Growing up, fertility was mostly about not getting pregnant, then all of a sudden you seem to fall off a childbearing cliff. We need to break this cycle.
If, like me, you are born squarely in the middle of Generation X, then you more than likely have been through your 30s, and a raft of fertility situations that have had as much to do with society and what was seen as acceptable, as it has been about your choices, your body and advances in the medical profession.
From being part of the generation where teenage pregnancy was a real issue, and a major stigma, when going for the morning-after pill felt totally shaming, yet only slightly less so than the potential curtain call of having a child in your teens, or on your own. So much of that was informed by scaremongering, religious and societal hangovers that ran deep.
And in the midst of that, our faces were pressed hard up against the career glass, our value wholly transferred to doing well in school, college and then all accolades outside the home. No one aspired to be a mum or a parent. It wasn’t even mentioned. We went to college, we travelled and got to the know the world. We enjoyed great freedom. We came back to find that Ireland had changed, a little. We were just beginning our career moves.
We then lived through the hedonistic times of the Celtic Tiger, which rolled and dipped and tossed many of us in different directions. With it came a certain amount of liberation, but our mental wiring was really laid down in the 70s and 80s. It was boom time, yet most of us were just trying to get by, and hang on to reasonable expectations, our minds still moving towards those distinctly 20th-century goals, meet someone, buy a house, start a family.
Then houses became unaffordable, and for many, Mr. Right never came along. Because, yes, we were focused on work and growing up, and maybe living a little too vicariously through Sex and the City, but popular culture was still telling us to wait for ‘The One’. When people talk about women ‘leaving it till their late 30s to get pregnant’ (like they just couldn’t be bothered, the dirty stop outs), what they don’t mention is that often it’s not their careers they are delaying things for, but the right man.
Recent studies have found millennial and xennial women are opting for egg-freezing in greater and greater numbers. This topic always seems to be treated with vaguely misogynist tones, an image of a careerist and (that dirty-word) ‘ambitious’ young executive having the temerity to control her fertility. The truth is many are not meeting someone they want to partner early enough, or at all. It’s time to completely reconfigure our notion that we have to wait to meet that person in order to start a family.
The family unit, in order to adapt and thrive, needs to become a much more fluid thing. The person we have kids with, may not be the person we end up living with. You may end up raising them together while living apart, having a blended family with another partner, or raising them with a bunch of friends who just want to co-parent. Who says the original construct needs to be so entrenched? It was, after all, a construct set up to facilitate men’s goals and needs in the first place.
I think a lot of women of Generation X felt that even having a baby even in their 20s would have potentially been disastrous. If we are going to encourage women, and men, to have kids younger, we also need to give the support and make it acceptable to do it differently. Perhaps many will still opt to wait, but there is no guarantee in either scenario that the family you end up with will be the one you set out to create.
And that should be more than okay.