At the risk of losing my “mommyblogger” title, I suppose the time has come to throw in a “Harry” post. But it may not be the one you were expecting.
I have been watching one of my son’s prodigious growth spurts lately in amazement. There is almost none of the baby that I snuggled in a sling around my neck just one year ago. Four months away from two years old, and only four teeth shy of a full set (he is cutting the evil canines of doom right now), he is full in the bloom of running-jumping-shrieking toddlerhood. His slight speech delay let me live in denial for a little longer than some, but he has now fully caught up with his cohorts, learning new words daily and stringing them together at entirely unexpected moments. Having only vicariously (and none too attentively), witnessed my nieces and nephews pass this way before him, I marvel at how he wakes up a different little human being each day than the one I put to bed the night before.
I don’t know if this is a function of my delayed motherhood, or if all moms feel the same way, but it is hard to resist demanding a “do-over”. That his babyhood is vanishing before my eyes fills me with more than a little sadness. For better or worse, I will never pass this way again.
However, this is a fate that I fully brought upon myself. While I will not deny the melancholy of watching Harry grow up as an only child, I cannot allow myself the luxury of whining about it.
It is another of the great ironies of life that so many of our decisions are made at a time of our lives when we are so ill-equipped to understand the consequences of them. Teenagers, in fits of fancy and the arrogance, erect MySpace pages that are shrines to the “in-your-face-recklessness” of youth, before the future opinions of college-recruiters and potential employers even cross before their radar screens. We are simply unable to project into our futures and understand our middle-aged selves with our middle-aged needs. We live blissfully in the momentary self-absorption of the young. And, if we grow at all, we must learn to live with the delayed payment that “life in the moment” requires.
As young women in the age of liberation, we preoccupy much of our prime childbearing years with the task of NOT conceiving. We live in an age where we are allowed personal goals, personal aspirations, and the social luxury of putting them first. We see media-hyped visions of successful and ever-young Hollywood actresses and celebrity figures having their children well into their forties, without seeing the airbrushing and the costly fertility treatments that bolster the image. Forty is the new thirty! Thirty is the new twenty! We can have it all with our children as the cherry on the top!
Yes. I had my son at forty. Yes. I had a successful career first. And yes, I feel I am a far, far better parent at forty-two than I would have been at twenty-two, or even thirty-two. And, no, I don’t look my age, even without the airbrushing (although I can’t say that will last much longer). I wont allow myself the indulgence of playing what-if games, but I pray fervently that no woman in her early thirties ever, EVER looks to me as an example and tells herself “See, I have a few more years…”.
If I can spare one woman the sadness of knowing that every “first” my son has is a “last” for me, I will gladly, gladly post myself on a Wanted poster for all the badness of delayed motherhood. If I can spare another the agony and tears of an infertility struggle that was the result of nothing more than plain old age, I will expose every procedure, every test, every dismal pronouncement from every fertility doctor. I am not infertile through bad luck. I am infertile through the simple, relentless, march of human biology.
Here it is. Plain black and white.
Your fertility starts falling off in your thirties. It accelerates after 35. It falls precipitously after 37. By the age of 45, 85% of women are completely infertile.
We need to be realistic about the demands of children on our lives. I grant you that. Your life reorients itself in ways you can never imagine.
However, we need to be equally realistic about how much luxury we really have with our time. If you are waiting for the ideal time to have children, I can tell you, with a great deal of certainty, that the ideal time NEVER comes. For me, first it was money. Then a failed marriage. Then my career. Then my sport. Then I woke up one day and I was about to turn 40, and had no idea how I even got there. And I realized that all those things could have been rearranged. That life doesn’t end when you have kids. You reorient. You recover. You move on. And you are happier beyond imagining.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind being an older mother. My son is the joy of my life. I would do it all over again in a bloody heartbeat.
Which, I guess, is exactly my point.