Welcome to your late 30s, you barren spinster
A few weeks ago, I turned 37 years old. I am an educated single woman with two cats and zero children. In America today, there’s no more pitiable creature.
I’m supposed to be sad and anxious, desperately trying to trap a man in a marriage so that we might have babies before my lady parts aren’t capable of producing offspring even with the help of medical interventions costing as much as a mid-priced family sedan.
But I’m not?
For my birthday, my mother came to visit me for a few days. Just before her departure, we were scarfing down tacos at an outdoor café in the Mission when a toddler’s shrieking disrupted the sunny California afternoon. I rolled my eyes, and huffed. My mother stiffened. Not because of a misbehaving toddler, but because of her misbehaving daughter.
She’s interrogated me about my parenting plans before. When I got divorced a few years ago, she told me “reassuringly” that I could still meet someone, and have babies before it became biologically impossible. She even suggested that I become a single parent with the help of some donor sperm.
“How did you know you wanted children?” I asked her. She described an all-encompassing obsession with motherhood, and how it’s the single most important and defining experience of her life.
I then tried to explain to her how even when I was happily married, I never wanted children. I kept waiting for the tick of that biological clock, but it never came. “I’m just not going to have kids, Mom. Not because I can’t, but because I don’t want to.” I paused, letting it sink in. “You look upset,” I finally said.
“I’m not upset,” she responded, “I’m scared for you.” And that’s the part of this where she’s…. right. Because as much as I know I don’t want to have children, I am also terrified about aging childless.
A few months ago, I was helping lead a brainstorming workshop for a group of women lawyers. As an ice breaker, we asked them to share their greatest fears with the group. One woman in her late 40s stood up, took the microphone, breathed in some courage and said: “I’m terrified of being destitute in old age.”
First, there was a stunned silence. And then, dozens of hands went up. “Me, too!” “YES!” “I thought I was the only one.”
She’s not wrong to have this fear. Aging childless is precarious. Aging childless for women is even more so.
By the time demographers give up on my generation of women having children (around age 45), they predict that as many as 1 in 3 will be childless (intentionally and not). For our grandmothers, that number was 1 in 9. Our mothers? 1 in 5. You think American society, with its lack of social safety net is ready?
So, we must plan for ourselves. We’re saving aggressively, what with our 401k, IRAs, ESPPs, and (bless Silicon Valley) RSUs. I plan on starting an old lady compound alà Golden Girls, where we can live independently, care for each other, and save on housing costs.
(I have dibs on being the Blanche of the group, but realistically, I’m probably Dorothy).
Hopefully, robots and AI will make expensive caretakers less necessary. (Also “hopefully,” my robot minder will not take advantage of me when I become senile, and spend all my money on frivolous robot drugs, whatever those turn out to be).
Right now, the trade-off seems worth it: I get to enjoy decades of “doing whatever the fuck I want” and sleep, in exchange for worrying about a few precarious years at the end. Perhaps I will regret my choice, as my mother fears. But I would rather regret my death, than my life. Because without children, it’s pretty awesome.