Do “perfect conditions” exist for bringing a baby into the world?
While I’ve never had enough money to have a baby, I am starting to run out of time to have one. Three years ago, a fertility nurse told me that 36 marks the beginning of the end of my most fertile years, and now, having turned 36 one week ago, I am tormented by the thought of aging, unfertilized ovum.
At 33, my boyfriend cannot begin to comprehend what havoc such a seemingly irrelevant number can wreak on my indecisive psyche. Or can he? I knew that the thought of parenting terrified him, but I wondered if he knew what the thought of parenting, or not parenting, does to me, and if the true significance of my age truly registered among his concerns.
I always assumed the thoughts that keep me awake at night are not only invisible to my significant other, but incomprehensible. The loudest and most irksome factor in my internal debate is money. I’m a working-class woman who doesn’t come from wealth, supporting myself as a co-owner of a health food co-op in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the country. I make more money than my boyfriend as I’ve stuck with this job for 12 years; he has been at the co-op for only four. Our health benefits are covered in full, but half our monthly income goes to renting our one-bedroom apartment. We have no car, no credit card debt, and while we’re both paying back student loans for liberal arts degrees we never put to much use, our loans are manageable.
While we miraculously have such little debt, we are still quite poor, but sustaining our day-to-day lives just fine. For now, our needs are minimal. How, in our one-bedroom apartment, with little money left over, with our selfish time for ourselves (me to play tennis, write, and sew, he to play tennis and take photographs), could we enjoy this level of comfort we’ve miraculously created on such little income, in such an expensive city? Our parents, while loving and emotionally supportive, can’t offer anything, not even free childcare, as they are in the Midwest and on the East Coast.
But I am aging. For as young as I feel, as young as I may look, I’ve resisted motherhood for so long that I would only ever be an “older mother.” I have extremely poor vision. My boyfriend is deaf in one ear. We are both petite in stature. While I joke about our short, half-blind, half-deaf baby, I am also not joking. If our baby were not of perfect health, and we of less than perfect financial means, how could we provide for him or her? By sacrificing the modest comforts we’ve managed given our limited resources. That, to someone younger and even less certain about parenthood than I, seems like far too much to risk, or even ask.
I assumed these concerns were mine alone. My boyfriend has made it clear he likes our life just fine, and sees no reason to change. He’s also made it clear that he does not have an instinctual need to be a father. I have been restless to leave my job, and this city, but to have a baby? I don’t know. I often wish I had 10 more years before this fertility marker hits. While I have heard countless stories of women in their 40s having babies, I’m also aware of how many women endure massively expensive fertility treatments and egg donors, which are far out of my means. My age, for as long as it felt truly insignificant, is finally forcing decisions on me. How do I square this with my current, indecisive state of mind, severely lacking finances, and younger boyfriend? I assumed this discussion would be long and anguishing.
But my boyfriend surprised me. As he calmly breezed through his concerns, it’s clear these thoughts are not new to him. He’s weighed the enormous concerns and difficulties we would have against the more vague idea of satisfaction that parenting might provide. While he doesn’t doubt that we would be fantastic parents, and, in measured eloquence, admitted that we would “love the shit out of our baby,” the difficulties are too staggering to ignore.
But then he brought a perspective I hadn’t anticipated. My anguish and internal debate feel so deeply personal, unique to me so specifically that I have not read a single article or opinion from a woman at all like myself. Most women who are writing visibly about whether or not to have a baby come from a much more secure financial position. Every week, Slate, The New York Times, and The Atlantic detail highly professional women discussing either parenthood or childlessness, or working-class women (both single and married) with children struggling to get by. While I’m educated, I’m not a professional, and while I’ve supported myself working full-time my entire adult life, I am still working-class, and still childless. As my boyfriend points out, loads of working-class couples have babies. It’s just us who are over-thinking it.
Tina Rodia is a freelance writer and small business owner in San Francisco. She grew up in Connecticut, and has a B.A. in creative writing and women’s studies.