Learning how to write a check, buying hanging shelves for my first apartment (a task that’s taken me four months and counting), and trying out the new churro place near my apartment are all more pressing concerns in my 23-year-old life than deciding when to become a mother.
However, as I wrote in my last post on Judith Shulevitz’s New Republic article on aging parents and its ensuing response, motherhood has been dancing around my head a little more these days. As a child of the 1990s and 2000s, I have been raised to put my career first; I’d be crazy to think about motherhood at my very young age, right? And while neither Shulevitz nor any other medical professional would say my clock is ticking any time soon, I began to wonder about my own mother’s decision about when to have kids (me at age 30, and her last at age 38).
Last week, my mother and I sat together on my bed, a spot we’ve sat together many times before discussing school, work, friendship and family. As she did with all of these topics, my mother, Sharon Shire, a former attorney and mother of three, had her own highly articulate and deeply thoughtful way of discussing motherhood. The fact that we were discussing motherhood and my serious life choices as a woman was both novel and rewarding. Many of my mother’s stories and pieces of advice were neither new nor surprising to me. However, I suddenly found myself understanding the professional, financial and personal considerations at stake. Above all, she taught me there is no magic formula for deciding when to have children and compromise and sacrifice were always going to be involved, regardless of the age.
It was pretty impossible to be a female writer and not be aware of Judith Shulevitz’s Dec. 6 article in The New Republic on the aging of American parents. Not since the premiere of Girls was there such an eruption among the ladyblogs; it seemed as if everyone had her own perspective on the article’s lessons and (to some) insinuations about women and their pesky biological clocks. Yet amid all the blog traffic and fiery debate, my 23-year-old self kept wondering, “So what does this mean for me?”
I didn’t read Shulevitz’s article as a feminist essay as much as a scientific one — and not a particularly shocking one at that. Studies showing increased health risks for babies born to older mothers have been confirmed and in the news for decades. If anything, Shulevitz stressed that the mother’s age wasn’t the only problem at hand; older fathers also increase the risk of health issues in their progeny (again, not exactly news). But the commentary and emotional responses her article churned up made me realize that I should start thinking about my motherhood plans sooner than I anticipated…
First, a message to my family members, friends and suitors: Calm your horses. By no means am I saying I want to have a baby any time soon. It feels strange and ridiculously premature even admitting, at 23 years old, that I want to have children at some point. Though my inability to cook anything other than macaroni and cheese and to properly read a Metro-North schedule reveal just how ill-equipped I am to care for another living creature (potted plants very much included), that’s not why I feel this discussion is so premature. It’s actually because of the way my mother, the woman I respect and admire more than any other, raised me.
Beginning this month, The Sisterhood will feature a monthly roundup of book recommendations for our readers. We will include books that are geared toward Jewish women, along with other women’s-interest titles that we believe will be of interest to Sisterhood readers.
• A diverse group of writers share their feminist “aha” moments in the new anthology “Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists” (Seal Press), edited by J. Courtney Sullivan and Courtney E. Martin. For contributor Elisa Albert, the click came when she was cast as Vashti in her Jewish day school’s Purim-themed musical review; for Salon.com’s Rebecca Traister, it came while she was reading Katie Roiphe’s controversial treatise on date rape.