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Doing the Math

2009 November 1

pumpkinpatch4x6I’m officially one year older today. 33. I don’t like ages that end in 3. It’s when I think you move from being “early-” to “mid-” — and I really don’t like that. I was ok with being in my early-thirties, but being in my mid-thirties is a little more daunting.

It’s not that 33 is old. It’s not. I mean, 30 is the new 20, right? That’s what I keep saying anyway. And in a lot of ways it is true. My life at 33 is much more similar to my mom’s life at 23 than 33. At 23, I was nowhere near ready to be married. I had not yet met Elliott — or anyone who I thought could even possibly be the right man for me. I was totally confused about what I wanted to do with my life. And almost everything that I thought I knew about myself and what I wanted in life, I know now, was wrong. My mom at 23, on the other hand, was already married for 3 and 1/2 years and had 2 kids.

See, this the problem. Every time I get a year older – or think about getting a year older — I can’t help but start doing the math. If I’m 33 now and Lilly is 1, how old will I be when she graduates high school? College? How old was Mom when I graduated? What about Nana? Elliott’s mom? It’s an obsession.

I suppose there was a time in my life when this stemmed from insecurity, wondering how my life stacked up against others’ lives. But now I can honestly say it really has nothing to do with that or what others may think of my accomplishments (or lack thereof) at age x. It’s all about my own personal goals and the appreciation I’ve gained for mortality and the unpredictability of life (and death) that comes with age.

I used to say that I wanted to start having children before I turned 30. I grew up with young parents and I liked that. I liked having parents who had the energy to keep up with me. And, although tragedy can strike at any age, I have always found some comfort in knowing that my parents were younger than those of my peers when I heard of someone’s mother or father becoming ill or passing away. There are no guarantees in life, but the numbers seemed to be on our side. I wanted the same for my children and 30 seemed like a good goal.

Thirty gave me 8 years after graduating college to start my career. My mom had 3 kids by then. My grandmother had at least 2. It seemed realistic. But this thinking started when I was in my teens and twenties and I didn’t really appreciate just how young 30 is — when you’re 30. It’s all a matter of perspective. I didn’t appreciate how much life one still has ahead of them at age 30. I also didn’t appreciate just how substantial the mental obstacles are when it comes to actually making the decision to have kids. And here’s where my brain starts reeling in the math of it all.

Because, yes, I feel young at 33, but for most of human existence 33 was not considered young. At times, it was downright elderly. And, yes, many women now are postponing marriage and thus motherhood. So, by modern standards, having my first child two months before turning 32 is perfectly acceptable — even early by some women’s standards. Times — and a woman’s role in society and family — have changed dramatically since my grandmother’s day, and even my mom’s day, so I know it seems a bit crazy for me to obsess over such comparisons today. But the reason I continue to get stuck in the math is because my brain reminds me that it’s just that pesky perspective that’s offering me comfort in this reasoning. Times have changed, humans haven’t. (At least not in the last few decades.) The medical fact is each year after 35 a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant decreases and chances of complications increases. So am I really crazy to worry about whether or not I’m being careless (or maybe selfish) with my thirties? Especially if I want another baby at some point?

The conclusion I’ve reached is no. Here’s why. As that 30-year milestone crept closer, my perspective did in fact change. My career goals moved to the forefront. Then once my career was established, stabilizing my finances took priority. Once that happened, we weren’t ready to jump right into the responsibilities and burdens of parenthood; we were finally at a point in our lives when we could enjoy our independence and relatively comfortable quality of life. We were entitled to some time to ourselves, right?

Maybe this all does sound a bit selfish. Why did I postpone beyond 30? Me! Me! Me! But you know what? I am a better mom for it. Not better than other moms who started earlier than me, but better than I would have been as a mom if I had started earlier. I had goals. Lots of them. Career goals. Relationship goals. Financial goals. Travel goals. I had things I wanted to do — needed to do — in order for me to feel content as a person, as a woman and as a mother. If I had gotten pregnant even a year earlier, I would have sacrificed some of those goals and I would be yearning for them still. I would have regrets. And there are enough internal debates about who you are and what you’ve accomplished when a woman becomes a mother and realizes she is no longer living life entirely for herself anymore. I don’t need regrets on top of all that.

Obviously, as I sit here on my 33rd birthday pondering all of this, I still can’t always control the urge to do the math. But there is one other medical fact that tells me with certainty that I am on the exact right timeline for me: if I had become pregnant at any other age, at any other moment, things would not be just as they are now. It would have been a different egg or a different sperm, a different baby. Not Lilly. So all those decisions, selfish or otherwise, led to that moment, this baby, this life. And I am sure I will feel that Baby #2 is just as perfectly timed for the same reason. Besides, I am happier now than I have ever been in my life. So who am I to argue with the facts?

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