It is a week before my 27th birthday and I am sitting on my bed with tears in my eyes. I have just finished watching a late night talk show that my mom recommended to me, and one of the topics (which is why my mom recommended it) was the pregnancy of a 60-something year old lady in Germany who was expecting quadruplets, after already having given birth to 13 other children. In order for her to get pregnant again, she had to go to Romania, or some other Eastern European country where the age limits for fertility treatments are not as strict – if existent at all. The guests on the show were a gynecologist, a single mother who counsels women on their journey of deciding whether or not they want to be a single mother, and a lady who had her son at 51 after unsuccessfully going through IVF, ICSI, IUI and the likes; she finally became pregnant at 50 in Spain by inseminating two donated egg cells with her (now ex-) partner’s sperm and placing them in her uterus. This final successful treatment took place in Spain, where the age limit to fertility treatments is 50 years, while in the Netherlands the age limit for IVF is 45.
Although the case of the lady in Germany is an extreme one, it does raise some important questions, that I have considered before at a time in my life when I was nowhere near ready to start a family, and when I still thought I had all the time in the world to postpone thinking about babies to ‘later’. Now, a week before turning 27, things have slightly changed. My mother at this exact age, was pregnant for the first time. That pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at 11 weeks, but soon after that she was pregnant with me. I however, am nowhere near that, and I am not sure how to feel about that.
When I was 4 years old, we had these friendship books that you would lend to all your friends so they could write in them. Spread over two pages were questions like, what is your name, who is your favorite teacher, what is your favorite subject in school, what do you want to be when you grow up, et cetera. Since I was kind of negligent in the whole lending it out to friends part ,only one class mate filled out her two pages. Most of the time, the little book was gathering dust, forgotten on a bookshelf in my room. Every now and then I’d find it again, and answer the questions myself, because I loved reading, and writing, and answering questions. This way I created a time capsule in a way, registering my whimsical preferences through the years. One thing that I was very certain about, however, at least in the first 5 years that I owned the book, was my ambition to become a mother. It never occurred to me that the finding-a-father-part could prove troublesome, or something to worry about. It’s funny in a way, to see how the little version of me thought that motherhood was a profession on its own, an end goal, without considering the possibility of becoming a mother AND something else at the same time. Interesting how a child’s perception of time, relationships and life purposes change over time.
When I was a lot younger still, even when I had learned by example of my mother that is was possible to be a mom and have a career, I always pictured myself to become a mother around the same time as my mother, and if that didn’t work at least before 30. I wanted to be the one to give my mother her first grandchild, the one she’s been jokingly begging me for from the moment I had my first period (Several years ago I even dreamed about having a baby boy named Aaron, and before that, a girl named Amanda. It was kind of like they were introducing themselves, years ahead of time). Although one can never predict how life goes, it didn’t seem like such an impossible goal. But here I am, at the brink of 27, and I’ve never even been in a serious relationship in my life. I don’t feel like I’m ready to have a baby yet. First of all, I am still in the process of writing my Master’s thesis, I don’t have a steady job, I still want to travel the world in a way that’s not suitable for small children, and oh yeah, I don’t have a relationship.
But here’s the thing. I feel like I am getting at that point in my life where I slowly have to start thinking about what I want, and when I want them. It’s exactly the fact that I don’t have a relationship, and never have, that probably puts me in the same position as a lot of single ladies of my age. What if that guy that you would want to start a family with never comes along? Or what if he does come along, but ten years too late? Or what if you have met the guy, but your relationship is nowhere near that stage of babies yet? What if it’ll never get there? Then, questions start to arise like, how bad do I want to become a mother? And how long am I willing to wait for that guy? Am I willing to do it alone? What would that mean for my future baby? What if I never have a baby, because I am waiting for that perfect guy? Would I rather have no baby at all, if I can’t have one with a man I love? Would I be able to let a child come into this world without a clear father (figure) present? Would I be able, for example, to step into a bar and have a one-night-stand with a good-looking, tall, smart stranger – just to become a mom?
Aside from the ethical questions – which I will address in a bit – medical issues play a big role. Girls become fertile in their early teens, with only a limited amount of eggs available in their ovaries, and the amount and quality of these eggs only decreases as they get older. By the time you hit 30, around 80 % of your original amount of eggs is gone, and although I have never been a star at statistics and probability calculations, I’d say that your body has a lot more trouble preparing the right eggs at 30 than it had at 20. Now, this does not mean that getting pregnant is impossible. Heck, my dad barely even looked at my mother and the job was done, so that gives me at least some hope that I inherited some of her fertility genes, but still, it is something to think about. Even if the getting pregnant part is easy, the risks during pregnancy rise as you get older, both for mother and child – this is not news either. Medical innovations have made it possible for women to become pregnant at a later age, but there are limits. The ladies in the examples above were 50 and even 60 something when an egg was successfully placed, but like I said before, in The Netherlands this assistance is limited to the age of 45. Our basic health insurance will only pay for the first three attempts per pregnancy until 43 years of age. Those last two years, you may try to have a baby but you have to pay for the costs yourself. Mind you, per treatment this may vary between €1800,- to €2500,-.
So medically speaking, while it might be possible to conceive even until 43, or 45 and over if I can finance it myself (with or without a romantic partner), the question remains whether I’d be morally able to. Raising a child in this world is difficult enough as it is for two parents, let alone if you’d have to do it on your own. There’s not a doubt in my mind that I have enough love in me for a hundred of potential babies, but a child cannot live on love alone. As much as we modern women are convinced that we are independent, strong, and wise; I feel that there is something indispensable that only a father(figure) can bring to the table when raising a child.
Now, before I insult any gay or lesbian couples out there raising kids together, let me clarify by saying that the reason I use the word father figure, is because I myself am attracted to men, so therefore the other parent of my kid(s) would be a man, and thus a father. Since these are my personal reflections, I speak of a father. More generally speaking though, I think the dynamic between you and the other parent is what makes raising a child with two parents preferable to being alone. When you have a partner, a co-parent, you have someone you love and trust and whose opinion you value. When making important decisions about another human beings life, i.e. your child, I think it’s important to see different perspectives. Biologically and psychologically women and men are different, and to be able to give your child an upbringing that combines these two sides of the spectrum, is advantageous, I feel.
Of course, there is a whole grey area in between. A happy, loving, same-sex family probably offers their child a better situation than a hetero-couple that fights all the time. A lot of single mothers or fathers give their child a better family than some couples with one abusive parent. 1/3 to half of couples split up, even with kids. Some couples with kids that should split up, stay together ‘for the kids’. My parents split up when I was seven, and I am glad they did, so I am the last to say that two parents is ALWAYS better than one. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t; you can’t know this from the start. Sometimes life just happens that way, and you have to make the best of the situation. My parents handled their divorce the best way they could for me and my brother, they made sure that we ‘suffered’ the least possible. If anything, it was more an inconvenience; my dad lived 90 km away but we still got to see him each weekend. I learned to appreciate the Dutch train system and overcoming motion sickness by simply falling asleep at a very early age.
You can’t always chose what happens in life, and in love, and in parenting. You can’t always guarantee the best outcome you wish for. Given the example of my parents, I’m sure I’d learn how to handle a situation like that, and how to care for a child alone, but would I be willing to deliberately bring a child in the world without a father from the start? And if I do, when would I take that step? The basic question, I think is this: How long am I willing to hold on to the dream of finding a loving man and starting a family with him? Statistics and experience give me reason to believe that this kind of happy ever after endings are more the exception than the rule, so growing old with the father of your children is starting to look more like a cruel illusion than an infallible dream. But at least, most people that start a family while still in in love, and at least with the ambition to make it work (even if it doesn’t in the end). When will I be ready to give up on this? In other words, when am I ready to give up hope on love, on hoping things will work out like I want them to, ideally?
I guess, aside from the practical doubt about finances, living space, jobs and daycare, this might be the core of what a lot of single women my age with the wish to become a mother, are struggling with – at what point, age, stage in life are we ready to let go of the dream and face the reality of the dilemma between what we wish for, and what we actually have? When do we stop waiting, but do we start making a decision; either to never have children without a man, or to have them alone? Though I might be inclined at this moment in my life to say again that I still have plenty of time left, that anything can happen in 3 years time, or 8, at the same time I can’t ignore the fact that I do have to decide at some point; “What do I want? And when will I take action? If not now, when?” The fact remains that even though I had thought about these thing before, I was still torn diametrically, made me intensely sad. When will I know what I value most, becoming a mother, no matter what
For now, I DO still have time. I don’t have all the practical ducks in a row for a child even if I was ready for one morally speaking. I will graduate, travel, follow love, get a life, and then… We’ll see.