Apple and Facebook announced this week that they will cover
egg retrieval and storage for employees who want to freeze their eggs
at a younger age in order to have more options if they want to have families later. Depending on your point of view (my feelings are mixed) this is either a great stride in offering women choice around their reproductive lives, or the latest bandaid over a system that requires women to devote their key reproductive years entirely to career-building in order to be taken seriously as professionals.
As someone who has struggled with both fertility issues and who had her youngest child a few days after turning 40, I am going to say that even if the plan to delay having kids goes perfectly -- IVF works and you have a happy and healthy baby -- having kids when you're older can have some challenges to consider. One is plain old energy.
Start training now
I am definitely not prepared to say that I am slowing down; I am more physically active than I have been for most of my life, and I love getting out to the park with my three-year-old. But I still do feel a difference in the daily grind of parenting between when my older son was this age, and my younger. When my little guy has a nightmare, my stumble to go give him a hug has sometimes come with a serious twinge in my back. I have handed over the iPad for a 20 minute episode of Caillou in order to get a bit more sleep, something I didn't do with my first. And I notice my husband falls asleep after the bedtime story more often. And I'm convinced stepping on Lego has gotten more painful. At my son's current age, my energy level isn't an issue. But I'll admit one reason I keep going to the gym is that I know I have to work to maintain my cardio so I'll be able to chase him down the street when he's 15. And when he's entering university, I'll be entering my 60s, and my husband will be almost 65. Recently this really hit home when I realized my husband is the same age as my dad was...when we got married. Another issue is what your extended family picture looks like as everyone ages.
Consider your aging family
If I'd had my kids ten years earlier, it's true that neither of my parents would be retired, so they might be busier. However, they've both had health issues that have been significant and in fact I spent some of my maternity leave with my youngest visiting my father in both the ICU and rehab. Health issues can strike at any age, but this is definitely something I didn't worry about as concretely in the past as I do now. I think most of us are headed towards some kind of "sandwich generation" experience at some point. But there is a huge difference between bringing a baby or a toddler along for grandparent medical issues, and a 12 or 14 year old. Having older parents can also mean less support for working parents in terms of a grandparent providing regular or emergency daycare, or covering school holidays. If it truly "takes a tribe" to raise a child, the health of the tribe counts too.
Being an older parent isn't all bad news
Of course there are advantages to waiting, too: Greater financial stability for some of us (although wow does daycare eat into what goes towards retirement savings) and what I like to think of as a greater ability to triage -- some of the things that I know would have bothered me ten years ago just roll off my back now. And as cliché as this is going to be, I'm just glad to have my boys here.
Get the right information
So what should women do? Look, the fact is that we only get one life and if someone had a crystal ball to predict for each individual when we'll meet our life partners, marry them, get the sperm and the egg in the same place together and find the perfect daycare situation...they'd create an app for that and get incredibly rich. But if you are considering delaying your family planning in favour of your career I suggest:
- talk to your doctor about the real risks and stats about egg retrieval, freezing and IVF - there are no guarantees
- be aware that your own health is going to be critical, so don't torpedo that in favour of working 24/7 either
- take into consideration other family members' availability to support you, and how much support you might have to give
- save your money because a good financial cushion goes a long way to compensate for other gaps
How do you feel about the timing of your family? (Photo: Courtesy of FlickrCC/