August
26th 2010
Happy Birthday, Dr. Crazy!

Posted under: Gender, happy endings, the body, women's history

Happy Birthday, Dr. Crazy!

This cake is for Dr. Crazy, whose birthday I missed a few weeks back.  Since she’s 36 now, and I thought I’d share with her this article by Jessi Klein about declining her gynecologist’s suggestion that she consider freezing her eggs on the eve of her 35th birthday this year.  I met Crazy in person last summer and really enjoyed our brief lunch–and Klein’s article reminded me of Crazy’s personality and sense of humor.  Klein writes:

My doctor, who I adore, asked if I wanted to take home some “literature” about the procedure. (I never understand why these medical pamphlets are called literature, as if Faulkner was up all night feverishly writing about NuvaRing.) And in that moment, I made a decision. A decision about how I’m going to handle the fact that I’m thirty five (today!) and I don’t have kids and a kid-making partner isn’t currently on the scene. I decided I didn’t want the literature. And I don’t ever want the literature about anything related to the world of Fertility. It’s my big thirty-fifth birthday present to myself.

What–you missed The Loestrin and the Fury, too?  She continues:

I hate the fossilized fear of desperation. I know it well. My 20s were all about feeling desperate. Desperate to find a new boyfriend. Desperate to get the perfect job. Desperate to get rid of this terrible relationship with this bad new boyfriend. Desperate to have a Kate Moss body (I spent part of my 20s in the ’90s).

If I have one wish for this birthday, it is that 35 is the end of desperation and the beginning of acceptance. And part of that is believing that if I’m meant to give birth, I will. And if I’m not, I’ll forgive my ovaries their stubbornness and do something else.

35 is as good a time as any to accept yourself and lose the desperation.  I don’t think this advice applies to Dr. Crazy, who seems as content as her cats now that she’s settled into her new home, which she bought on her own with her very own money.  I think Klein’s article is just good advice for women everywhere.

29 Comments »

29 Responses to “Happy Birthday, Dr. Crazy!”

  1. Mother of ALL on 26 Aug 2010 at 10:30 am #

    It’s just unfortunate that we have to edxpend time and energy for such a long time before we come to the acceptance of reality. I mean that in the best way and not that we need to “settle”. My mother used to say ” Too soon we get old, too late we get smart.” Too true.

  2. Dr. Crazy on 26 Aug 2010 at 11:02 am #

    Thanks for the belated birthday wishes, H. :) You know, I have to say that going to the gynecologist once one hits her mid-30s REALLY sucks if she a) doesn’t have kids and b) doesn’t have a life partner of some sort. I’ve gotten the egg-freezing speech, as well as the speech about how risk of pregnancy and birth defects goes up after 35, as well as speeches about number of sexual partners (like over a lifetime – not all at once or something) and how people who get married live longer and blah blah freaking blah. (And let’s also note that I’ve gone to different doctors – it’s not like I get this crap and stay with the same person – and also I always go to a lady doctor for my lady bits, so this isn’t about male doctors being jerks or something. I will say, though, that I always have a better experience when i go to a nurse practitioner/midwife than when I go to an actual doctor.) It’s enough to make a girl want to skip her annual exam. Or go out and have a lot of unprotected sex until she gets herself knocked up so that people will stop telling her that she’s a wizened old hag. :)

  3. Notorious Ph.D. on 26 Aug 2010 at 11:05 am #

    Yes. Yes to all that. She could have been telling me my life story. Except that (sadly) it’s taken me until 40.
    But that gives me another 40 to do it right, right? I think I’m gonna start by making it a policy to (literally) blow a big ol’ raspberry to anyone who says or does things to push me back towards that state of terrified desperation. They’ll be all, “Did you meet anyone at the wedding?/You need to put yourself out there/You’ll change your mind about kids when you meet the right man,” and I’ll be all, like, “THHBBBTTTTT!!!”

    Pretty soon, they’ll stop talking to me at all. And we’ll all be happier.

  4. Historiann on 26 Aug 2010 at 11:09 am #

    I’m so sorry, Dr. Crazy. And yet, I’m not surprised. It was surprising to me nearly 20 years ago that female med students were almost as conservative and clueless as male med students. Now I’m not so surprised. Physicians are just very conventional people by and large. The joke when my friends and now-husband were in med school was that you need to get your boyfriend/girlfriend by sophomore year, then get married after graduation and before residency. They were people who wanted to have their personal lives “all set” before starting the insane hours of residency.

    So it’s maybe not surprising that 10 years later they’re laying a trip on you, a 36-year old never-married woman. In short, I think it says more about them than it does about you.

    Hope you had a great birthday!

  5. Historiann on 26 Aug 2010 at 11:13 am #

    p.s. to Notorious and Crazy: Having met both of you, I wonder if the reason you get the inquisition about your personal lives is that you’re both so lovely. Seriously! I’m not saying attractive people have it rough, but this might be part of the price you pay, which is bewilderment at your single status. (If you were both ho-hum or plain, people might not wonder so much.)

  6. Janice on 26 Aug 2010 at 11:16 am #

    Passing on the belated birthday wishes, Dr. Crazy, with only good literature involved, I hope!

  7. Dr. Crazy on 26 Aug 2010 at 11:23 am #

    I *did* have a great birthday! I think the reason that I find the whole doctor business so shocking is that I *really, really* want to believe that doctors’ lives are glamorous, in the way of Grey’s Anatomy or ER or similar :)

  8. Historiann on 26 Aug 2010 at 11:47 am #

    Heh. I suppose some doctors’ lives are glamorous. But a lot of the “excitement” ususally comes from delivering bad news to a family, or frantically trying to start someone’s heart and lungs again. Maybe it’s functional to be so conventional with one’s lifestyle: when your professional life is a lot of routine sparked by moments of sheer dread and/or terror, you might not have a lot of energy left over for uncertainty in your own personal life.

    Why don’t they make TV shows about faculty life? (Good ones, I mean.)

  9. Bardiac on 26 Aug 2010 at 11:58 am #

    It’s hard to make a good TV show where we watch someone read for hours at a time, and then write stuff down.

  10. Perpetua on 26 Aug 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    Holy hell, Dr. Crazy! Your GYN stories make my tummy hurt. My midwife sticks to you know, *health* related advice. it’s amazing how many physicians feel like their authority is all-encompassing, especially over women’s bodies. Happy birthday by the way! I’m turning 36 this year myself.

    I know this remark is going to be super-obvious to the community here, but I get so tired of how impossible it is for our culture to imagine single + childless = happy and fulfilled NOT selfishdesperatecrazylifeofmisery.

  11. Historiann on 26 Aug 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    “Desperatecrazylifeofmisery” describes more of the mothers of young children I know than the single and/or child-free sort. But I’ll let them speak for themselves. . .

  12. life_of_a_fool on 26 Aug 2010 at 2:05 pm #

    Wow, I have a newfound appreciation for my gynecologist. I’ve never gotten any of those talks. It’s not exactly a fun day, but at least we talk about things that are medically relevant to my actual life, not the one someone has decided I should have.

    And Notorious PhD, I’ve had a good response with acting hostile or dismissive when someone asks too many intrusive/annoying questions about my personal/love/sex life. Friends and family have learned (those that needed to learn) not to ask, and we’re all happier for it.

  13. wini on 26 Aug 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    I agree with the above post (except for the “if I’m meant to XXXX” thing which is a saying/attitude I’ve never understood). And Dr. Crazy’s stories are horrible and things I heard from many other women (including my mother).

    But, some women are not well educated in issues of maternal age and maternal health. (I’ve been the one to break the bad news on two occasions to PhDs that many/most women having babies in their late 40s do not use their own eggs. This wasn’t out of the blue, though, or during any sort of medical check-up.)

    A close friend from college is now an OB/GYN. I saw her for the first time in years, and mentioned that I’m trying to decide about another child because I’m about to turn 35. Without getting into specifics about patients, she said it was “good I knew that.” Apparently some number of women who meet their partners later / decide they want to get pregnant later don’t know this. It is considered rude to talk about IVF and especially donor eggs in many circles.

    Thinking about that comment, I think a lot of OB/GYNs see very intense emotions from a small group of women that think (rightly or wrongly) that they could have gotten pregnant more easily if they had tried younger. For some of the doctors, these very intense experiences that has got to overwhelm their sense of general decorum about the subject.

    On the other hand, a lot of them are just conservative busy bodies butting their head in where it doesn’t belong. I can’t even ask my SISTER if she is planning to have kids, and won’t unless she brings it up.

  14. Indyanna on 26 Aug 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    Yeah, a lot of this stuff basically sucks, but I would just echo Historiann’s birthday wishes on the occasion. (And also add, parenthetically, that the image above is about the most totally UN-Cakewrecks cake we’ve seen around these parts in some time)!

  15. Z on 26 Aug 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    Gosh — I didn’t doubt for a moment — having been trained from so young that a career meant no kids, I never went into that “must have one” mode…even when bugged about it by others.

  16. Z on 26 Aug 2010 at 10:43 pm #

    P.S. What about the possibility that the after 35 difficulty is propaganda? When this you’re cooked at 35 news started, I was in my late 30s and shouldn’t have listened — neither should my friends from my elementary school clique, we all relaxed a little as directed, and guess what … a few originally unplanned kids showed up the next year. ! And without all the hype, we’d have known, all being children of parents and grandparents who had become that in their 30s and 40s! Be forewarned, y’all!

  17. Susan on 26 Aug 2010 at 11:39 pm #

    It’s hard to make a good TV show where we watch someone read for hours at a time, and then write stuff down.

    Well, how would you visually represent the work of the humanities? I was asked this by our admissions director this afternoon.do lab shots, and it was fun and interesting. But hist He said that for science and engineering, they could do lab shots, and it was fun and interesting. I thought a cool (but unreadable) manuscript would suggest mystery. But I’d love some other ideas.
    (Sorry to hijack the comments, but Bardiac’s comment got me thinking.

  18. Feminist Avatar on 27 Aug 2010 at 3:27 am #

    Well, I know that as a historian I get to run between curiously empty archives across major European cities- inexplicably by-passing archivists and the queue for a membership card- while trying to divert the end of the world.

    I mean last week, men with guns chased me round a hadrom collider- a place and physical activity that my history PhD more than equipped me to be able to do.

  19. Kathie on 27 Aug 2010 at 10:24 am #

    There was a scene in Big Bang Theory that showed Leonard trying to solve an equation, which was written on a blackboard. He stood in front of it and thought about it for hours, time that was compressed of course on the show. He was thinking! It was a funny scene, but also demonstrated how hard it would be to include such scenes on a regular basis.
    I started watching BBT because of a comment on this blog last year sometime, so thanks!

  20. Perpetua on 27 Aug 2010 at 11:58 am #

    @ Z – well, that’s both the case and not the case. While we all have anecdotes of women who conceived and bore children without any problems in their late 30s and 40s, I think the medical evidence clearly shows increasing difficulty and rising rates of miscarriage for “older” mothers. That doesn’t mean impossible, only more difficult. And there are women who don’t know these facts, and assume that having children is easy and natural at any age (especially because fertility treatments are so seldom discussed in our society, so women are exposed to high-profile later-in-life mothers who pretend that because they swam in some secret spring they got pregnant, rather than because of the all the Clomid injections). My belief is that NO OB/GYN or other physician should give a woman a lecture about age/fertility unless this is the SUBJECT of conversation between them. As in, the doctor says “Do you think you might be interested in starting a family? I see you’re in your 30s.” Patient: “I would like to have a family someday.” Dr: “Well, in that case, here are some things you might want to know. . .” And give information about fertility rates, and also that she should only wait 6 months of “trying” before going to an RE if she’s over 35. This is helpful information, as opposed to what Dr. Crazy and other women have to endure.

    In my opinion, the narrative about post-35-infertility is a problem not because it’s false, but because it’s spun into this hysterical guilt-inducing, life-shaming discourse.

    And right on, Historiann, about the crazylifeofmisery of mothers of young children. How ironic is it that everything in our culture tries to force women to believe that fulfillment comes only with motherhood, and then when they become mothers – Presto! they are abandoned, isolated, unsupported, and judged.

  21. Historiann on 27 Aug 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    I disagree that there are a large number of women out in the world who don’t understand that fertility declines with age. There may be some in denial about it, but I don’t think that anyone who thinks she might want to have a child someday is unaware of the risks of delaying starting a family until she’s in her 40s.

    That said, most of my friends had zero problems getting pregnant in their mid- to late 30s. A few friends of mine in their later 30s took ovulation-enhancing drugs to have a second child. I have only one friend who did IVF (successfully), and she was 40. Most of my old lady friends got pregnant within 1-3 months of trying, and they all said something like “thank goodness I’ve been using birth control for 15 or 20 years!!!”

    My beef is that age is the only factor discussed when it comes to women’s fertility. Yes it’s a factor, but it’s only ONE factor. There are others (mostly pertaining to one’s own medical history), but age is the big thing that gets thrown at women in the paid workforce. Presumably, an OB/GYN holding a medical chart has more information relevant to a patient’s fertility, like history of STDs (or not), HPV (or not), menstrual irregularity (or regularity), etc. So much of this is out of our control even when we’re 22 or 24, but it’s easier to pretend that there’s only one problem (age) and that individual women have complete control over their fertility.

  22. FrauTech on 27 Aug 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    I don’t know, warning a woman that fertility gets worse at a certain age in my mind is similar to warning a potential grad student how terrible the academic job market is. The “oh I don’t know, I don’t think people don’t know this, maybe some are in denial.” The grad student who thinks THEY will be the special/smart one who will be able to get a job connected to their field is the same 30 year old woman who’s married and is going to have kids “some day” but just figures medical science is better these days and isn’t going to worry about it. But I agree with Perpetua, asking “Do you want to start a family some day?” should be the only question asked, and then the OBGYN should back off from there on out. But much as I think professors have SOME obligation to warn grad students about the job market, I think an OBGYN has some obligation to bring up fertility.

    I guess for me I have a different perspective, my Mom had my sister at 31 and then had extreme difficulty conceiving again. But despite her having told us this, my sister, who is married, wants kids, can afford kids, and isn’t working right now…is still waiting to have kids. I want to ask “what are you waiting for if you want kids?” but you know what? it’s none of my damn business. But I hope when she visits her OBGYN they show her the graph that shows decline of fertility after certain ages. Because I think too many people today think “science” will take care of it for them, rather than thinking practically.

  23. Feminist Avatar on 27 Aug 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    I wonder whether part of the problem here is not that women don’t know there odds for getting pregnant, but that men don’t? I was reading my local papers problem page the other day and the problem was basically ‘I am 32 and want to have kids, but my partner wants to wait three years- should I get out now?’. And the response (by the female agony aunt) was basically ‘you are being immature to want to leave over this and clearly aren’t ready to have kids’. But, I was thinking well if you are 32 and you and your partner want to have kids, you probably want to start trying (if there is no compelling reason not to)- because at 35 it is statistically more difficult, and you don’t know if you get to beat the odds. But, all this (very tedious anecdote) made me wonder whether the problem is really that because men don’t have to think about their age, they don’t really consider (or perhaps even have explained to them) that their wives’ age matters and that they can’t just wait till it seems right.

  24. Historiann on 27 Aug 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    If women specifically tell their OB/GYNs they want to have children, then the topic of maternal age can be discussed. But it just seems patronizing (to me, anyway) to assume that everyone approaching 35 or 40 is both desperate to get pregnant and too stupid to have gotten around to it earlier.

    FrauTech–has it occured to you (or your mother) that your sister doesn’t really want to have children? It might be that it’s easier to tell people that she’s waiting than to tell people she doesn’t want to have children. Or, it could be that she’s just not personally ready for the commitment. My father–not a philosophical man–has a very wise observation that I’ve adopted over the years: people find the time and the money for the things that are really important to them. If your sister has the time and the money, apparently being a mother isn’t her priority.

    (I don’t mean to sound like I’m picking on you. I’m just picking up on the example you offered, and wondering if it’s useful to look at from another angle.)

    FA–I think you make a good point about men’s vs. women’s ages, but I wonder about media representations of 35 as the END OF FERTILITY ZOMG TOO LATE TOO LATE!!! When in reality, conceiving at 32 versus 35 is probably not that much more likely, on average.

    No one’s writing magazine stories about my normal, healthy women friends, who all got pregnant at 34-41 and had perfectly healthy children. I wonder why that is? I wonder.

  25. ntbw on 27 Aug 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    I know this is just one more anecdote, but here you go: first child, conceived with no problem at age 30, born when I was 31. I had some subsequent medical issues, was told I probably couldn’t have more, and if I wanted more, I should “hurry up” trying. Well, we weren’t sure we wanted more, and I certainly did not want to “hurry up” and have two very young children pre-tenure. So we decided one might be fine, and if we wanted another later and that wasn’t happening biologically, we would adopt (my husband is adopted, so we’re very comfortable with that).

    Five years later WHILE USING BIRTH CONTROL, I got pregnant at age 36 and delivered my second healthy son, totally trouble free, at 37. So much for not being able to have any more!

    As others have said, yes, typically fertility declines past 35. But as Historiann has noted, there are also plenty of us out there for whom that is not the case, but that just doesn’t get nearly so much play the “time to hit the fertility panic button at 35″ scenario.

  26. Liz2 on 27 Aug 2010 at 6:56 pm #

    An interesting/sad conversation I’ve had lately with one of my male colleagues who is turning 35 – is how much pressure he feels to become a parent – and I should say that his wife has explicitly stated to at least me and I think others that she has no interest in having children. I totally respect her for that and yet when he talks to our other colleagues with kids, you can tell he feels real pressure to conform to the viewpoint that people are “supposed” to have kids if they are coupled – regardless of his wife’s explicit reasoning that she doesn’t want to have a child because she knows she’ll be the one stuck with all the responsibility while he gets tenure.

    When people talk to me about having a second child (because apparently one isn’t enough!!) I always just say “kids are a blessing, especially when they belong to someone else.”

  27. Feminist Avatar on 28 Aug 2010 at 5:40 am #

    Ooh, on the older women conceiving thing- in the Guardian- the top left wing, intellingensia type UK paper- there was an article on motherhood recently, which interviewed lots of educated, career women who had children at various ages (all over 30) and a couple who had none at all. The interesting thing for me was this paper discussed all the women who had children in their early-thirties as ‘young mums’ and the women themselves said things like ‘I know I was a young mum, but…’. The two women without children who had reached their mid-forties both explained that they had wanted children but hadn’t want to compromise, had basically ‘timed out’, and were now satisfied (not happy) with their choices.

    The whole thing really annoyed me for lots of reasons,-but my friends have a theory that there is currently a big push to get middle-class women to breed in the UK as the press is full of this stuff. (In the UK of women born in the 1970 cohort who are now coming to the end of their natural fertility, 40% don’t have children- and now there is a recession and you can’t even pressure them out of work because they don’t have children!).

  28. Historiann on 28 Aug 2010 at 6:25 am #

    FA–Melissa McEwan at Shakesville reads the UK papers and has analyzed this trend in particular. They seem to be even more aggressive than the US media in the push you describe–trying to shame or bully middle-class working women into reproducing.

    I guess this is the price they pay for being shamed and bullied out of teenage and very young motherhood in the 1980s and 1990s! Awesome! If you look at media representations of young mothers in those years and compare them to the representations of “old mums” or the reproductively challenged now, it seems like the ideal age of reproduction was about age 27-31. Too bad for everyone who isn’t ready to hit that exact target!

  29. Feminist Avatar on 28 Aug 2010 at 6:42 am #

    And coincidently, 27-31 is exactly the most popular age bracket for giving birth to a first child in the UK! Michael Anderson, the historical demographer, pointed out about 20 years ago that the fascinating thing about reproductive patterns in 1970s UK was that 80% of women now married and gave birth within such a short window- about a 7 year age range (ages 17 to 25)- compared with a twenty year age range for the central 80% in the 19th C. Now, it looks as if that age range has just got a bit older, rather than becoming more diverse. It’s the homogenisation of the female experience- even as we tried to pretend that we’re all individuals- and heaven forbid, you don’t follow the rules.