Back in September, my 77 year-old grandfather died in his sleep after a protracted illness and I did not mourn. Of course I was sad and there was an occasional tear here and there but for the most part, I did not possess the emotional bandwidth necessary to process my feelings in the traditional way. This is in part because I was so busy with the logistics surrounding the funeral – I was responsible for making the arrangements, wrangling family, and covering costs – that I didn’t have time to stop and, as the young folk say, “feel some type of way.” My grandfather, whose name was Earl by the way, wasn’t the type to emote and linger when there was business to be handled anyhow so in a way, I felt like I was doing things the way he would’ve wanted. Earl Hansen was as no-frills of a man as you could get. Even when he was quite well, his favorite activity was sitting on the porch; a good meal was an egg salad sandwich and a big glass of cold water. That’s a man who wouldn’t want me dropping the ball at a funeral because of grief.Read More
A recent op-ed in the Canadian paper, the National Post, literally made me LOL and say ‘Ooh, somebody’s salty’ aloud to no one in particular in my office. You can read it for yourself, but to summarize, writer Joe O’Connor asserts that couples who choose not to have children are “just plain selfish” because they’d rather spend their lives taking vacations, buying white furniture and plugging things in without first having to remove a safety cap from the socket or whatever. O’Connor pines for the good ol’ days when, he writes:
I rarely get wrapped up in the world of entertainment “news” and gossip but something about this rash of recent, high-profile celebrity divorces has me upset. In 2011, we saw racks on racks of celeb divorces – Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson; Ashton and Demi; J.Lo and Marc Anthony; Mel Gibson and Robyn Moore; Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver; Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries; and Katy Perry and Russell Brand. While those couples certainly have problems of their own, they’ve gone largely overlooked by black folks. However, black gossip blogs, urban radio and predominately black social media circles have not been shy about commenting on the divorces of Kobe and Vanessa Bryant and Deion and Pilar Sanders. What’s disturbing is how the women in these situations are vilified, hated, and critiqued.
I recently shared this Marie Claire (UK) article about women waiting longer to give birth and it sparked a few questions that got me to thinking even more.
‘The rising numbers of women conceiving for the first time in their 30s or 40s follows a trend we have seen over the past decade, although the number conceiving over 40 is still relatively small,’ says Elizabeth Duff, a senior policy adviser at the National Childbirth Trust.
ONS [Office of National Statistics] figures show that in 1990, 229,400 pregnancies occurred in women over 30, with 12,000 of those conceived by women in their 40s. By 2009, this figure had risen by 55% to 356,300 births, with the number among women over 40 more than doubling.
While the article is based on findings from the UK-based ONS, I’m pretty sure that the same trend applies to the United States too.
I’ll be 30 later on this year and I don’t have any children. I don’t plan on having any in the next four years if my birth control has anything to say about it. The piece cites education and career goals, the costs of raising a family, and waiting for the right partner as the main reasons why women are waiting. Add in the advances to modern medicine – longer life-spans for both men and women, fertility treatments, and prenatal care – and that biological clock doesn’t seem to be ticking by at double-time so much these days1. Of course the societal, if not medical, pressure to parent sooner than later is still very strong. I think there are some cultural expectations to take into consideration here, but as a young (still under 30!) Black woman, the messages have felt very mixed as of late.
You might not know it just by reading the statistics about teen pregnancy in the Black community2, but growing up, it was repeatedly stressed that neither I nor my girls were to get pregnant. At home, in school, in sports and other extra-curricular activities, the message was the same – if you get pregnant you’ll ruin your life. If you get pregnant you’re on your own. If you get pregnant you won’t get out of this small, upstate NY town. If you get pregnant you’ll be on welfare. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Now I can tell you for sure that while we heard all of those warnings, we didn’t all heed them. I have plenty of friends and classmates who got pregnant in middle and high school and to be honest, many of them are doing just fine. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find one of them who wishes she didn’t wait.
So for almost as long as I can remember, I was told to put my education first, make sure I could always take care of myself, and don’t get pregnant. As an adult, however, the messages have started to change and people now look at you with suspicion because you don’t push a stroller or schedule play-dates. Amid all of this “Black women can’t find a man” and “no wedding, no womb” hullabaloo as of late, it’s almost as though not having a child is evidence of how you’ve somehow failed to come down off of your high horse to meet a man and procreate. So what’s a woman to do?
While I definitely plan to wait, some recent developments have caused me to think about my age and childbearing. It has come to my attention that all of the women on my mother’s side of the family (my mom, her two sisters, and my grandmother) have all had partial or full hysterectomies due to cancer or fibroids in their late 40s and early 50s. This information has given me cause to reconsider whether I’ll be able to have kids at all should I continue to wait but I certainly don’t think it’s right for me to rush into pregnancy as a result. Instead, I’ll consult with my health care provider and together we’ll monitor the situation, making decisions as we go along. Certainly not all women would take the same approach.
I can’t speak for everyone but as for myself, I’ll be riding this IUD right into 2015 unless certain circumstances in my life begin to reflect the kind of environment in which I wish to become a parent. This means I’ll finish up this 2nd post-graduate degree, I’ll establish myself in a career of my choosing that’s both fulfilling and allows me to live comfortably, and I will travel to places I’ve wanted to visit since I could spin a globe. Why? Because those are the things my family has always wanted for me – without the burden (no disrespect to parents and children) of all the responsibilities that come with being a mom. They’re what I want for myself as well. I understand that there’s never really a “right time” to start a family but there are better, more appropriate and opportune times.
Are you 30-plus and waiting to become a mother? Is it by choice or for some other reason? As you get older, are you feeling pressure to parent?
1 – This is not to say that delaying birth is without its risks. See: CNN – More hurdles as women delay birth.
2 - Black women have the highest teen pregnancy rates - 126 per 1,000 women aged 15–19.