A little bit less than a month ago, I officially entered the murky mid-30s. I'm single, with no real prospects on the horizon. I'm an only child, my mother's sole hope for biological grandchildren. Pulling out that ruler we all measure ourselves by -- our friends -- I took stock and am both confused and yet relieved.
My female friends who are my age seem to fall into two groups. The first group married shortly after high school or perhaps college graduation. They started their families in short order, and their kids are now anywhere from high school age to approaching middle school, or perhaps a little younger. These friends tend to make me take stock of my life and feel slightly inadequate. While they were falling in love, getting married, and having babies, I was going to school. And grad school. And grad school again. Instead of pictures of beautiful babies growing up, I have diplomas and cats. Am I behind?
Then there are the friends I went to grad school with. Like me, they pursued career over family. Some of them have gotten married and are now having babies. Their progeny are all toddlers or younger. Other friends are just now getting pregnant. With this comes a darker side of growing up: what happens when those pregnancies are unsuccessful. In the past 4 months, I've had two friends lose their babies. But, the plethora of friends popping healthy kids out left and right gives me hope for my friends that the next time they'll be just fine. This baby boom (and, lesser so, marriage boom) among my friends makes me think I'm ok. Not behind, or at least not too far behind.
I have to ask, though, is measuring my worth, or my success, in marriage and children an antiquated sociological edict? Is this something I am programmed genetically to feel because I am a woman? Or is this something society wants me to feel? Have we not surpassed the days wherein the woman's role, so to say, was to produce heirs and keep house? In a time where the concept of the family is being challenged and redefined, are such standards still valid?
Am I wrong to be in my mid-30s and not even know if I want children? I certainly want to get married, and I have faith that God has someone for me and He will bring him into my life at the perfect time. But at this moment, when I am asked if I want children my answer is always, "I really don't know." When there is someone in my life, I do have maternal thoughts. I have a recently-divorced male friend with a young daughter, and although we live quite a distance apart, when we met there were a few small sparks. Although nothing came of it, I found myself thinking I could be quite happy as a step-mother. When I am around my pregnant friends, I wonder what it would be like to be in their situation: feeling something living moving inside me, complaining of swollen ankles and sore backs, knowing that one of the most amazing miracles was occurring inside my womb.
But when I am in my usual position, that being hopelessly single, I do not harbor the same maternal thoughts. My main day job, at the moment, is being a substitute teacher. I enjoy my job, most of the time. The unconditional love and trust young children give, even to strangers, would warm the coldest of hearts. The more mature, yet still distinctly youthful, admiration pre-teens and teenagers give can gives you hope that someday all might be right in the world. Yet, there is nothing quite like that feeling when 2:30 or 3:30 rolls around and you send them HOME, and I am once again free to do as I wish without needing to think about child care or other familial things.
Two things come to mind when I consider my situation, and neither of these are necessarily encouraging. First, statistics and studies show that the more education and degrees a woman has, the less likely she is to get married. Lovely. Secondly, a woman who gets pregnant at the age of 35 or older is having what doctors call a "geriatric pregnancy." Nice. Does that mean we'd take Geritol instead of pre-natal vitamins?
Still, I try to take comfort in the belief that I am where God wants me to be, and when all is appropriate He'll show me the way. Until then, I can use the tick, tock of my biological clock as a metronome when I'm practicing.