The Childbearing Question: It Keeps Getting More Complex.
I've been looking at the archetypes that have been used to describe the “Ages of Woman” (which have traditionally been maiden, matron, and crone). These are wholly inadequate descriptions of the many stages of a woman's sexual and reproductive life, but what should replace them? The inquiry has led to a new model I'm calling "The Nine Lives of Woman.” The following is an excerpt from a chapter called "The New Reality of Reproduction." I hope you enjoy it, and I welcome your responses.
The New Reality of Reproduction
Most women live in an actively reproductive female body for 30 years or longer. Today, though, procreating has entirely new complexities, both biological and cultural. Some of the questions faced by women in their middle years of life are being asked for the first time in history. Our mothers didn’t ask them, our grandmothers certainly didn’t, and they would be scientifically unimaginable to our great-grandmothers. In addition to birth control and freedom of sexual expression, women are faced with a host of new challenges in the reproductive sphere. If you are past menopause, consider for a moment the world of our daughters—and if you are still in the potentially child-bearing demographic, know that you are indeed in a whole new world!
Should I have a child?
This is a real question, as birth rates keep dropping in the West. It's gone from 3.7 to 1.8 children per women since 1960. Married or unmarried, women are choosing not to bear children. In prior eras, if you married, it was a given that you would have children—unless there was a medical problem. Women cite the economics of child rearing, climate change (from a reader: The BirthStrike Movement), overpopulation, and the number of neglected and needy kids already out there as reasons not to give birth. For other women, the decision to forego having children arises from an internal recognition that motherhood just isn’t right for them: they are better off as “aunties.” And today they have a choice.
What’s the right timing for childbirth, relative to other obligations?
Given that it would take the average 30-year- old living in Los Angeles at least 40 years to save up enough money to purchase a home (they’d be 73 years old!)—and to have a job that provides the stability to raise a family— what is the right time to have children? And when will your own growth process make you able to assume the role of a conscious mother? The personal economics of millenials makes it difficult to support themselves, much less children. Some women wait out of a concern for how their bodies will change —e.g., the vanity of skin and fat and stretch marks, or the unfounded fear that "their vaginas will stretch out", and their subsequent perception of lowered desirability. Then there’s the catch-22 question of community and support: If you wait too long your own parents—who in prior generations were a familial support system and backstop—may also be in physical decline, and unable to help out much. There’s a corollary to this timing question: Should I freeze my eggs? And, What’s the optimal age to freeze my eggs?Major companies like Uber are currently paying for their female employees to freeze their eggs. This is becoming the norm.
Should I go it alone, or with a partner?
Women also delay having children because they haven’t found the right partner. My friend and social futurist Christine Petersen points out that it’s only in recent history that men could have sex and not have the responsibility of children. That has made men more reluctant to marry and commit. As a result, more than ever before, women are choosing to give birth independently, fully intending to raise their child alone.
The new reproductive questions continue: If I’m having a child alone, should I do it with known sperm in agreement with the donor, or with anonymous sperm obtained from a donor bank? How do I choose the right donor sperm? Should I spin for gender? Should I gene select or gene edit (CRISPR is coming!)? When I or we are ready to give birth, how should we gestate? Surrogate? Scheduled Ceasarean? Traditional Vaginal Birth? If we choose a C-section, how will we duplicate the vaginal birth advantages for the infant? (Rubbing the infant in the extract of the vaginal biome, to offer the infant greater immunity, is now common practice).
At Rosebud Woman, we are working toward a new understanding of the archetypes and life stages of women today. What are the questions women in each stage of our reproductive life? How do we attain optimum wellness in these areas? What’s needed now?
Christine Marie Mason