Last Friday I read a story that left me staring wide-eyed at my computer screen. Researchers at Harvard claim to have found a way to extract from women’s ovaries stem cells that are capable of generating new eggs. This newest discovery may make it possible for older women or ladies who have difficulty with fertility to produce an unlimited supply of eggs and have babies later in life.
I tried to reel in my excitement for this potentially game-changing discovery. I mean, let’s gain some perspective: Generating an endless supply of eggs doesn’t mean your body is equipped to carry a baby to term. But just think of the possibilities and the freedom that could become available to women based off these findings! What could this mean for single women who’ve been fretting about when their Mr. Right will arrive (hopefully before 35, the age when a woman’s fertility heads downhill)? Wouldn’t they be able to exhale?
After reading about this study, I began to think of the myriad ways women’s lives are structured by their potential for motherhood. I’m midway through a nationwide college tour, and I spent much of February crisscrossing the country speaking to students. There was a common concern among young women about getting married and having kids. This is something I never gave a passing thought to until I was well out of college and in my first grown-up relationship, and even then, it was a blip on my barely adult radar. But on my tour, I’ve met some students — a 19-year-old in Ohio stands out — who are already fretting about husbands and children. And while the other students, about half, are lackadaisical about men, marriage and babies, they are still well aware of the timeline they’re on: They’re 20 now, and they have till 35 to really get on it.
Whether these students are worrying now or delaying it until later, it is understood that because they are women, there will be concern to be had at some point. Unlike men, women don’t have the leisure of just getting around to marriage and babies whenever they want, waiting for that undefined period when jobs, finances, and maturity align. There’s a more deliberate growing-up among women, and a compromise that allows for enough things to be in place to have a child, because by the time it’s actually perfect timing socially and professionally, the best time to physically be ready was a decade ago. Current biology dictates some of our toughest decisions (Will throwing myself into my job, necessary for my next promotion, keep me from meeting a man who may be my husband?). We map out life goals — when to go back to school, when to get out of school, when to meet a man, how long to date him, when to marry him — so we can have kids then.
But what if women no longer felt like we had to make hard social and professional choices based on our depleting egg supply? What if we could live unburdened by a ticking clock that makes some of us rush into relationships and run faster down the aisle? Would our choices remain the same? Or would they — gulp — be better?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk