Ask almost any childless women in her 30s to name five things that have been on her mind lately, and there’s a good chance she’ll mention her biological clock. It may not be the first thing she names — her career, the economy, saving for a house, her parents’ health, the health of her relationship, finishing her dissertation, fitting back into her skinny jeans, and finding someone to share her life with may be getting more of her attention; but for a vast majority of us, the idea of having kids is something we think about nearly as much, if not more, than almost everything else. After all, our biological clocks and the issues of when, whether, and how long we have left to procreate determine so many other variables in our life. And for those of us who wait until our 30s — a quickly growing number of us these days — it’s a decision we face when the stakes are especially high.
One friend of mine, Amy*, has been married for several years and has big, blow-out arguments with her husband “every three months or so” over when they’re going to start a family. He keeps saying “one day” as he has for the last few years, and she, at 34, says “one day” needs to be now(ish). “I go through phases, though,” she confides to me over dinner. “For one week all I can think about is babies — it’s usually triggered when I hear about yet another friend getting pregnant or having a kid — but then it passes and I’m fine for the next month or so. … I do want a baby, though,” she adds, thoughtfully, “and soon. I just don’t know if I can wait that much longer.”
April, another woman I know, who’s single and just a few weeks shy of 30, says she’s so sure she wants a baby (sooner rather than later) that she won’t date anyone who isn’t at least “reading the same book, if not on the same page.” She says she usually finds a way to subtly bring up the topic after a few weeks of dating and if the guy is adamantly opposed to children, she quits seeing him. “It’s just too important to me to risk falling in love with someone who doesn’t want them, only to have to end things because my desire to have kids is non-negotiable and so is their desire not to,” she explains. She is, however, amenable to dating a guy who’s on the fence about children. “I tend to think men don’t have the same innate desire to breed the way women do,” she says. “They have to be convinced, or, uh, just put in the position where, “GUESS WHAT?! We’re having a baby!” because I firmly believe every guy, unless he is a sociopath, will love his child more than anything in the world and will be so, so, so happy about the wonderful changes a baby brings to his life.”
What worries her more than falling for someone who doesn’t want kids, she declares, is not falling for someone who does until it’s too late for them to have biological children together without “an a**load of help.” She says she’ll consider having a child on her own before that happens, but that the thought of having kids “without a partner is kinda sad.”
She echoes the thoughts of many women her age and older who have anxiety about finding Mr. Right before their biological clock stops ticking for good. “I’m fine being single,” admits Kelly, a woman in her mid-30s. “I have a fulfilling job, a wonderful circle of friends, and I’m financially and emotionally independent. But I do want kids one day and I really can’t imagine raising them without a partner.” She’s not currently seeing anyone and isn’t actively looking, so Kelly worries that by the time she meets someone she wants to have children with, she may not be able to any more “the old-fashioned way.” “It makes me wonder if I should be putting more effort into dating,” she muses.
Four years ago I was pushing 30 and didn’t have a man in my life either. I knew I wanted kids one day, but like Kelly, I wasn’t actively looking for someone to have them with — I was kind of passively dating with an openness to meeting Mr. Right. Like April,
I met my now-husband on a blind date about four months before my 30th birthday. During the date he mentioned two things that got my attention: 1) He ran a side business making baby clothes, and 2) His brother and sister-in-law were expecting their first child later that summer. I saw my in: “Do you think you want to have kids someday, too?” I asked. He said “yes.” We dated for several years, and I married him three months ago. We joked with our families that we didn’t want them bugging us about grandkids for at least a year, but, ironically, it isn’t our families who are putting the pressure on us — we’re doing it ourselves!
“Even if I get pregnant right now,” I said to Drew the other day, “I’ll be almost 34 when the baby’s born. If I wait two more years after that to get pregnant again, I’ll be 37 when we have our second kid. And I want to be all done birthin’ babies by the time I’m 38.”
Medical issues aside, I don’t want to be an “old” mom. I want to have plenty of energy to chase toddlers, and I want to still be relatively young when my kids fly the coop. I like the idea of enjoying a second honeymoon stage when my husband and I eventually find ourselves alone in the home again, having raised (hopefully) well-adjusted, independent young adults. In my mind, that means I’m still in my mid-50s or so, which means we need to start our family, like, now. But just because we both feel emotionally, and, thankfully, financially prepared for kids doesn’t mean it’s the perfect time for them. For one thing, we want to own our home first. The idea of having a baby in our little one-bedroom Midtown Manhattan rental is scary enough to make me renew my birth control every six months. For another thing, we only just got married in July — we’d like to enjoy at least a little time together just the two of us before our lives become completely re-focused on little rug rats. We’ve decided for now to take it one day — or one month — at a time. We’ve started looking for our own house where we can start the family we both want, and, in the meantime, we’re taking full advantage of all our child-free time. Like Amy, I go through phases. Some weeks I hope we find that house tomorrow, and some days I hope it takes another year. Like meeting my husband, I suppose it will happen when the time is right.
Not every woman in my age group has been bit by the baby bug, of course. They may think about their biological clocks from time to time, but it’s more like, “Is this thing even on?” than “Holy crap, it’s out of control!” Caryn, a 30-year-old single woman, says she used to think she wanted kids one day until her friends started popping them out. “Now I cringe at babies crying in a restaurant, get annoyed when birth announcements arrive in the mail, and feel confident saying that I’m not sure if I want children.” You might think this attitude has affected Caryn’s friendships with women who have had kids, but she says it isn’t her lack of interest in having children that changes her friendships; it’s their lack of common ground. “They are living a life completely foreign to me,” she says. It’s a life, she worries, where some of her friends lose their identities in motherhood, making her wonder if having babies is a “cop-out” in a world where maybe they couldn’t find any other role for themselves as women. “My single friends and I often talk about how the only way to have your life celebrated as a woman is to get engaged, married, or have a baby. Nobody throws a shower for your career change or your promotion. We need china too,” she says.
Whether they’re on the baby wagon or not, there’s one thing most women can agree on when it comes to our biological clocks: Desperation isn’t a good color on anyone. We may have a limited time to conceive naturally, but for women who dream of becoming a mother one day, it’s important to remember that one of the reasons we delay motherhood longer than generations before ours did applies when we’re ready to embrace it, too. These days we have more options than ever.
*Names in this piece have been changed for privacy protection.