The birth-control pill is approaching its 50th anniversary, so let's take a moment to reflect on how it's helped with family planning — and how it's also allowed us to maybe wait too long to get started on that stuff.
If you're not already aware of it as you climb through your 20s, your 30th birthday is a convenient reminder that you've yet to spit out kids. In an article for the American Prospect, writer Courtney E. Martin notes that, having recently turned 30 herself, she's increasingly aware that "time is not on [her] side" when it comes to matters of procreation. And certainly there's no shortage of information out there to remind us that our eggs are falling out by the minute. But right now we're in a "specific cultural moment," she asserts, one in which we're not only balancing time against fertility, but we're also measuring that balance against the burdens (financial, physical, and mental) of fertility treatments, the toll of which we're now witnessing amongst our older friends and via the occasional Today Show guests. Because we've had the freedom of reproductive choice — controlling our ovum such that fate CANNOT simply take its course like it did in the good ol' days — we've been able to revel in the luxuries of our generation's extended adolescence and career-climbing dreams. Whether you fall in the adolescent camp or the career camp is a personal thing (and the two certainly aren't mutually exclusive), but the issue of professional success as articulated here does indeed resonate:
Jessica, 31, of New York, is pregnant with her first child. She explains, "The biggest struggle was dealing with the fact that the age I was most wanting a baby was the age that I had the most going on job-wise." Another fallout of our extended adolescence is that the peak of our career-building process often coincides with the decline of our fertility. Do we plow forward on those last little successes before stepping back? That was the philosophy of so many of our older peers whose successes piled up along with their fertility-treatment indignities and medical bills.
Though I'm nowhere close to being pregnant (or engaged or married or a homeowner or even someone who even remembers to buy toilet paper), I can personally concede that reproductive control — and the freedom it grants — has also allowed me and probably other women to get to a point where we feel some degree of conflict in regards to emotions, biology, and career. But ultimately what this quote says is that if you really want to have a baby, you're going to have that baby, even if it comes at an inconvenient time in your career. It's just a matter of priorities, and the pill has allowed us to determine our priorities regardless of biology — that should be applauded, even if fertility treatments bankrupt us in the end.
And as for those who want a family but, even in their 30s, aren't quite sure if they're there yet — is it really having the choice that's so paralyzing? Has that pretty pink pack of Ortho Tri-Cyclen been subliminally torturing me? Hardly. Personally, having control over my reproductive system is not what's causing my anxiety. The anxiety is not so much a matter of "when should I have a family" as it is "how in the hell will I ever manage to grow a baby inside of me, birth it, and then be responsible for it for the next 20-odd years?"
We live in an age where we know tons about raising kids. And the more we know, the more daunting it is. We're aware of a million little things we should or shouldn't do during pregnancy, childbirth, and the formative years, and we're inundated with countless recommendations as to how to raise that child such that she or he doesn't grow to be a completely psychopath (or at least doesn't need to know the pain of therapy bills). With dozens of ever-changing messages and recommendations being spit our way, is it any wonder that a woman would want to delay having a kid? After all, if your kid is really a blend of both nature and nurturing, there's a 50% chance you could derail the whole thing. In the midst of pushing that child through your ring of fire and becoming a hormonal mess and feeling like a giant udder and dealing with terrible twos and whatever you call the threes and fours and all the other years of stuff happens beyond — it's inevitable that you're going to mess up somewhere along the line. It's just a matter of how bad your mistakes are, and that's a scary proposition. Stare at your baby for too long, or fail to coo in the right way, and god only knows what kind of mood disorder the poor thing will develop.
And if that stuff doesn't give you a complex, the information age has granted us the privilege of watching countless live births on YouTube (view at your own risk) — a terrifying reminder of the necessary biological function that comes before you even start raising the kid. After all, you have to get the kid out, and there's nothing like grainy FlipCam footage to remind you that having a baby is about blood, sweat, and a shredded vagina. Miracle of life aside, that is some scary shit.
So if anything, the pill has just given us more time to realize, explore, and process the enormity of what it means to raise a family — and, should we choose to go down that path, understand how horribly we can screw everything up. It's given us more time to contemplate the risks, debate the pros and cons, sift through the information, clear up our own lingering mommy issues, and mentally prepare ourselves. And hopefully by the time we've waded through all that stuff, we'll figure out how best to proceed with procreating. Though, by the time we figure it all out, we'll probably be infertile.
The Paradox Of Reproductive Choice [American Prospect]