The Creeping Non-Choice

by Dana A.S. Rakoczy '90

Earlier this year, a book by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Creating a Life: Professional Women and Their Quest For Children, hit the local Barnes & Nobles across the country. In two months, this literary version of “Reality TV” had stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy—from angry heads of N.O.W., who regarded Ms. Hewlett’s ideas as some nefarious 50s-return-to-housewifery plot to stone-faced medical practitioners, who stoically point to charts and graphs and petri dishes as if to say: “We told you so.”

And then there’s us. The women in question. Those who read this book or the resulting articles in magazines like Time while we wait for the subway or the school bus; wait in line at Starbucks or a Chuck E. Cheese; wait for the meeting to start or for the baby to wake up.

And as we read these articles, those of us who have not had children perceptibly feel our ovaries shrinking away, useless orbs that signify wasted opportunity and impending mortality. Those of us who have children, on the other hand, begin to see our female parts growing huge, overtaking our lives, perhaps our dreams of usefulness and purpose other than as “Mommy.”

I sit in the position of the former. For 34 years, I never thought much about my biology. Until now.

Like most girls growing up, I had envisioned, well, let’s just call it: “The Production Schedule.” On it, you could find penciled-in projections of dates and times for The Firsts: First Date, First Kiss, First Job, First Car, First Sexual Experience, and so on. With a few noteworthy exceptions, I did my best to adhere to my self-imposed short-term deadlines.

Long-term projects with scarier titles such as “career”, “marriage,” and “babies,” were there on The Schedule, but they seemed so many calendar pages ahead that they were never worth worrying about. I knew that, eventually, they would be deadlines met.

However, nearing completion of the obligatory Firsts, I noticed there were decidedly fewer calendar pages separating me from long-term projects. To solve this dilemma, I scratched out dates, and recalculated my deadlines.

Funny thing was that I found myself increasingly pushing back these deadlines. Even avoiding calling them deadlines in favor of softer terms, like “target dates,” or the “by-thens” (as in, “I’m sure by then—fill in date here—that I will be happily married with four kids.”).

One month shy of my 30th birthday, I accomplished quite a feat. As I progressed down the aisle swathed in white, I heaved an inward sigh. At last, long-term project “marriage” could be checked off the list. And I accepted congratulations from family and friends—whose job it is apparently to keep everyone on The Production Schedule—and responded vaguely to that immediate and predictable wedding guest question: “So, when are you having a baby?” I smiled, ate cake, and inwardly celebrated the crossing off of this deadline for good.

Not two years later, I was delighted to discover that I had acquired a fairly solid profession, or, at least one I could mark on forms as my “career.” Two down, one to go.

Fueled by my success, I was confident, self-assured. Once again deadlines were my ally, not my enemy. So I considered, could “babies” be far behind? Ah, The Production Schedule, achingly near to completion.

But then things changed. There were job changes, housing changes, life changes—none of which could, in my mind include a baby. After all, I wouldn’t want a completely dependent being brought into a world that wasn’t quite stable. That, I thought, would be unfair.

Ironically, this thinking has since earned me on several occasions such titles as “selfish” and “career-obsessed.” One friend who has two children remarked to another, “If she doesn’t give birth by 34, I doubt she’ll have kids at all.” And then there’s my tax man, who every April tells my husband and me we really need to have a baby or two as they are “good write-offs.”

All of these opinions I, of course, take in stride. Advice from the well-meaning yet misinformed. I bolstered myself with the thought that I was making the right choices instead of blindly and blithely taking that final step into Mommyhood. I was going to go into this last project prepared, informed, and physically, mentally, and financially stable. On this last one, I thought judiciously, there is no real deadline. There simply can’t be.

Or so I believed.

Now, at a potentially barren 34, I begin to re-sift through these comments (except the one from the tax guy), and wonder if I have not inadvertently foiled my own biology. According to opinion leaders, the medical profession and Sylvia Ann Hewlett, I may have just missed my chance to have it all.

By not yet charging forth into parenthood, have I made what Hewlett refers to as “the creeping non-choice”? Have I passed my body’s own target dates without even knowing it? And why did I not really consider that a woman’s biology carries its own Production Schedule? with immovable, immutable deadlines? Oh, I realized that after 40 it’s increasingly difficult to get pregnant, but what about all those headline stories? The celebrated pop stars who have babies well into their 40s-and-fabulous decade? The woman who gave birth in her 60s? Have I been completely self-deluded or have I allowed myself to be suckered by the media? And should I know abandon a productive and personally satisfying professional life to become a slave to ovulation charts, optimum temperatures and positions, and ensuring maximum sperm counts? (Romance preferred, but not essential.)

The only word that comes to mind is “frozen.” I am frozen with indecision on “timing,” frozen with fear that I have already waited too long, and now I wonder if I should have included time on my Production Schedule to have my eggs frozen.