The year I decided to finally marry my now husband, my social media accounts, suspiciously and surreptitiously, sent me a zillion sponsored posts for wedding suppliers and services that obviously my smart phone had gleaned were appropriate from my recent searching actions. Our phones are listening. But to be expected, I guess, in the age of tech.
What wasn’t expected has been the noticeable increase in ‘Fertility’ and ‘Egg freezing’ services that have become part of my daily scrolling. I mean, guys, yeah I’m approaching the age where we will start referring to a pregnancy I have as geriatric. But seriously?!
The pressure to have children for women is enormous. It’s like we aren’t a real ‘grown-up’, fully-realised person until we grow another human. And frankly for many women these days (probably in olde days too, though choices in the matter really didn’t exist), growing a human may be of interest, but it’s often not one’s whole life purpose. To be perfectly honest, I sort-of want to have kids without having to go through the first three years of child-rearing. Babies kinda bore me a little and frankly I love working and making dosh. Once a kid can talk to me. I’m all ears.
But why is there this deadline on women all the time? I’m a successful woman that made it to an elusive role for women in our industry. So, why am I left wondering how I have failed so miserably? Watching Friends in COVID, (yes, it’s a COVID binge and yes, Friends is highly problematic) in Season 7 Rachel finally turns 30 and God, I relate to the discourse below.
Rachel: So, if I wanna have my kid when I’m 35, I don’t have to get pregnant until I’m 34. Which gives Prada four years to start making maternity clothes! Oh wait, but I do want to be married for a year before I get pregnant…
Monica: Really! That long?! (Chandler slowly turns and looks at her.) (To Chandler) Look all you want, it’s happening!
Rachel: No, so I don’t have to get married until I’m 33! That’s three years, that’s three whole years—Oh, wait a minute though. I’ll need a year and a half to plan the wedding, and I’d like to know the guy for a year, year and a half before we get engaged… Which means I need to meet the guy by the time I’m thirty.
Ross: Which is fine! Because you just turned—(Removes two candles from the cake)—twenty-eight!
Rachel: No! Ross, no! It is not fine! Eh-eh-according to my plan I should already be with the guy I wanna marry!
Now, Prada aside and excluding the fact that one doesn’t have to marry someone before they have kids (eh, patriarchy), who hasn’t sat there and thought about how much they need to do before 30 and 35 to make sure that they are achieving shit and having kids at the same time? And of course our patriarchal society looks at a single or childless woman, who may be comfortably so, with suspicion; as a pariah or an uncomfortable anomaly.
To be frank (and when am I not?), despite some ok parental leave policies, having kids is a woman’s sacrifice. The adage ‘we cannot escape biology’ means that for most career-versus-family is still a reality. Will a parental policy, or Government childcare (if that even happens) ever be enough to avoid women having to take a break in their professional timeline? Can a business in a capitalist economy ever really manifest a situation where women aren’t penalised for having children? Biologically, women can’t wait until their 40s or 50s to have kids, like men can. And our society still very much back-pats a man who is a father whilst heaping criticism on a working-mum. I mean, the social pressure to be at home with your baby 24/7 for it’s first year of life, at least, to be considered a mum who cares. Urgh, the guilt.
Classic. ‘When are you having kids?’, ‘oh you’re going to love babies once you’re a mother’, blah blah blah. I find I’m resentful of people who ask when I’m having kids, and don’t care for my answer. I’m resentful that people ask at all. Most of all I’m resentful at myself for not having a better reason for not having kids right now other than ‘I’m not ready financially and I don’t want to give up what I do for a time to have a baby’. Like I should have a more romantic, economic or ethical/moral reason for my childlessness. Why I feel like I have to justify my decision – I’m not sure.
I’m a planner and I love a five year goal. Whilst I don’t think I planned these things in my childhood, I think we are fundamentally conditioned to start that ‘grand plan’ process there. Get that high-flying job and buy property at 25 (kinda tick), married by 30 (tick), first child by 35 (fuck…that’s next year…) As we begin to approach those milestones, and look at where we are, where we thought we would be and the reality of our situations – we begin to panic!
However, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. My husband quit his job to start a business – an amazing venture that I’m fully supportive of, but is still in its infancy. COVID-19 happened. The glass ceiling is currently sitting above my head and I’m not sure whether I have the energy or the time to smash through it right now. Or whether that’s even possible. And do I try before I have a kid? If it’s not achievable, did I ‘waste’ those years trying to move up in the world and putting my future children in jeopardy and my body in jeopardy trying to have a kid late? Omg, mental overload!
So here are some stats to put things in context, or if you’re like me…make you feel marginally better.
The current Aussie stats from 2017 have the current fertility rate at 1.74, declining from the peak of 3.55 in peak Boomer year, 1961. This is the average number of children a woman will have in her lifetime. Since 2000, the fertility rate of women in their early 30s has been higher than all other groups. In 1991, most women had their first child in their 20s. By 2016, the trend was for women to have their first kid in their late 20s to early 30s. Women who had their first kid in their 30s rose from 23% in 1991 to 43% in 2016.
Source: ABS (2008), Australian historical statistics (Cat. No. 3105.0.65.001); ABS (various years), Births, Australia, 2012 (Cat. No. 3301.0)Age-specific fertility rates, 1921–2017
Source: ABS (2008), Australian historical statistics (Cat. No. 3105.0.65.001); ABS (various years), Age of new mothers.
Age of new mothers, 1991, 2001, 2011 and 2016
Sources: Lancaster, P., Huang, J., & Pedisich, E. (1994). Australia’s mothers and babies 1991 (Perinatal statistics series no.1). Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; Laws, P. J., & Sullivan, E. A. (2004). Australia’s mothers and babies 2001 (Perinatal statistics series no. 13). Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; Li, Z., Zeki, R., Hilder, L., & Sullivan, E. A. (2013). Australia’s mothers and babies 2011 (Perinatal statistics series no. 28). Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2018). Data tables for Australia’s mothers and babies 2016—in brief (Table 2.9).
We all constantly get those stats about having kids later in life. How it leads to complications, difficulties, problems. How women are irresponsible for choosing to have kids late. It’s like you have to have kids by 30 or dire consequences are your lot. The whole ‘biological clock ticking’ that we are led to fear. Another insidious form of policing women’s bodies. The SBS did a report on this constant delivery of ‘pregnancy risk’ for older mums, which basically found that age poses less risk to their health in pregnancy than pre-existing conditions like diabetes.
Fertility concerns spurn the constant feed pops for ‘Egg freezing’ on my social media. What are the real stats? Better Health Victoria lists the following stats:
A woman in her early to mid-20s has a 25 to 30% chance of getting pregnant every month. Fertility generally starts to reduce when a woman is in her early 30s, and more so after the age of 35. By age 40, the chance of getting pregnant in any monthly cycle is around 5%.
There is no denying that it is harder to fall pregnant the older you get. IVF goes some way to assisting in this regard – though it is also less successful the older one gets. When I asked my doctor about this when I went for my last full health check earlier in the year. She poo-pooed my concern, unless I thought I wasn’t going to have kids until I was forty. Again it’s hard to gage whether you’re rolling a dice here or not.
I read a great Harper’s Bazaar piece on the unequal pressure applied to women in terms of having to make a choice with regards to having kids in their 30s. They discuss the misconception with regards to the child-less women leading luxurious lives (ha – working 12 hour days!), where they are somehow free of pressures and financial worries. I mean, hand me that cocktail whilst I plan my next trip to the Mediterranean. Lol. There is always a suggestion that because we aren’t yet mothers, we couldn’t possibly understand how hard life is with children. The Harper’s piece writes ‘There can be a great deal of smugness, albeit sometimes unintentional, from these women, yet also an element of martyrdom. Childless women are expected to be envious of mothers, yet to also have sympathy towards how immensely difficult parenthood is.’
Dude, we know it’s bloody hard. That’s maybe why we haven’t had kids yet!
I ask myself, are we ready to give up the life we are living (albeit curtailed by COVID in the past year)? My partner and I like our lives right now. The theatre. Having a cocktail. Renovating our double-fronted Victorian. Dancing and teaching. My husband is wholeheartedly devoted to setting up his business. Will children bring joy to our lives – sure, probably. But it doesn’t mean we aren’t enjoying life right now. Will it give our life greater purpose? Um, maybe. I feel pretty purposeful without kids.
At the end of the day there isn’t a one size fits all solution to this conundrum. I think the least we can do is take the pressure off our fellow sisters and let them make the decisions for themselves. Continue to fight for better parental leave policies, which will hopefully one day turn the social taboo Australian men seem to feel with regards to being a primary carer, so that families have more options when it comes to parenting.
There is more than one pathway for women to feel fulfilled in their lives. We need to stop feeling like we need to tick the boxes and ultimately therefore compare ourselves to the lives of those around us. Some people will have their shit together quicker. Some people want marriage and kids. Some don’t. But the traditional concepts of family and womanhood shouldn’t be the yardstick by which we ascribe value to our lives any longer.
As we saw from those 2017 figures, women in their 40s are now having more babies than women under 20 and women in the 35-39 age bracket are having more children than women in their early 20s. If anything, in my mind it’s clear that women aren’t thinking there is a ‘right’ time to have a kid, but maybe they are starting to make decisions that suit their own lives rather than the expectations of society.
All in all, I’m going to spend the next couple years debating the merits of whether it’s time to have kids or not. Whilst I try to end this deadline nonsense for myself and for the other women around me. I will try to shake the unconscious bias that women in my age bracket are all about babies. I will continue to search, listen and learn what works for women with regards to retention and return to the industry in their baby-having years. I think this is fundamental to how we encourage women into the industry and how we get them to stay.
It’s been a long one and it’s been real. Stay safe and healthy! D
As always, we’d love your thoughts below, or on today’s Instagram post!