It is commonly accepted that 35 years old is ‘the big one’ in terms of fertility milestones. And, in fact, I turned 35 last month.
In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I prepared myself for the usual mixed feelings—another year closer to 40, ugh…but I still look and feel awesome, yay. However, this particular birthday brought with it some extra emotional baggage that I wasn’t prepared for. As the day drew nearer, I began to ponder the choices I’ve made in my life.
Specifically, my choice to not have children.
As we women are so often reminded, 35 is generally considered the age at which our fertility rapidly declines. There are always exceptions to the rule of course, as every woman’s body is different. One of my friends had her daughter at 38, and my late mother-in-law had her younger son at 40. But typically, 35 is “use it or lose it” time for a woman’s fertility.
Up until now I never gave my fertility much thought. I’ve always known, even from a young age, that I did not want to have children. So for me, my fertility was less something for me to cherish and more something I needed to beat into submission. I would really only think about it when it came time for my annual gyno visit, which I would endure solely for the purpose of obtaining another year’s worth of birth control pills. Peace of mind in a little foil packet. This was my routine from age 18 and up. And I was more than okay with it.
But as the Big 3-5 drew ever nearer, I found that thoughts about fertility and motherhood were weighing heavily on my mind. So what changed? Why was I, someone who has spent her entire adult life avoiding motherhood, suddenly so anxious about my impending loss of fertility? Could it be that I had—cue dramatic music—changed my mind about not wanting children?
No, that wasn’t it. I was still happy as ever with my childfree lifestyle. I still felt that I was enough and that I didn’t need a baby to make me feel complete or to give me a sense of purpose. Then I realized that I didn’t regret regards my choice that was getting me down. It was anxiety over no longer being able to have a choice.
Men typically don’t have to worry about their fertility. Barring any medical problems, they can make a baby just about any time they want. Rod Stewart fathered a child at 66! But like many other things, it’s different for women. We only get a finite amount of fertile years and we know it. And that can be a daunting thought—yes, even for the childfree. I’m the type of person who likes to have options, a backup plan, a way out if I change my mind. My approaching birthday made me suddenly realize the permanence of my decision to not have children. The reality that I too will age and will one day no longer have the option to have a biological child was no longer a passing thought in the back of my mind.
It’s as if life sat me down, looked me in the eyes, and asked me, “Is that your final answer?”
It might seem odd that a childfree-by-choice woman would be having these kinds of thoughts. I think some people assume that childfree people just wake up one day, decide not to have children, and then never think about it ever again. But we do think about it. We do sometimes wonder what our lives would be like had we made a different choice. Just please don’t confuse our curiosity with regret.
And yes, not having children is my final answer. It always was and always will be my final answer, because it feels right for me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be living a genuine life.
So how did I reconcile my choice to live childfree with my anxiety over my declining fertility?
By accepting the fact that I can’t do everything. Women are uniquely pressured to “have it all.” This is especially true in the US, where I live. We’re told that we can (and should!) have everything society tells us we’re supposed to want: a career, a partner, a home, children, and an Instagram-worthy lifestyle. And naturally, we’re expected to keep all of these things in perfect balance and look effortless while doing so. But the truth is that no one can have it all, least of all me. I couldn’t attend every college I was accepted to, I couldn’t take every job I applied for, and I couldn’t buy every house I made an offer on. When you make one choice, you have to let another one go. The same goes for being childfree. I chose not to have children, so I have to let go of my opportunity to have them. That means saying farewell to my fertility without ever having used it.
But the beautiful part of it is that saying no to having children left me open to say yes to other things. It left me free to get my master’s and start a new career. It left me free to enjoy activities like swimming and obstacle course racing. And it left me and my husband free to plan future trips to Iceland and Nepal.
I’m grateful for the sudden bout of anxiety that accompanied my 35th birthday because it helped me fully own my decision to be childfree. I can’t experience everything life has to offer, so I’m choosing to experience the things I really want while I still can. No regrets.
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