Last week, I found out that a majority of Americans want me and my female peers to start pushing out babies before the age of 25 — after which, we presumably turn into sad, infertile, mushy pumpkins.
In a Gallup poll of 5,100 Americans about having children, 58% said 25 or younger is the ideal age for women to have their first child, whereas 26 and older is perfectly fine for men. An interesting point: The men and women comprising this 58% agree that women should start young, but the majority of women don't hold men up to the same standard.
And why would they? When I hear a story like this, I can't help but remember the female friends or acquaintances who have told me the exact age they want to start having children. Meanwhile, I've never heard one male friend tell me that he needs to have his first child by 26 or 27.
It's obvious that fertility and optimal maternal and child health largely affect how women feel about birth. But it goes deeper than that. Women are in the business of self-policing — when to have a slice of cake, when to wear that skirt, when to have sex, when to get married, when to have a child. Society provides narrow windows of choice for women: This is what you're supposed to do; this is when you're supposed to do it. Act accordingly.
This intersects heavily with the emphasis placed on a woman's youth and fertility. The idea of a woman's biological clock is obviously still very prevalent, even though the female fertility panic has been oversold and studies have shown that older fathers can present just as many, if not more, potential medical problems as older mothers. Moreover, having children is still seen as an obvious necessity for women —p erhaps less so now than 20 or 30 years ago, but articles wondering if young women can "have it all" haven't stopped rolling off the presses. Perhaps most importantly, the stigma of being an older mother has not gone away.
I cannot imagine having a child in three years, or five, or 10. Maybe ever. The idea that I should have to start thinking about the ideal age to get pregnant, when I can barely make a decision about where to go to for lunch, seems absurd. Alarmingly, the "you must have a baby NOW" mentality is much more normal than I had assumed.