There Is No Right Time To Be A Parent: Quit Worrying And Have Some Damn Babies Already
When I called my mom up on the phone to let her know that I'd had my first child -- a healthy, happy baby boy who just happened to be like four months old at that point -- she sighed. "Well," she said, "I can't say I'm surprised." It was about three weeks after the first time I met him, in the waiting room of the paternity clinic, and I had the test results in hand. They didn't surprise me, either. Even though the paternity had been between me and one other guy, from the second I saw that baby, I knew -- I just knew -- he was mine. Partly because the guy was Italian, and this baby didn't look Italian at all, but I'm still pretty sure the other part was some kind of paternal instinct. Either way, I was 20 years old and I was a father, and what I felt about that was about 80 percent terror.
This is how old you feel, being a parent.
I was not what you'd call "prepared" for fatherhood. I knew nothing about babies, had read no parenting books, had never changed a diaper or prepared infant formula or soothed an infant's cry. I wasn't what my friends would have described as "parenting material." I was, rather, a high-school dropout with few prospects who, at the time I took over as the baby's father, was holding the first job I'd ever managed to hold for more than about five months (that one lasted nine). In retrospect, actually, I'm sure the baby was equally frightened -- like, who is this bumbling-ass dude I'm spending every other weekend with all of a sudden?
I was not ready. It was not the right time.
My experience is fairly unique among my demographic -- educated 20- to 30-something white people with upwardly mobile careers, most of whom don't have kids at all, let alone kids who are 9 years old already. I was a young parent. But I wasn't a particularly young parent when my second son was born nine months ago, when I was 29. He was my girlfriend's first. She was 27, which is not all that young, either. Still, her decision to start a family even in her late 20s gets a fair amount of raised eyebrows among her grad-school group of peers -- particularly, it seems, the women. "Oh, you had a baby? That must be so much to handle!" these women tell my girlfriend, sometimes while actually holding our baby. "Yeah, I want to have kids too someday, but I'm really focusing on my career right now. Me and Mark are just waiting for the right time." On a side-note, their boyfriends are all named Mark.
And so they wait. And they wait. And the length of time they wait for is, more and more, getting pretty ridiculous. Last week, the New York Times ran a story about an emerging and baffling trend: older parents, who, aware of the maddening ticking of the biological clock, are paying their aging, 30-something daughters to have their eggs frozen in the hope of warding off their rapidly decreasing odds of having grandchildren one day. It's a revealing example of the bizarre side of what has become the conventional wisdom -- reinforced by actual science! -- that it's better to wait to start a brood. In fact, science claims to have pinpointed the figure: a few years ago, the National Institute of Ageing and the National Institute of Mental Health concluded that the best time to have a baby is at exactly age 34, claiming that stress problems associated with having a family tend to drop off steadily until age 34 and then rise again.
Why that rise in problems after 34? Because, of course, in terms of child-bearing, 35 is getting pretty old to be doing it. The older we get, in fact, the precipitously higher the risk of serious pregnancy complications and birth defects associated with eggs that, well, have just been in the fridge too long, so to speak. It's hard on our bodies. The irony here being, of course, that the cohort of folks paying to freeze their eggs until they're settled enough in their careers to maybe give parenting a shot is the same cohort of folks most likely to wring their hands about the horrors of teen pregnancy -- the time at which our biology most strongly encourages us to have kids in the first place. I mean, good Lord, freezing eggs is hella expensive -- the procedure can run a tab of up to $18,000. I'm just saying, if these people had offered to pay their daughters 18 grand to get pregnant when they were still teenagers, I bet they totally would have done it and it would have been way easier. What? I'm just saying.