I remember the exact moment when I realized I wanted to have children. At 26, I was working with a lot of new parents, and I was home one night when one of those baby commercials came on. And I cried.
I honestly don't remember what the commercial was for, but I remember the way I felt. There were happy moms and even happier babies, and I wanted that life. The only problem? I didn't have a partner.
Now I am 31 and finally with the man of my dreams. But I'm facing another problem: My desire for kids is so strong that it's honestly starting to hurt our relationship -- and my mental health.
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The truth is that I am not actually ready to be a mom. Knowing that you want to have children -- but not right now -- is a difficult dilemma made even worse by the constant message that our child-bearing years are limited.
It's that tick-tick-tick of the biological clock that we are all told to listen to.
And it might be irrational (or not), but I've always had a deep-down fear of infertility. Maybe it's because my period started late, when I was almost 17, or because it took years to stabilize and only thanks to the birth control pill. But I am terrified that the thing I want most in the world will never come to be.
The fact that I met my life partner just after turning 30 has put added pressure on us. We're not engaged yet, even if we plan to make that commitment soon. And there are things we want to do before settling down -- such as taking a big international trip together and moving to a city that's more our speed.
Sometimes I find myself dreaming of speeding things up. What would happen if my birth control failed and I got accidentally pregnant? I imagine my partner freaking out, and my secretly being thrilled. Eventually, he'd come around and we would plan a simple little courthouse wedding much sooner than we originally thought. The vintage-style '50s dress I'd like to wear one day would still fit over my growing baby bump. At least, that's the fantasy in my mind should an "oops" happen.
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I know I'm not the only 30-plus-year-old woman whose biological clock is freaking her out. In a piece on EliteDaily.com, writer Erin Russell talks about her own fears and doubts as she dates and wonders when it's appropriate to reject a man she loves simply because babies aren't in his timeline. She writes, "I feel like a bad feminist, like a baby-crazed lunatic for even thinking that falling in love and having a family is what I want instead of having a powerful career, inner peace or what have you."
I know where she's coming from. Lately, it feels as if my infertility fears are in a constant battle with my relationship and my mental health.
I'm stressed from arguing with myself every time the subject of babies comes up -- you know, like when a friend posts a photo of her growing baby bump or my mom reminds me yet again that she's "ready for grandkids," or I babysit my friend's adorable 5-year-old.
Will 35 be too late to start trying to have kids with my partner? Will I be "wasting" the next few years focusing solely on my relationship and growing my career instead of embracing what might be my biological reality?
When I look at the numbers, they're not as scary as I thought. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently softened earlier statements that a woman's ability to have babies declines "gradually but significantly" at age 32, then more rapidly after age 37.
Meanwhile, an article from 2013's July/August issue of the Atlantic questions whether the statistics we now know (and fear) regarding fertility are actually as accurate as we think they are. In it, writer Jean Twenge argues that many "widely cited" statistics are based on outdated population data from a time before there were fertility treatments, or even, for that matter, electricity. She cites a few modern studies with much less scary-sounding numbers: "The difference in pregnancy rates at age 28 versus 37 is only about 4 percentage points. Fertility does decrease with age, but the decline is not steep enough to keep the vast majority of women in their late 30s from having a child."
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Despite what may seem like a more positive outlook, however, there is always anecdotal evidence that seems to justify my infertility worries.
Just the other day, I was speaking with a friend about my fear that I won't be able to have a child in a few years, and she proceeded to tell me about how both of her sisters-in-law had trouble conceiving their second children after age 35.
"You see?!" my biological clock seemed to scream. "We should be getting ready to have babies NOW!"
In the meantime, all I can really do is politely ask that voice to quiet the F down and do what's best for me. As much as I want to have kids someday, that day just isn't today. It's a road I will have to cross in a few years. I hope my fear is as irrational as my terror of bees. You know, something I can't control but realistically isn't really affecting my life too much. And while my mom friends tell me that I'll never truly be ready for all the joys and demands of motherhood, for now I am choosing to wait.