I’ve spent the last decade or so trying not to get pregnant. Thanks to the simple and effective methods offered by modern medicine (and the feminist movement), it hasn’t been hard. For women in my millennial-ish age group, too-early pregnancy has been the freedom-choking bogeyman that kept you from getting to do all the things women are ready and able to do now—college, jobs, geographic relocation, delaying marriage, the list goes on.
Unfortunately, all this nonpregnancy has a side effect. Women today are surpassing men in higher education, and may soon become America’s predominant breadwinners. There’s no doubt that when it comes to goal-oriented achievement, we’re kicking ass. Until, that is, the time comes (and it comes in our 30s, whether we like it or not) to perform the most elemental task that women can and have been doing for millennia—get knocked up.
Fertility in the U.S. has been declining for years, arguably attributable to the economic crisis and its effects on family planning. But for professional women, fertility problems have become part of the daily conversation about having children. The reasons for all this are as numerous as the discussions of it—women are waiting longer to marry and start families; health factors such as the obesity epidemic are taking a toll on fertility; and work schedules and the economic realities of the modern workplace mean less time for sex, less sleep, more stress, and overall crappy conditions for baby making.
So here we have it: many products of postfeminism are having no trouble attaining a graduate degree (or two) but plenty of trouble conceiving a child. And most especially, they’re having trouble doing it with the speed and control with which they do everything else.
In a way, Jean Twenge’s new book, The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant, can be seen as a victory—it’s a sign that women have achieved so much autonomy that we need books catering to our desire to fit pregnancy into our busy work schedules. But it’s also a reminder that the control we’re now able to exert over our lives doesn’t extend to the biological, whether we like it or not.
Twenge, a Ph.D. and author of the bestselling Generation Me (and three-time mom, with one of her children conceived in her late 30s) recognizes a key point: that the skills professional women use to ascend in the workplace (organization, research, planning ahead, hard work) are precisely the same skills they draw on when it comes time to make a baby. She happily takes these type-A impulses and directs them toward a clear plan of action. The resulting manual is a useful and unapologetic read, assuming you can get past the fact that books are now treating creating a life with the same “how to” mentality as negotiating a raise or losing 30 pounds.
The author has a “wise friend doling out advice” tone, and it works because she presents herself as being just like any other professional women trying to get pregnant, but with the time and research skills to do comparison studies. There’s just so much information to sift through when it comes to baby making, and so much of it is peppered with outdated information and inaccuracies. Rare is the woman who has time to sit down with one of the over-inclusive tomes on the subject—The Complete Guide to Fertility, for example. And those who turn to the Internet (which is everybody) can find themselves sucked into black holes of misinformation.
For every neurotic corner you can turn—be it fretting over organic-only vegetables or mercury in fish—Twenge is there with a two-page explanation of what’s valid or bogus. The diet and exercise section is a great distillation of countless dubious studies and their resulting apoplectic hype: drink whole milk, cut your caffeine, eat some fish but not too much, and don’t trust any of these factors to make or break your pregnancy.
Granted, the writing gets steeped in cloying language—sex is given the code name “baby dancing” (or worse, “BD”) and substantive sections will open with jokes about oral sex (“you can’t get pregnant that way!”). Still, if you wade through the women’s-magazine speak, there’s a goldmine of valuable information, delivered in precisely the way its audience wants it: quick, comprehensible, and scientifically vetted.
Twenge also pays homage to a specific symptom of the Pill Generation: most of us have no clue about the mechanics of our ovulatory systems, because we’ve simply turned them off. Details like the length of a luteal phase haven’t been in our consciousness for years, even decades. Twenge isn’t there to scold or explain ad nauseum. She’s careful to include case-specific information and offer ever-comforting assurances that being or not being on birth control for your entire adult life doesn’t necessarily mean anything once you stop taking it.
Of course, it’s easy to interpret all the “Don’t stress, honey!” language and dulcifying advice as an overcompensation for the one thing that no book or website can give most women facing fertility problems: years. The simple fact is that if we were 21, we wouldn’t be reading books teaching us the fine arts of charting ovulation and peeing on sticks and logging our basal temperatures. We would simply be pregnant. And likely living with our parents. But the pregnant part, no problem.
The subtext that the book courts but never addresses directly (since what’s the point, really?) is that women are impatient because the biological clock really is running out. Age has become the albatross hanging on the neck of a generation of would-be mothers. And there’s nothing anyone can do about that … except package and sell the most efficient and medically sound methods of tricking our egg-depleted bodies into creating a healthy fetus, stat.