Effective ways to wrestle your biological clock


Two days ago, I called my friend to cut a deal. I needed to make a partnership fast, and we have been doing business together for years. I knew she could push something through her company that would make me look good.

We ended up spending an hour on the phone, and she mentioned she was taking a four-week leave. I knew it was for fertility treatments. She couldn’t believe I knew. She had kept it a secret from everyone. She panicked that if I knew her whole office would know.

Here’s how I knew: Because women with high-powered jobs don’t take four weeks leave. You don’t get a high-powered career by going on leave. But at some point, even in a high-powered career, fertility issues start trumping career issues: When it’s four weeks off a big job, it’s fertility.

I have a lot of friends who went through fertility treatment. So I gave my friend the name of another friend who currently sports bruises all over her body from injections, and then I said, “Hey, I know you’re crying, but push my deal through before you go on leave.”

Let me tell you about my friend who did not wait to have kids—the friend who is genius girl, and great at planning, and a rock star at work, and is doing a startup while she has a young child. She is one step away from being hospitalized for exhaustion. Really. Her thyroid is breaking down from her relying too heavily on adrenaline.

Among my friends who are women, the majority have had fertility problems.

Every friend has a different story, but there is one theme that has dominated every friend’s trials and tribulations: A lack of control. We can control so much of our lives today. And women who are in high-powered careers are usually the best at controlling their lives.

It’s a shock to find out that fertility is so hard to control because it’s so important. So it’s no surprise that there’s an industry developing that helps women control their fertility.

Please, please do not read the rest of this post thinking that holding off getting pregnant til your mid thirties is a good idea. Statistically it is a very bad idea if it’s important to you to carry your own child. There is no science magic that makes a mid-life pregnancy a low-risk endeavor, but here are three things you can do in your twenties and early thirties to decrease the risk of a high-risk pregnancy.

1. Get a husband. I know, this is not popular advice, but it’s practical advice. A husband is like a career. If you are not looking for one, you’re not likely to find one. If it’s not a high priority goal, it’s probably not a goal you will meet. So if you want to make sure you’re making babies with your own healthy eggs, think of your twenties as the time to find a mate.

2. Freeze your eggs. If you don’t want to exert control over your life by finding a husband, how about using control over your life to save some good eggs? The Wall Street Journal reports that even though it’s not actually proven technology, women are signing up in droves. The treatment is expensive—up to $14,000—but often that’s peanuts to women who will spend their most fertile years climbing corporate ladders.

3. Test your eggs for premature aging. Yep. That’s right. Eggs age differently in different women. And the aging process could get faster or slower relative to the general population. This means that while most women need to start having babies before age 35 to manage risk well, some women need to start earlier.

If you want to know if your eggs are aging fast, go to Repromedix to find out if you can be part of the company’s limited rollout of a new test for eggs. The results combine the magic formula of your age, your eggs, and the amount you have of two specific hormones in order to come up with your age in fertility years.

When I was 30 I did not have a boyfriend. I hired a dating service for 10K, (which at the time was the best way to deal with my ticking clock) and the guys who were coming up were great investors for my company and lousy husband prospects. (Except for the Calvin Klein model. He was not a good husband or a good investor. He was totally ridiculous.) At that point, I was making a ton of money, and I could have afforded a lot of this stuff. If I had known about it, I would have done it.

If you have the money, and you don’t have ethical problems with it, maybe you should do it. You never know where you will fall in the fertility lottery: Hedge your bets the best you can.

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  1. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    Sounds like a really heartfelt article and is appreciated as such. I must say that I was surprised to hear that you hired a dating service as you usually describe yourself as someone who is able to go out with the doctors when you are in a hospital and get hit on whenever you are on a business trip.

    That aside, the articles that I’ve read online agree with you that it’s a good idea to have children early (not too early but before the mid-30s) or the risk of birth defects goes up.

    One concern I had from your article: these women who are too busy to find husbands, will they have time to spend on their kids? And if not, why have them?

    These busy women might also resent the idea of having to shackle themselves to some guy in their twenties just so they can have healthy kids but a number of factors (increasing longevity among them) seems to be making multiple relationships the standard practice so getting stuck with one husband-dad whom you eventually outgrow probably won’t be so much of a problem in the future.

  2. Teresa
    Teresa says:

    I was offended by this article. Your advice to “get a husband” infuriated me. Your point came across as: ‘just grab a guy and have kids asap, worry about everything else later’ (including the potential divorce and how to survive financially).
    I spent my 20’s and early 30’s searching for the right guy. Because I had no children I had time to go to grad school, travel, clock extra hours at work and as a result my career thrived. Did I sacrifice family for career – absolutely NOT. I could have irresponsibly married a number of former boyfriends and have had kids already but settling for someone who is not right for me is not a smart choice.
    Everyone’s situation is different.

    * * * * * * * *
    Well, the thing is, everyone’s situation is not different. Everyone’s dating life is different, but everyone’s clock is running basically the same. We all have the same bad odd after 35.


  3. Queercents
    Queercents says:


    As you know, my partner and I are subject matter experts, not by choice but by circumstance and spending $55,000 on fertility treatments over the last two years. We're done. We're now spending $25,000 on adoption. Moral of the story: if you wait until after 35 to get pregnant, then do so because you're focusing on your career and making boatloads of money – because statistically speaking, that's what it will take to get pregnant – lots of moolah to make a baby!

    About the freezing egg suggestion – don’t waste the money unless you absolutely can't budge on the idea of having a baby without your own DNA. Fertility specialists prey on the fears of young career women and that's why they're signing up in droves. The "frozen egg" technology still has a long way to go before it's the best alternative. If you're 25 and have $14,000 to blow, better to invest it for ten years and have $25,000 at 38 to go buy yourself some donor eggs. Fresh, young eggs – that's what you'll want when you're rich and pushing forty!

    * * * * * *
    We should all pay attention to Nina’s advice — that she calls herself a “subject matter expert” is no exagerration. It’s actaully testament to how difficult fertility issues are. So many of my friends talk like scientiests getting a PhD when they talk about reproductive issues. The information can end up consuming your life.


  4. Chris Yeh
    Chris Yeh says:

    It never ceases to amaze me when people argue with undeniably factual statements like, “women who want to have children should do so when they are young, because the odds are strongly against them if they wait past their early 30s” or “overweight women have a harder time attracting a husband.

    I think it’s because people think it’s unfair that women are forced to make a more difficult choice than men when it comes to parenting (hello, Tony Randall effect!) and are held to different standards of self-care (plenty of out-of-shape men still manage to attract women…if they have plenty of money).

    They’re right. It is unfair. But it is also unfair that some of us are born with more opportunities than others. And unfair that we are not born equal in terms of abilities. That doesn’t change the fact that both statements are true.

  5. x10graham
    x10graham says:

    I have to say that your piece in the Globe really got me fired up as I enjoyed my leisurely Sunday morning ritual. It sparked a few phone calls to friends to pontificate on the fact that according to you I should probably make it my goal today to get pregnant. While I completely recognize the context of the article, it struck a chord. I am sure many women out there in their thirties who have worked very hard at becoming successful have not balked at the idea of meeting a mate. I think that most women are open to the idea of relationships, but the fact is that sometimes they are just not there and so the primary focus becomes the career. Can you even imagine…masses of twenty and thirty year old women walking the world looking for their “baby daddies” with no other focus. I mean who needs a career when your life is defined by your reproduction? I found your article somewhat insulting. I think you are missing a degree of sensitivity to the individual situations of women in their later twenties and thirties.

  6. erin
    erin says:

    The thing that frustrates me about the posts involving kids is that they seem to negate the lives of those of us who by choice or circumstances do not have children. I am pushing the 35 year limit and for a number of reasons have decided not to have kids.

    Not having kids does not mean that I come home every day from work and eat bon bons or spend my weekends wine tasting. It does not mean that I do not have a “family”. It does not preclude me from incredible levels of stress or a “to do” list that seems to always be a mile long. It also does not mean that I have super star career ambitions.

    Some women choose to have children, some women choose not to, and some women don’t get to choose. The grass may at times seem greener for those of us with a choice, but I suspect that like most things in life, it’s not all good or all bad, just different.

    * * * * * *

    Hey, Erin. I am actually pretty sensitive to this issue. My friend Marci Alboher talks about this a lot becuase she writes great career advice and doesn’t have kids and she gets frustrated that so much career advice assumes kids.

    At some point, though, each person is excluded from some advice. Some advice about starting a company is not applicable to someone who has a disease where they can’t lose their health plan. Some advice about job hopping is not relevant to someone who is in debt up to their ears and can’t take any risks until they pay off credit cards. So I think that instead of being indignant, just accept that not all advice applies to all people.


  7. you are a disgrace to women
    you are a disgrace to women says:

    Your article subjected “women eager to have children need to direct career drive toward mating” is pathetic. If you knew anything about generation X bc you would understand about taking the time to find the right person these days and not just settling for the sake of getting married and having children, look at the divorce rate and all the unhappy people, my mom had me and he sister in her mid thirties, both of us are fine, she enjoyed her 20s and pursued things she loved … who are you to put unecessary pressure on women to have children… referencing your line “women who want to have children should make it there priority in their twenties to find a partner…etc” Im surprised you didnt tell us to go get our pots and start mating in the kitchen while wearing pearls cooking and enjoying the beaver cleaver show…serioulsy get a reality check, take a look around times are changing, women are striving for everything they should be striving for and are finally becoming intelligent about financial risk and relying soley on a man…why dont you right a positive article about how strong women are who can balance everything and lets face it, have it all, bc we deserve no less…really disgraceful article, a real shame

  8. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:


    I’m surprised that so many people seem to misinterpret this article. I get what you mean. I decided to have a kid at 30. I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer. Men have the luxury of waiting around until and having kids no matter how old they are. If you want a husband and kids that doesn’t make you anti-feminist or anti-Gen X or anti-Career.

    If you want to have a certain kind of career, there are certain milestones you need to reach by certain ages. If you are a woman and want to have a kid, this is also true. If you know having a successful career means completing a masters degree before you’re 30, then you do it. If you know that having a successful pregnancy means doing it before you’re 33, you should do that if you can.

  9. Erin
    Erin says:

    I read a lot of articles like this before I got pregnant that made me totally terrified about the possibility of infertility. It was one of the reasons I got pregnant while working full-time and in the middle of getting my MBA at night, instead of waiting till I finished my degree as I had originally planned.

    I do have some acquaintances who had problems with infertility, and one friend who started trying to have her 2nd baby around age 39 and had a lot of trouble getting pregnant and had 2 miscarriages before finally having a successful pregnancy at 40.

    But guess what – almost all my close friends waited till their early to mid 30s to have kids and none of them had significant problems getting pregnant. As for me – I got pregnant the first month I tried at age 33 and again the first try at age 36.

    So what I’m trying to say is yes, if you know you want to have kids take age into consideration as you get into your 30s and don’t think you have forever to get pregnant, but don’t panic either.

  10. funkright
    funkright says:

    “women are striving for everything they should be striving for and are finally becoming intelligent about financial risk and relying soley on a man..”

    exactly what is it about financial or career success that makes it more important, or more relevant, than familial success and truly finding out what makes the world tick..? All things are impermanent, but going after career or financial success at a great cost, well that is much less permanent than most.. At the end of your life what does it really mean? Are you going to wish you’d spent more time at the office or climbing the corporate ladder? Covey isn’t my favorite author, but he does have a good quote.. “begin with the end in mind”, let your end goal drive your everyday decisions.

  11. Melissa Green
    Melissa Green says:

    I agree with others above who found your thoughts inaccurate and offensive. I know many people who “waited” to get married and have kids and had careers first. And yet, I can’t think of one who intentionally “waited” to look for a husband until her career had taken off. Mostly we couldn’t find our husbands until later despite having active social lives. The girls I know who focused primarily on that tended to scare men off and often ended up with the “wrong” husband. I agree that the biological clock ticks but I think the population of people you are “helping” with this advice is quite small. And most of us still manage to have children despite having waited.

  12. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    I don’t know why this article bothers me so much. Maybe it’s so focused on planning and control and making things work out just right. Sometimes you just have to live your life well, be who you are and hope things work out for you. I’m glad I didn’t have kids with my first husband, who I married in my 20s–that would have been a disaster and I would have been a single mother now, something I really didn’t want to be. I waited until my 30s to get remarried, not out of planning or choice, but because that was the way things worked out — and I think because I was more mature, had more life experience and was more financially secure, that relationship was much better set up to succeed and create the kind of relationship where I felt secure and comfortable about having kids.

    The fear-mongering tells women they should give up on having kids after age 35, but this simply isn’t the case. I conceived at age 36 (I’m 37 now) almost immediately after we started trying, I had a very healthy pregnancy and I’m looking forward to a healthy child. I know lots of women who have done the same thing. For every anecdote you can pull out about women spending tons of money on fertility treatments, there are stories like mine.

    You don’t know what will happen, so relax and take it as it comes. That’s what makes life interesting, right? I think the trick is making your peace with *your* life, not with trying to control and plan every aspect of it.

  13. Marjie
    Marjie says:

    What ever happened to NOT getting married or NOT having kids? You don’t HAVE TO do either. People need to think for themselves.

  14. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    Good grief. All this post says to me is IF having children is a priority, then take action, don’t just wait for magic and destiny. Same advice applies to anything that is a priority.

    Also, I don’t understand why “settling” is such a dirty word. IMHO most people settle to some degree when they get married. Finding a spouse is about effort, timing and luck. You need all three.

  15. amanda
    amanda says:

    This article offended me. Is this 1956? Telling women to look for men and focus on that instead of a career is insulting. Yes, we all have a biological clock, but it isn’t ticking for me yet. My end goal might be to cure AIDs or something, what if I was able to do so and gave that up to search for a man and have a baby?

    Until I am 100 percent decided on and committed to having a baby, I’m not going to. I don’t feel comfortable bringing life into this world just because I might not be able to later in life. Lame article and I’ve seen a lot of lame articles like this lately.

    Maybe you should give up writing and head to the sperm bank.

  16. Meredith
    Meredith says:

    Wow! This really touched a chord with lots of people. I didn’t interpret this at all as “everyone woman should do this”, but “if you know you want to have kids, here are things to consider.”

    Where I really disagree with you is where you said people should focus on finding a husband. I think this is a HUGE mistake and it puts undue pressure on every potential relationship. I had friends with that attitude, and they were so quick to dismiss relationships with people who didn’t immediately seem like “husband material” or they pushed these guys so much for a commitment so quickly that the guys ran screaming. I met my husband when I was 25, and, at first blush, I probably would not have thought of him as husband material. But I enjoyed his company and within a few months, I couldn’t imagine life without him. I wasn’t looking for a husband; I was looking for a companion. He wasn’t a means to an end. And I really feel that going after something like love in such a calculating way can often lead to scaring away good people or to settling for someone who isn’t right (and later regretting it) because you have the goal of having a child.

    Now, at 30, my career is going really well. I wrote a book and am in demand as a speaker. I’m very happy with my career. However, I know that I want to have a child and that it will probably have a detrimental effect on my career. However, for me, I’ve decided my career isn’t as important to me as family. That’s my choice and everyone should do what’s right for them. Have kids, don’t have kids, but Penelope is right that if you do want kids, the risks of having them when you’re older should be in your mind (even if there are exceptions where everything goes fine at 40 — you don’t know if you’re the exception to the rule until you start trying).

    When we’re kids, we have this picture in our heads of what our life will be. Married at __. Kids at __. But most of us find that life isn’t usually so neat and easy to control. We find the right person to spend our lives with at different ages. Circumstances often prevent us from having kids at the exact right age and we might even find that we don’t want them (we might also change our minds later on). Some people choose to have kids without there being a husband and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (certainly better than marrying someone just for there to be two parents). There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but we should always be aware of the possible ramifications of the choices we make. If I focus on my career now instead of having kids, I may not be able to have them later. If I have kids now, I will certainly focus more on them than on my career and it will affect my earning potential. I don’t believe you can “have it all”; life is all about trade-offs and compromises.

    Also, maybe none of your readers are lesbians or something, but there are plenty of high-powered career women who are not straight who also want to have children. Not every woman necessarily needs nor wants a husband and its not a prerequisite for having children.

  17. Liz
    Liz says:

    The problem is, most men are not ready to settle down in their twenties because, hello, that’s when you set yourself up in a career. So, in your prime baby-making years, the men you meet and have a lot in common with are not on the same page as you.

    And the men you could meet, the out-of-shape 40-somethings who have careers and now want the baby mama, are often not very good at relationships (over-generalization, I realize, but true in my own and my friend’s experience.)

    That’s why every one of my friends is looking, hard, for that Mr. Right, while also working on their career in the meantime. I don’t know anyone, ever, who said, “I will now choose my career over the prospect of a life partner.” We just followed the career model, which gets in the way of finding a partner, while trying to still find someone, in a pool of guys who don’t want to be found for another 10 years. The blame underlying, “women need to make choices,” doesn’t really apply because what, we’re going to take a sabbatical and find a man? Move to a town where there are fewer career opportunities, but a lot of unattached men? What, exactly, are we supposed to do when we’re single, need to pay the bills, and the job requires a certain amount of attention or we’re on the streets…

    Anyway, I think you’re basically right, if you want a biological baby of your own, something will have to give. But please follow this up with some sort of acknowledgment that the career system we have set up, is set up for a man’s convenience (Make that a man with a wife to take care of his home). It’s old. It doesn’t work for half the work force. It needs to go. Flex time. Removing the stigma of a resume gap. And many other concrete solutions could work better than telling us, uh-gain, that we need to get a man pronto. We already know that.

  18. Madame Monet
    Madame Monet says:

    Well, I was NOT offended by this article at all. Penelope has NOT told people to get a husband and kids. She has said that IF you want kids (not that everyone SHOULD want them), that so many people have had problems with putting them off until the most convenient time, so IF you have a choice, do it SOONER rather than LATER. That’s all! A very reasonable proposition.

    My ObGyn told me that most people can wait until about 38, and from then on, the problems start. I got remarried at 36, pregnant at 37 (but it took 4-5 months of trying), and had my baby at 38. Reading about other people’s stories since then has made me feel lucky, like we did it just in time.

    Madame Monet

  19. Melissa Chang
    Melissa Chang says:

    Your articles about this stuff scare the crap out of me. I am 33, just almost hitting my 2-year-anniversary of marriage, and my 6-month-anniversary of starting a company. I want to have kids, but I wish I was 27 because I really want a few more years to develop the business. I am going to have to just suck it up and have the kids, without the business being totally established (because of the reasons that you mention in this article), but I am scared of ending up in the kitchen, stabbing myself in the head. (Thanks for that visual from a previous post. :) I don’t have any regrets, because my husband is amazing and I didn’t meet him until I was 30, but yikes.

    Thanks for the really good food-for-thought and being willing to talk about the things that no one else will touch.

  20. andy
    andy says:


    It amazed me that several of your readers said they were “offended” or “insulted” by the fact that you were simply speaking the truth about the biological facts of life. Fertility clinics are overflowing with desperate women who were “offended” by the notion that they should have children before age 35 if they wanted any, and now are paying the price for their hubris. My wife and I learned this lesson the hard way.

    One viable option you didn’t mention, though; with today’s reproductive technology, you don’t necessarily need a husband to have a baby. All you need is a sperm donor, a good reproductive endocrinologist, and money, and you can have a baby whenever you want.

  21. Alice Bachini-Smith
    Alice Bachini-Smith says:

    I think your advice to look for a husband is absolutely brilliant and needs saying. I understand why people might be offended. A lot of people wish they had found a great partner, and did not succeed. But if you want to have a family and don’t put a LOT of effort into finding the right partner, the choice will be no kids or the wrong partner (which would be a bad decision for the kids anyway).

    Why do arranged marriages succeed more often than anyone outside those cultures ever expects? Because someone put some time and effort into making them happen. Taking it seriously means doing the right work.

  22. LoveandSalt
    LoveandSalt says:

    PEOPLE! All she is saying is–just be realistic! Work with the odds in mind and then choose and take your chances.

    P, I don’t know how you put it out there. Everyone wants to make moral issue when you point out a stastical pattern. Etc. This is a very sensible post. Sad too, but sad because people are being pushed to such extreme choices.

  23. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    In scanning the comments, I’m interested to see the instances of the marry-in-twenties-remarry-in-thirties pattern. I wonder if women in high powered careers tend to get divorced more often? What does that then do to familial/reproductive plans? Maybe it doesn’t matter at all that the husband you end up with is not the husband you had your kids with…perhaps they lead more or less to the same thing in the end. Still, it’s interesting to ponder the effects of the high divorce rate vis a vis the kids/career question. “Go ahead and get a husband in your twenties…he’s probably just a rough draft anyway!”

    I would certainly agree that having a husband of some sort is key, though…I believe that kids are meant to be a job share, and for the last 3 million years or so, investment of genetic material turns out to be generally the best way of keeping a caretaker around.

    Regarding arranged marriages pointed to above: it’s also no coincidence that in countries where arranged marriage is prominent, there is a high degree of disapprobation towards divorce and divorced women in particular. I think that makes it a significantly less tantalizing option, although you may have a point that sometimes our families know us better than we know ourselves.

  24. Marie
    Marie says:


    You know I respect your blog, but every time you bring up this subject I feel it is very short sighted. Just like they say women often have menopause similar to their mothers, so goes it for child birth. My mom had me at 35 and my brother at 42 nearly 43. Every women’s situation is different. Your blog puts fear in women who are in their 20’s and do not have the money to freeze eggs nor the interest in a husband. Your blog almost ask women to conceit defeat before they know they are in a race.

  25. Jess
    Jess says:

    I want to second Andrea’s question regarding children and multiple marriages for women in high powered careers. As a woman in my late 20’s who is planning on getting an MBA after completing my current masters in science program, the marriage vs. children vs. career vs. graduate school paradigm weighs heavily on my mind.

    Understanding that fertility may be an issue by the time I’m established in my career and ready to have kids (read: mid-30’s), maybe the best option is to “settle down” (i.e. get married) now in my current relationship with a man who may not be the perfect lifelong partner for me but who would be a terrific father? This seems so irrational I can’t believe I actually wrote it, but the scientific evidence as well as several of Penelope’s posts regarding fertility provide a clear message: do not wait.

    The question, then, is when does the gamble of having children at an earlier age with someone you maybe aren’t 100% sure you want to spend your life with outweigh the risk of finding the right person too late and not having kids at all?

  26. megan
    megan says:


    I posted this on the article “Get married first, then focus on career” but I actually meant to respond to this one. Either way, I have the same question: If we’re finding it so hard to have it all– an established career and healthy biological children– why don’t we start looking at alternatives? And if you’ve spent so many years building up your career, are you (or your partner) really willing to throw it over for however long to take care of a child? I don’t think the current system is fair, but it does seem that under the current system there is always a choice, work or family, regardless of the state of your career. You make the choice you’re ready to make, at the time you have to make it; maybe you’ll wish you made a different choice later, but all you can do is your best at the time. And if you’re so career oriented right now you’d resent having to raise a child, and make the choices/sacrifices that entails, then maybe it’s better for the child for you to choose not to conceive.

    From my previous post:

    Here's the thing: I'm in my mid-twenties, and my partner is in her late twenties. In addition to the complications of having biological children in a same-sex relationship, neither of us are ready for kids emotionally or financially, and are unlikely to be ready in the next few years. We both have relatively steady jobs, as steady as anything these days, but we don't make enough to be able to honestly say we could raise a child. Now, maybe if we had taken the advice in another column and chosen careers that were higher paying (I teach Jr High and she's in technical theatre) we wouldn't have the money issue, but I think we would still have the emotional one. We're just not ready. I know no one is ever really ready, and I suppose if we were forced to we would rise to the occasion, but why put our biological clocks before our emotional clocks?

    Also, while I understand the drive to have a biological child, what's to stop these successful and stable women in their thirties and forties from adopting? There are lots of children who need the kind of home that these women can provide, why not suggest to them that they *can* have it all – it just doesn't look like it used to.

  27. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    You women. You know how much having children will make your lives suck, but you are determined to have them anyway. Nutbags.

  28. funkright
    funkright says:

    This comment “why not suggest to them that they *can* have it all – ” makes me ponder what ‘having it all’ really means? Why do you need to ‘have it all’? Are you determining your worth as a human being through the context of a specific job or having a child?

    My goodness, for sure pursue your dreams, plan for the future, work towards common goals, but don’t place your value on a tomorrow or a specific situation happening, that’s not you or your partner or anyone for that matter. Realize there is so much more to your life and your value to humanity than a career (where the attainment of any role will not provide anymore happiness than any other) or a family (this won’t make you happier or more at peace either). The determinator of your success is not a material possession driven by career positions or a family tree grown through having or adopting children.

  29. kristi
    kristi says:

    As I often tell my 14 year old daughter, no one ever says they wish they had sex for the first time sooner,only that they waited longer. And women with children (or trying to have them) don’t wish they waited longer to have them, only that they hadn’t waited so long.
    If you think it’s no big deal to have healthy babies after 35, you might try talking to a pediatric nurse. My oldest friend has been one for 13 years and has an endless supply of heartbreaking stories that is sobering.
    We both are 37 and have daughters who we advise to plan to have babies in their 20s. If it doesn’t work out, they will at least have been given the info.

    Kind of like advising them not to have sex til they are older! A healthy plan, but it won’t be the end of the world if they choose otherwise, risks and all.

    Keep it coming Penelope!

  30. Brian Johnson
    Brian Johnson says:

    I can never understand why adoption is always mentioned as a second tier option for raising children and having a family. While there is a price tag on it, I’ve yet to know anyone that wants to do it but doesn’t because of finances. It always works out. And as described above, it can often be far less than fertility options.

    There are over 200 MILLION children in the world without parents. Why risk your own health and that of your baby for a later-life pregnancy when there are so so many beautiful babies that need a parent? It makes no sense. We’ve been blessed to have grown our family both ways and can testify that one is no more or less fulfilling or “real” than the other. It’s just different.

    A post like this would have been an excellent opportunity to expand on alternatives to high-risk pregnancies. Foster care is another deeply moving way to share your love and compassion.

    * * * * * * *
    Thanks, Brian. You’re right. Adoption would have been a good number four in the post — Thanks for pointing it out.


  31. KD
    KD says:

    Penelope, I absolutely love your post. Too often too many career advisors stay away from the subject of family and careers and discussing it in a realistic way.

    Especially since realistically, most people find it difficult to have children after their mid-thirties. It’s great that you point that out and get people to start thinking about it!

  32. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    Penelope, this brings me back to a fundamental question – do people (women) know why they want kids? Most of those I know, who spend hours making qualified decisions on investment/ careers/ house and car purchases, have never given a moment’s logical thought to why they want kids and the impact it might have on their lives.

    I wrote a post on this some time ago when I was privy to hearing about some women’s painful fertility treatments and the fundamental question remained unanswered. It still is a much-read post:


    There are other ways to have children than just producing them by oneself. Love is love after all.

  33. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    And here is a line that, to me, sums up the dream and the reality about children and career:

    Le rêve est un tunnel qui passe sous la réalité. C'est un égout d'eau claire, mais c'est un égout.

    (The not-so-romantic translation: The dream is a tunnel that passes under reality. It is a sewer of clear water, but it is a sewer.)

  34. Monica
    Monica says:

    There is no denying the fact that with increased age comes increased risk for pregnancy and fertility issues, so for those wanting to carry their own child, planning and starting early are very good ideas. However, I find it interesting that #1 on the list is “Get a Husband.”

    With the number of “Choice Single Mothers” on the rise and considering that financially independent women (usually with high-powered jobs) are one of the primary demographics contributing to that trend, I don’t see how getting a husband could possibly be the most important to-do when planning an attack against your biological clock. (Not to mention the implications of a husband requirement for your lesbian readers.)

  35. Veronica Sawyer
    Veronica Sawyer says:

    The commenters who are indignant and offended at this post have obviously not (yet) dealt with fertility issues. It is really tough to be a successful person who feels she can accomplish anything, builds a great career and a great relationship and then realizes there is one area where she has no control. Personally, infertility has been far more frustrating to me than any career failure and if I had to do it over I would not wait to start trying to have a child. My husband and I are looking at adoption but it is still an expensive, time consuming, frustrating process. Having a biological child naturally is so much easier on the body, psyche, finances and relationship, I wouldn’t advise anyone to put it off if they have a choice.

  36. Joselle Palacios
    Joselle Palacios says:

    Pirate Jo, your comment is funny, offensive, and honest. Even Penelope has said having children will not make us happier. But we want them anyway.

    Brian: I think adoption should be discussed more too. If being a parent is really the goal, rather than reproducing one’s genes, adopt your children.

    This being said, of course my feminist sensibilities are disturbed in a kneejerk way when I read this. Just like that piece in the Atlantic about “settling” that all the feminist blogs went after. But then I’m not so secretly relieved that I found the man I’ll marry at age 27 and we both want kids that I’d like to start having in the next couple of years. As a single person, I’m desigining my career and life now keeping in mind that I want the time to have and raise kids.

    And Monica: I’m all for single motherhood, having been raised by one but I also would have liked a reliable dad. Yes, ultimately, a loving, available parent trumps gender and nice family ties but I don’t think those lasy points are completely unimportant either.

    Also, “Get a husband,” could very easily read get a partner if you’re gay. It’s hard to raise kids with a lot of support, let alone all on your own(which, is impossible; you just may end up paying more for the support you’ll inevitably need)

    Finally, I think this post and the impassioned responses all lead up to one point: life is just really hard.

  37. J
    J says:

    Wonderful points Joselle.
    Penelope, I applaud you for stating the ‘unpopular’ view and saying what needs to be said. People can ignore it if they like, but biology is biology, and odds are odds. It’s better to take an informed risk rather than to end up in an unwanted situation because you didn’t know any better. We can do what we want, but Penelope is making sure we all at least know better.

  38. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I’ve been reading Penelope’s writings for a long time. A few years ago when we decided we were ready to consider parenthood, I was 34. An earlier version of this post was on my mind.

    Within a few weeks of “stopping trying to prevent” pregnancy, I started to experience irregular heart beats and hot and cold flashes. Thinking of Penelope’s column, I started to panic — had we waited too long?! Was this some sort of early menopause?

    I made a doctor’s appointment to address these symptoms, but couldn’t get in for a couple weeks.

    A couple nervous weeks later, I was now “late.” Doctor suggested we do a pregnancy test, just in case that was the cause.

    Sure enough. That’s “all” it was.

    That pregnancy turned into a healthy baby boy who is now 2.5 years old and has a 6 month old baby sister — also perfect and healthy.

    As Erin above said, you don’t need to panic — but that doesn’t mean waiting any longer than makes sense for you in your life is a good idea, either.

    I think it’s because so many people have had my experience, or know someone who has, that it becomes easy to dismiss the advice. But anecdotal evidence is not scientific — Penelope offers the real statistical evidence, which should be taken seriously.

  39. rebecca
    rebecca says:

    I am a young woman who is not currently ready to have kids because I am single, living the city life and career focused. What I find fascinating is that you are all over looking the point that there IS a test to see how many eggs a woman has left. It sounds perfect for those women who some day aspire to have kids but may have other circumstances delaying that dream.

  40. Anna
    Anna says:

    I hope that Globe story was a victim of bad editing (certainly not unheard of when it comes to our hometown paper) because it was a pretty rough read.

    In any case, I’m not writing to say that your argument is wrong. You’re not wrong. Objectively, everything you said is true. And I say that as someone who started trying to get pregnant at 35 and had two miscarriages (though, fwiw, we learned that my problem was not “old eggs” but an autoimmune condition. With treatment, I got pregnant very easily at 36 and have been coasting along, now in my 8th month. Still, we lost time that we didn’t have to lose).

    Ok, so putting off childbearing until your mid-30s IS really risky and can be a sure path to heartbreak.

    HOWEVER, your argument is typical of the “blame the individual” politics of the Bush era and does nothing to actually help women. It just serves to panic them. You’re calling out women for delaying motherhood without acknowledging what they’re up against.

    First, there’s the brutal career world. The barriers to parenting are unyielding and, really, horrifying when you consider that it’s been 40 years since the second wave of feminism and we have so freaking little to show for it. Why do we have a work world that’s still based on a male-centered model with a strict home/work split?

    Work aside, what about the fact that raising children is *still* seen as women’s work? Why are active fathers still seen as generous babysitters? I’m not talking about bearing children or breastfeeding. I’m talking about what happens after those initial months. Why not at least acknowledge that this set-up doesn’t work for modern women?

    And what about the larger culture? What about the fact that men are trending in the exact *opposite* direction — delaying marriage until their late 30s and early 40s, confident they can find a younger, fertile mate when they’re done playing the field? What about the terror women feel about seeming “marriage-minded” and “desperate,” slaves to their ticking clocks? What about the fact that this makes them objects of ridicule in our culture?

    What, exactly, are today’s 30-something women supposed to do, other than watch the train leave the station without them and then feel guilty about it?

    You say, “find a husband” as if that’s a variable any woman can control. I got lucky — met a great guy in my late 20s and got married at 33. I have fantastic, smart, beautiful friends who are not so lucky.

    Finally, shame on you for even suggesting that women freeze their eggs. You’re recommending prohibitively expensive technology has yet to be proven. How is that useful? Even the most cursory review of the research would reveal that this is no solution. Do your homework if you’re going to start giving advice.

  41. Nik
    Nik says:

    And women with children (or trying to have them) don't wish they waited longer to have them..

    what a crock of crap. go talk to women that grew up with their children in their early twenties, put their lives on hold for their kids..or gosh teen mothers perhaps..or how about women that rushed into a marriage just to have children and found out too late that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be cuz..that’s right..they RUSHED.

    when you are in your twenties you have the world at your feet..i could not freakin imagine having a child then. Some of ya’ll must live in mommy fantasy land where rent is cheap or paid for by that wonderful hubby with a ridiculous salary and daycare costs are non-existent. Some people believe it or not, have to work for a living to eat…and live..let alone take care of their children..imagine that lol.

  42. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:


    Since the comments get serious, it is worth pointing out that the Science in this area is not fool-proof and nor is it something that women can rely on fully. I am surprised that you do not refer to some of the more interesting – and feminist – research in this area such as Sylvia Ann-Hewlett’s whose findings suggest that this over-reliance on science is still letting women down in their child-bearing plans.

    There are unforeseen situations too. For instance, a woman can freeze her eggs when she is young but they will some time need fertilising. The question is best addressed – in a practical sense – when the catchment, so to speak, is plentiful i.e. in one’s younger years, when one is relatively more flexible and able to build a strong relationship before bringing a child into the world with 2 parents.

    There has been a court case in Europe where a woman’s now-estranged partner does not wish to allow her to use the embryos which were frozen with joint consent. She in the meanwhile has lost her ability to produce more eggs due to a cancer. More recently, a divorced man just found out that he has 2 children which were born using the frozen embryos for which his partner forged his signature.

    As far as fiddling with nature’s course is concerned, part of your advice is spot-on. Otherwise I am reminded of Robert Ingersoll’s wisdom, when he said:

    “In nature, there is no reward or punishment; there are consequences.”

  43. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I understand what Penelope is saying as a purely logical, survival-of-the-species, biological fact. This article (which I read in the Globe) does not offend me; however I find it quite unrealistic as to how it pertains to a single woman (or man, even) today.

    Firstly, the majority of couples I know who got married in their 20s are divorced. Perhaps it was desparation to get married by age 25 or age 28 or 30 or whatever. Or perhaps it is because you are a completely different person than you are at 22 than you are at 28 than you are at 35. Getting married too young just does not work for a good number of people. The whole scare-mongering, “DON’T WAIT! FIND SOMEONE… ANYONE NOW!!! NOW, I TELL YOU!!!” is just a horrible thought. Shouldn’t the priority be finding a mate you will happily spend the rest of your life with? You’ll be with that person your whole life (hopefully) while a child is yours for 18 years. Is having kids so important that you risk bringing them into what will eventually be a broken home by settling for a quickie, desparation marriage?

    As I said, I am not offended by the article; I just think people really need to evaluate why they get married and when – and don’t need the extra layer of biological-related stress laid on them which, frankly, every single woman already knows.

    Also, as an above poster said, people really need to evaluate WHY they want to have kids. Not just that they want to have them. Sometimes the answer to this question just is not in focus in one’s 20s.

    Was there anything more sad than seeing late-20-somethings desparately trying to get married by the time they are 30? I knew a lot of people who lived by those numbers. Some of those who had the “I have to married by 30” wedding are happy, many are not. I waited for Mr Right, met him at 34 got married at 38. I would not have changed a thing. I knew the relationships I had in my 20s were not realistic and not mature and would not have lasted. I am grateful I always had the knowledge to realize this and wait until I was ready to make better choices. My child-bearing decisions were based *contingent* on *finding* the right person. If I didn’t find the right person, I was happy not to have kids.

    Again, I wasn’t angry by the article, I just found it sort of sad and antiquated… like the stereotypical 80s yuppy woman in The Big Chill who wants a baby but is not married. And I think that people really need to evaluate things like the “whys” behind marriage before they hook up with someone for the sole purpose of having children.

  44. Mark Gallagher
    Mark Gallagher says:

    Thanks for the fertility-clinic-sponsered scare tactics. Unfortunately, many are having a tough time supporting themselves in this economy, let alone their (future) children. The real issue is that our society has been exploiting the American worker to the point where raising families is financially impossible today for the majority of working-class people.

    LOL freeze eggs for $14,000!!! You are completely out of touch.

  45. Jami
    Jami says:

    Penelope — I just finished reading your article on Boston.com from Sunday's Globe: “Want to have a baby? Now’s the time.” I linked through to your blog only to find more of the same offensive and shockingly IGNORANT drivel.

    I am truly entertained by this Fairy Tale idea you propose about simply DECIDING to find a mate in your 20’s. It’s not like you can control these things! I met my husband when I was 28 — we dated for four years before getting married in 2006. Now I am 33 and we are beginning our family planning. There is nothing wrong with this scenario. It’s far more important to take your time finding the right mate . . . solidifying your life path . . . becoming stronger as an individual so that when you DO have a family (and you will, if you want to — regardless of your age), you are bringing children into a stable and loving household. A household with a mother who knows who she is and can teach the same strength to her children.

    Should I have married one of my earlier boyfriends just because my ovaries have an expiration date? Hmmmm . . . who would have been the better choice? The guy who I fought with constantly? Or maybe the guy who refused to introduce me to his parents? Hell – €“ maybe I should have gone with the guy who cheated on me in High School. Then I could have gotten a real jump-start on the baby-making! There are so many options, I really don't know.

    And, if I had taken your advice, perhaps I would have had the good sense to skip Graduate School. And maybe I should have found a mindless job somewhere that would have allowed me more access to single men . . . nothing too taxing that could deter me from my one TRUE purpose of reproducing . . . maybe I should have been a STRIPPER?!? What does it matter? I clearly should have spent more time finding a mate instead of becoming a successful woman with a 6-figure income and a Master’s Degree.

    Please spare me!
    You are an embarrassment to all women – €“ professional and otherwise.

  46. Been there done that
    Been there done that says:


    I would like to tout the benefits of having children at a young age. I am a female lawyer with three kids who is 30 years old. I had my first at age 24 and have loved every minute of it (even though I have not always “liked” every minute of it). This is a very tiring time in my life with 3 kids six and under and also working full-time, but it is also a very happy time. Not everyone loses their mind from trying to do both at the same time. I feel I am a very good mom and attorney. I do not have a powerhouse legal career, but I do provide the majority of the income for my family and we live comfortably, if not extravagently. I have made both personal and professional sacrifices because of my ultimate goals in life, and have also gotten huge dividends in return. Don’t dismiss the possiblity of kids early in your career. It remains to be seen if I will have fertility problems later in life, but I feel good knowing I already have 3 wonderful little ones. Plus, the bonus that I can still continue on with my career makes me feel I have the best of both worlds.

    In addition, for all those that provide anecdotal evidence about how you had children late in life -I am very happy for you, but the statistical evidence is that some people out there won’t be able to have kids naturally and easily later in life. Don’t dismiss the statitical evidence and keep these women from at least being informed just because it does not conform to your own personal life experiences or your beliefs about how the world should be (but is not). That is more outrageous than silencing Penelope for stating a statistic.

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