By Lisa Manterfield
I was asked once, by a well-intentioned person, if I thought I’d waited too long to start trying to have children. I have to admit that the thought has flitted across my mind on more than one occasion, but once I stop to think it through, I’m able to answer the question with a resounding “No!”
I remember being completely affronted (and rightly so) by a very conservative college professor who told me that the prime age for women to have children was 18. Of course, looking at a chart of fertility vs. age, I now see that he was correct, even if his suggestion that motherhood might be a more suitable choice than college was extremely misguided.
Looking back at my 18-year-old self, it’s hard to imagine what would have happened if that young woman had become a mother. Yes, I know lots of women do it, and I probably would have too, if I’d had to. But thinking about all the upheavals I’ve put myself through, I just cannot imagine that a child would have benefited from having me as an 18-year-old mother. Maybe (maybe) my supposed topnotch fertility at that age would have enabled me to conceive, but it would have been no guarantee of my suitability as a mother.
The truth is, I have absolutely no idea if I was fertile at 18. I assumed that, like many, many women, I would still be fertile at 34, and look how that turned out. There’s no way of knowing how long ago my body decided it wasn’t up to the task of reproducing, and now I’ll never know.
When I look back at the 18-34 years, they were rocky, but good. I had all kinds of experiences that I couldn’t have had if I’d had children to take care for. I went to college—twice—moved to another continent, traveled to many countries, did volunteer work, had fun but unsuitable relationships, changed careers (more than twice), and got to sample adventures not well-matched to motherhood. I certainly don’t feel as if I wasted those years. I wonder if I’d feel the same if I’d been raising children all those years.
So, no, I don’t feel as if I waited too long. I waited until I was ready, and while I waited, I was busy living my life to the fullest, and I don’t consider that wasted time at all.
I love this post and can relate to it so well! I had a discussion of this same topic with a friend and she was mentioning the same .. we realized we started trying when we were mentally ready .. and who really does know if we’d be fertile .. i dont regret those years i waited because they were on purpose .. now the involuntarilly years were not on purpose when we wanted to have a child but it is what it is and we tried our best.
I also had a professor say this to me! And it was very recent. It made me mad. She doesn’t know anything about me. She doesn’t know when I started trying. For all she knows, I did start trying to get pregnant at 18. People need to mind their own business.
It’s such a rude comment!
Love this post. I think about this question often. It’s easy to torture yourself with it.
Jane P (UK) says
Great post Lisa – and the responses. I agree its a rude comment – based on hindsight which we don’t have until its too late. So yes, goes down as one of those “helpful” comments that whoever says anything like this to me now is off my “listen” to list. A new list that I have just invented to protect myself from torturing myself with things that I have already tortured and asked myself a million times. Like Lisa I waited until I had met the right man and he was ready (I feel I was ready from age 6 – but I probably wasn’t)! For us that was 28 and I thought that was early enough. As it goes we put our faith in nature and science for 17 years and it didn’t happen for us. We certainly tried and I don’t regret waiting for the right man and all the years before and since. My only regret is that I couldn’t see me living a life without children sooner. Thank you Lisa for this wonderful place to visit and be reassured that children don’t guarantee you happiness and fulfillment and that a contented life without baby is possible. A counselor once said to me you cannot change other people – you can only change your own attitude/reaction. I think this applies to infertility – I cannot change that we couldn’t have our much longed for baby – I can only change my own response to triggers. Its a work in progress – but I’m gradually changing my thinking. Thanks everyone for sharing.
I didn’t get to choose to wait. I couldn’t in my 20’s (poverty) but I worked hard and when I was feeling financially better: I couldn’t in my early 30’s (heart issues) mid 30’s (car accident) or late 30’s (early menopause). So now in my early 40’s I look back on it all and go, “DAMN!” but I also just sigh and keep moving along. I’ve NEVER had the life I wanted and worked for, but i’m going to keep working on my life regardless…
Jane P (UK) says
well said Robin – “I’m going to keep working on my life regardless” – wise words, this is what we need to do.