When I was a little girl, I thought I would have two kids by the time I was 25. Granted, I grew up in Russia, where getting married young and having children young has been an accepted tradition for a very long time. Instead, I went to college, worked as a journalist for a while, and then moved to the US.
In my early twenties, the last thing on my mind was, “where do I find a fine man who can be the father to my future children?” Instead, I was thinking about how to get the tickets to the latest DJ set or use my journalist ID to get to the backstage of concerts (after using it first to get in for free). I traveled, I made friends, I fell in love. I made stupid decisions. Probably some good ones, too. But the twenties seem like the perfect time for screwing things up and learning from your mistakes.
I did get married for the first time when I was 27. He was much older than me, and having kids right away just wasn’t something we discussed. I felt I had a lot of time, and our financial situation was far from ideal. When I got divorced two years later, not having children (or any property together) was more of a blessing than a regret.
Only in my early thirties did I finally find myself, learned to listen to my desires, and treat my body and mind with the love they deserved all along. I moved across the country, traveled even more, got a new job. I started going to therapy (that divorce was a great thing for me but still left me in shambles).
I am trying to say that up until I was about 31-32, I wasn’t too concerned about having kids. I was hoping to meet someone soon, who would be a good husband and a father. I knew I was getting close to the moment when I would want to become a mom. But I also enjoyed being single, discovering the world, and learning how to be genuinely happy on my own. In other words, I was growing up and becoming the person I was meant to be.
Maybe it is the privilege of our comfortable times and both countries where I grew up and now live. We don’t have to do farm work from an early age; we can get good education, travel, build careers and write dissertations. We are not required to marry a wealthy neighbor to help our family out or birth half a dozen kids to help with the chores around the house. Times are changing, and in many countries, women have kids much later in life.
I am one of those women, and I think it’s ok. I also think people need to stop asking us when we will finally start pushing babies out, “like we are supposed to.”
One of the Russian politicians went viral last year when she said that women should ideally have kids before the age of 25, so maybe the schools need to do a better job at explaining to girls how important this is. Women who give birth later than that she called “the old birth givers.” The term is not new and was widely used in Soviet times. It refers to women who become mothers after they turn 27.
Russian society did not take her comments lightly and suggested she leaves it to women to decide what to do with their bodies and instead focuses on astonishing levels of poverty amongst single mothers in Russia. While the attitudes of younger generations are certainly changing, a doctor in a Russian infertility clinic still might suggest a husband (of any age) chooses a younger wife if the current “after 30” partner is not successful in conceiving a firstborn.
A couple of years ago I went for a walk with a friend. He lives in Madrid; we have known each other for many years but never had a chance to meet. I was in town for work, and we decided to go for a stroll and grab dinner together. It was a perfectly lovely evening, up until we started talking about our personal lives. I told him I was dating someone, and I believed we would get married at some point and start a family. To this, my perfectly kind and well-meaning friend said, “Oh yeah, it is time to start trying for kids, no? How old are you, 33? 34?”
Because I was going to therapy for years and was able to react to things better, I did not burst into tears or scream at him. I calmly explained how inappropriate this question was and suggested he should never say that to another woman. He apologized profusely and felt so bad he insisted on paying for dinner.
I don’t think my friend is a horrible person. I think it is just too normalized to ask such questions and make jokes about the subject. People rarely realize that they might be hurting others with their unwelcome inquiries.
Yes, we are having kids when we are much older. Our lives and attitudes towards motherhood are changing. Still, our bodies are largely the same as they always were, with the exception of the availability of much better nutrition and medicine. This means that having kids can be difficult at any age, but it sometimes becomes even more difficult later in life.
I have friends who have been trying to conceive for years. I know a few girls that are currently going through IVF treatments and a few others that just gave birth after it. I know women who suffered miscarriages. Fertility is a difficult subject, and problems with it can be devastating to the family. It is also not something couples might discuss with friends or acquaintances in a casual conversation.
When someone asks, “when the babies are coming,” or comments on a woman’s weight gain with suggestions of pregnancy (which can be completely random or a result of hormone therapy to battle infertility), they don’t know how much pain they are causing.
Not everyone is ready to have kids at the same time. Some people decide not to have them at all, and that is also ok. Some families wait years to have a kid and focus on other things in life. Others have six children and are universally hated by everyone who has the misfortune to dine at the same restaurant with their large brood.
Let’s agree not to ask stupid questions about fertility, lack of kids, not enough kids, kids of opposite gender “to finally have a boy/girl,” and all other things that are none of our damn business. Let’s learn as a society to be better and do better. We must remember that even the questions that come from the most loving heart of a good friend or an elderly relative can be hurtful and most definitely unnecessary.
Let’s learn different ways to ask married couples about how they are doing and to check in on single female friends approaching their mid-thirties. Talk to them about their favorite Netflix shows. Discuss plants and dogs – no one will get mad at you if you ask people when they are going to finally get a puppy. Devise the plan to take the patriarchy down and solve the climate change crisis. Just stop asking women about having kids.