Like all the posts in the Exploring Feminist Motherhood series (Part 1; Part 2: The Childbirth Minefield), this was inspired by reading Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself by Amy Richards. This was the second selection of the Sin City Siren Book Club.
I really hate the phrase “biological clock.” It brings to mind an image of a play-clock winding down — mindlessly ticking off the usefulness of your body. Of course, for women it is used to refer to your window of optimal fertility. Anything after the age of 35 and you’re automatically “high risk.” But to me, it seems to also not-so-subtley refer to our fruitfulness as women, too. If the suppleness and fertility of youth is the ideal… well, you best enjoy your “good” years. Right?
The other reason I have never really liked the whole biological clock thing is that for such a very long time I never heard even a whisper from it. For years, all around me my friends and peer-aged family members were having babies. People would smile at me — shove their babies into my arms — and say, “When is it going to be your turn?” Up until only a few years ago my answer was an unequivocal “Not for me, thanks.”
I must admit that before I decided to have a baby — my baby was very much planned and wanted — that I took some solace in feminism. I was very much a career-woman. And I enjoyed my life with my husband. We had our share of struggles and had to pay some dues here and there, but all-in-all life was good. At the same time, I was not fooling myself. I didn’t think that the plan was to delay having kids so I could have a career first. I wanted a career and so I got the career I wanted. There was never a secret dancing baby that menaced me. Indeed, I didn’t hear any ticking at all. If anything, I was afraid that maybe I wasn’t a true woman because I didn’t have a biological clock. I felt that maybe I left the factory without a maternal instinct.
Richards addresses this at length in her book in her “Drive to Procreate” chapter. She talks about how some women feel betrayed by the promises of feminism — that they could have their career and have babies later.
[Australian TV Presenter Virginia] Hausegger is childless, and she’s angry that she took ‘the word of my feminist mothers as gospel.’ I talked to dozens of other women who, like Hausegger, listened to what they heard feminism promising them — you can have a career and a baby without caving in to a patriarchal society that wants women to have babies and reinforces their second-class citizenship.
She goes into the conflation of the prochoice movement with an idea of being anti-baby (which I will go into further in a future post). Likewise, she talks about the momentum of the “child free by choice” community, which has been bolstered by feminism. (And really deserves its own post, too.) And she talks about how medical help to fertility issues is solely the province of privilege.
If you are not white and not middle class or are somehow disadvantaged, your choices and your fertility are more likely to be under attack…
[W]hite and privileged women are encouraged to go to extremes to procreate, with little consideration given to how this group’s fertility often has been promoted at the expense of black and poorer women’s fertility.
She covers a lot of ground (although not nearly enough on LGBT parenting). But at the end of the day I, like Richards, feel that we must go into the process of becoming parents with our eyes open. While I might dislike the imagery of a biological clock, it does exist. Fertility does diminish for women over time. We can’t escape that no matter how rebellious we feel about it.
Feminists can cop to biological limitations and simultaneously support women who don’t want to have children. Our priority should be making it possible for women to make choices that don’t feel so limiting about if and when to have babies.
As I have shared before, it took me a long time to decide to have a baby. (The abridged version: I had to heal some old pain and when I did that, my heart opened to the idea of motherhood.) But I didn’t decide to do it because my clock started to tick. Indeed, when I got pregnant for the first time at the age of 33, I didn’t think I was that old. But when I took the baby classes and saw that I was the second oldest person there, it hit me how much earlier most people do this. That was a biological clock moment!
Now that I am a happy mom to a happy baby girl, I get asked a lot when I’m going to do it again. Egads! How should I know? Right now I feel like I never want to be pregnant again. (Pregnancy is mostly a pain in the ass with bouts of gross and nausea.) Then again, I never thought I wanted to have a baby — ever. And here I am!
I don’t know if Richards would agree with this or not, but my feeling on motherhood is that you have to go into it with your eyes open. You should be able to make the choice(s) you want or need. Everyone deserves access to quality, affordable health care for whatever procreative (or non-procreative) journey they take. We must keep our feet planted in reality when it comes to what is practical and available for fertility. And we all need to recognize that feminism can’t be blamed for anyone’s decision to have or not have children. Feminism is a philosophy. It’s a movement. But it’s not a life instruction manual with all-knowing information. If anything, it’s a tool to navigate a misogynistic world. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I’ll leave you with Richards’ words on this:
As much as mothering is an experience available to most women and thus should be a unifier among women, there are still considerations that divide us. We should be more thoughtful about our choices and who might not be able to make the same choices that we can. And we can challenge ourselves to consider the larger implications of having children: Do our choices have negative consequences, and what message does our example send to others?
Look for future posts related to the book Opting In and the SCS Book Club in coming days!