Writer’s note to readers: This article is not intended to discourage women over a certain age from having children. There have been numerous cases of women having children as late as in their 60’s. This article is intended to explore the psychological shift directly correlated with a woman’s fertility.
One sunny afternoon, my friend and I were walking through the picturesque Lincoln Park – a neighborhood rich in greenery, parks, and young families. The sidewalks were full of newlywed’s with gigantic strollers and baby bjorns. My friend tugged on my arm and described an irregular pull in her lower abdomen. She feels it every time she’s near a baby, sees a baby, hears a baby, even when she thinks about a baby. She’s not married, yet she’s increasingly anxious to have children. She turns to me after baby number five passes, “I want to be the one pushing a gigantic stroller down the sidewalk while another baby is strapped to the front of my chest!”
According to John Mirowsky, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, the late teens or early twenties are "best" biologically. "That’s when oocytes are fresh and the body's reproductive and other systems are at a youthful peak," he wrote. “Women in their twenties are least likely to have developed chronic health problems that would put them or their babies at risk, and they have the lowest rates of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, and infertility.”
However, the best biological age isn’t always the best sociological age. As Mirowsky put it, "Humans mature reproductively about a decade before Americans mature socially.” Furthermore, women have been increasingly prioritizing goals such as education and career above marriage and children – at least until these goals are accomplished.
Once they are ready to pursue having a family, they are well into their late twenties and thirties. The median age for giving birth increased from 27.2 years to 29.3 from 1986 to 2008. According to research, if women are waiting to have children, this leaves a small window of optimal fertility. Most women’s fertility begins to decline sharply in their mid-thirties (35 to be exact). If this is true, my friend (now 34) has only one more year left in her “optimal fertility window.” Is the “irregular pull in her lower abdomen” her body’s way of telling her that?
She has been with her boyfriend for six months now. In the early days of their relationship, she had ambivalent feelings toward him. As month number three struck, the “L” word sat on the tip of her tongue for days, weeks, and has continued to sit there, anxiously waiting to jump out of her mouth.
However, coincidental timing has left her confounded. At the same time she urged to utter “I love you” was the same time she felt that little pull in her lower abdomen. She couldn’t help wondering if it was a coincidence, or if this was her biological clock nudging her to fall in love, get married, have children, and raise a family. She pondered if she really was falling in love with him or if nature was “tricking” her into falling in love with him.
If the constant yearning to settle down with her boyfriend and strap on a baby bjorn wasn’t enough, she says there were more signs her biological clock was ticking...
“My sex drive is through the roof! I don’t know what’s going on with me!" she shouts as a young couple darts us an unsettling look. Supposedly the spike in her libido is a tell-all sign that her baby time is running out.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin would agree. Their study, published in the June 2010 issue of Personality and Individual Differences, found that 827 women ages 18 to 65 noticed an increase in sex-drive at the point of decreased fertility.
"Women with declining fertility think more about sex, have more frequent and intense sexual fantasies, are more willing to engage in sexual intercourse, and report actually engaging in sexual intercourse more frequently than women of other age groups," the researchers wrote. "These findings suggest women's 'biological clock' may function to shift psychological motivations and actual behaviors to facilitate utilizing remaining fertility.”
“My biological clock is ticking and it’s doing everything it can to push me over the edge!" she continued. "Images of babies swim through my thoughts all day long, I want to constantly jump my boyfriend when I get home, and I want to tell him I love him repeatedly until it makes everyone want to vomit! Is it because I really love him or does my body just want me to settle down already?!” she confesses.
In the end, she decided it didn’t really matter the source of overwhelming love for her boyfriend, as long as her feelings were genuine. She knew she wasn’t settling for Mr. Right Now for the sole purpose of quenching that pull in her abdomen. Her love for him was pure and real. She finally alleviated the three little words that had been sitting on her lips for months. She said it never felt so good to say “I love you” to another person. She’s not sure if he will be the father of her children, but she is sure that she will not rush a decision so monumental. She will let their relationship run its natural course, no matter how strong that pull is.