I have been reevaluating the whole family/childbearing vs career dilemma that many women have to face. As a woman who chose to have a child relatively early (age 23) and then again relatively late (36) I can speak about the relative advantages/disadvantages of each period. What opened up this can of worms in my head was a comment or rather a question an older lady posed to me while we were waiting to see the nutritionist–she pointed to the rambunctious toddler hanging upside down from my knees and destroying the neatly aligned vertical blinds and asked, “Are you the mother or the grandmother?”
Hands down — a woman has much more energy, endurance, patience and excitement when she has a child in her early 20s. Because of the newness of the experience, motherhood becomes a major life event. It is a joyous, take over your whole world kind of experience. You take care of the details; you live through all the ups and downs of burp-ups and bottom burns. There is no denying the heavy hand that biology plays in rearing and bearing young early. When I gave birth at 20-something the doctor told me to lie, “Tell them you had some drama, so you don’t disappointment. They want to hear all about the story. If you tell them how easy it was, it will be boring and you might be setting them up for wrong expectations when it is their turn.” Physically things were easier–let me qualify that, things are not easier–it’s tough to bear the morning sickness, the exhaustion of the load, swollen ankles and breasts, the pushing and tearing of your most private parts like a piece of construction paper with a jagged-edge saw, the gasps for breath, the spikes of excruciating pain as you grind down through the pinnacles of pain like climbing through a Himalayan mountain range, the sick realization of what the word “exhausted” means as you have never felt that tired before. No, things are not easier; you at 20 are better equipped to deal with them. It’s called the energy reserves at 20 on a pure physical level are more intact than at 40. The female body at 20 is at its peak biologically for child bearing and rearing.
When I got called in to consult with the nutritionist, Dr Nicolaides, and I brought up these issues, she put a different spin to the can of worms. While I was complaining about my loss of career potential because I had to put my dreams on hold to raise a daughter in my early 20s, she was complaining about her thwarted dream of having 4 to 5 children because she had to spend so many years getting an advanced education and setting up a practice and focusing on her career. She very quickly and methodically mapped out her “what I should have done” plan on a post-it note after she delivered the revised diet plan I was to follow. “Get married at 18, then have one child each successive year with maybe a two-year break in-between,” she explained very logically. “Then by the time I would be 25 I would have have five kids. I’d stay at home with them until 30 and by that time, the eldest would be ten at least. At 30 you are still young, what would it take to go back to school and get a BA and MA and then start your career–easy!” She said she had regretted her choice to delay child-rearing until she was almost 40 because now it was difficult for her to conceive and she was afraid that instead of the happy brood of five she had imagined for herself, she would be left with only one. “We do it all wrong,” she confessed regretting her choice. “We should get our child-bearing done young and out of the way so that later we can focus on ourselves and our careers,” and with that she charged me not to overeat over the holidays and come back after the new year.
At first, I thought “Hey, that’s not a bad suggestion.” It sounded like a smart solution to the modern woman’s dilemma. She is right on several counts. When you are nearing 40, having a child becomes a mammoth task. People who have never had kids cannot possibly imagine how much energy, how much care and how much time it involves. Children take up so much of your time, your attention, your ENERGY that you have precious little left over to devote to personal pursuits (I often wonder how cut-throat career women manage the demands of motherhood with those of the office and the corporation). I have heard from women who have had children late in their biological cycles how difficult it was for them to adjust. A person has only a limited supply of physical and emotional reserves. And the worst part of child-rearing, adolescence, will coincide with the twilight age of a parents life. Yeah right! Imagine a 55 to 60 year old couple getting into heated debates with their punk-hair doed, piercings around their eyebrows, nose, and genitals teenager about the importance of keeping their curfew. Who at retirement age would have the energy to drive around looking for their teenage daughter who might have cut school to entertain her boyfriend’s lusts? At 55-60 I would like to be preparing for my retirement lunch and my long-awaited trip around the world. It’s RETIREMENT for Chrissakes! You do not want to be anybody’s keeper except your own at that time. You can’t be worried about pulling out baby teeth when you’ve got your own dentures that need to be positioned.
I reconsidered the nutritionist’s suggestion. Getting married at 18 so that you can pop out your children one-by-one to have time for your life later–was that really wise? Who at 18 has the maturity to think and plan so far into the future? Who at 18 knows who they are, has a sound formation of their own character and value systems to allow for such a decision? Which girl can be so lucky as to even find a gullible boy at that age to agree to get married in order to have a family so young? Most 18-year-olds I know of would like to be in a bikini sipping margaritas around a hot tub at some swanky beachside resort with more than one boy and not knocked up, swollen and miserable because she cannot drink or smoke shackled to only one. Can life really be planned so neatly? You cannot foretell what kind of kids you might be given by the universe and less so what kind of husband. The last thing I would want to be is a young, single mother of four or five (which might play out as the scenario.)
Although it seemed like a great solution, on the walk back to my apartment, I rejected it. So what if the world sees me as the grandmother instead of the mother to my four-year-old? The bottom line is that having babies and raising kids is a hellufajob no matter which age you choose to have them. You will always regret your choice–whether you delayed children for a career or had children first waiting patiently for the day you will be able to live for yourself again. In my case, I got hit with both sides of the stick. Somehow it is each woman’s prerogative to find the balance–to meet the needs of her dreams and her potential as well as provide a positive stable environment for her offspring. But you certainly cannot figure out the solution to the dilemma in the waiting room of the nutritionist’s office. It might take a lifetime.