children often ask themselves the same questions, around their careers or their purpose or where their life is heading. And of course, there’s the moment when the children leave home after all those years. I’ve probably also been prompted to write about these topics after catching some of Jeremy Vine’s Parenting Week on BBC Radio 2 (there are some advantages to working from home).
But going back to my own story, I also try to hold on to the fact that everything happens for a reason and that God knows what he’s doing. Unlike some of the lovely ladies I was with last night, I don’t think I’d have made a very good mother in my 20s or early 30s. The binge-drinking, overeating, undereating, overexercise, overwork, compulsive partying, risk taking etc would have left very little time for good parenting. Or would it? Maybe having a child would have changed everything, but then I’ll never know.
Let me just say here that I hope I don’t sound flippant in addressing these issues. I wouldn’t describe myself as someone who wanted a baby just for the experience, or for the sake of it, or because I believe it’s my right as a woman (although I admit there’s probably a bit of that going on, particularly the last point). I think I do understand the responsibilities that come with having a child and the potential for harm if my reasons for doing so are selfish. But as I said above, it feels like something I’m drawn towards and that I’d miss if it didn’t happen.
So the conclusion I’ve come to after all these musings is that, although I’m bound to think about it now and then, there’s not much point in ‘minding the baby gap’. I can write this blog because I don’t have little ones running around me. I can jump on my bike and cycle over to Camden to meet friends for coffee. I can find a park to sit in and soak up the spring sunshine and I can plan a trip to a friend’s wedding in New York in May. I guess, like anything else in life, it comes down to appreciating where you are and what you do have rather than hankering after something else, which ties in nicely with the topic of accepting our bodies as they are instead of waiting until we look like Cindy Crawford (or whoever our role model is) to start living our lives to the full. God willing, I won’t always have just myself to look after, but in the meantime I can do my best to enjoy the freedom that comes with being 40 and not having children.
- Elizabeth said…
- Hi Katherine
You’ve captured it perfectly: such a range of emotions/thoughts/feelings for women (and men) concerning the whole baby issue. Such a difficult path to navigate. I never made the choice not to have children, but a series of ‘poor choices’ has unfortunately led me down the path away from motherhood. I woke up on my 40th birthday with a real feeling of anxiety, panic and sadness at the realisation I probably would never have children of my own. I am now 44 and have been through the maelstrom of anger, grief, sadness … and now acceptance. I feel that even though pregancy and birth is such an intrinsic part of womanhood, I do not believe that it can be the way for every woman on the planet (think of the overpopulation for one thing!). I also believe that every single person (childless or otherwise) has to, at some point, face up to their own mortality, humanity and reasons for being on this earth, which I do not believe can be purely conditional i.e. you have only fulfilled your ‘purpose’ if you have had children, got a good job, lead a “successful” life, etc. I am learning to get the best out of the route I have taken, the path that I am on, and it holds much beauty even though it may be different to the conventional route. I do not feel I have failed as a woman by not having children, even though society may see me as such. I am learning to see that my life has meaning and value to it that isn’t based on external conditions, or being a mum. It’s a hard lesson, but it is my challenge and I am growing stronger for it.