I admit I’m guilty of looking in the mirror and feeling grateful that there is not a wrinkle on my 42 year old filler-free face. I am even more thankful for a cluster of monthly zits, a possible sign that some of my more youthful hormones are still functioning. In the full-length mirror, I am proud of my svelte, toned body with a BMI of a healthy 30 year old. And I cherish the wide-eyed response when I openly reveal my age to anyone who cares.

I refuse to pack away hope of a still-fertile-self with my miniskirts and graphic Ts. While I surely know that I may not fall in love in time to conceive a child - (Assuming the man I love wants a child. Assuming the man I love can have children himself) - I will not give up hope.  And yes, I will look for signs that it’s still possible for me to have a baby by the only evidence I can see - a youthful reflection. (By the way, the younger me who wore miniskirts and graphic Ts was too young to learn about freezing her eggs and too close to her mom’s generation to believe that would ever be necessary anyway.)

I have everything else I could ever want. I’m building the company of my dreams. I have some of the most fantastic people in New York City in my circle of friends. I’ve crossed a few things off my bucket list (best-selling author, for example) and I am madly in love with my nephew and nieces. Aside from not getting married and having children, I am happy that I am living life to my fullest potential within my control.

"We warned you!"

But I live in a world of Schadenfreud, in all places, New York City, where women over 40 are as often single and childless as they are powerful, beautiful, and fit. This 40-something city-dweller, the woman who to others has everything (minus the husband (or wife) and baby), is picked on, curiously, by none other than the newspaper she loyally wakes up to every morning.

Are You as Fertile as You Look?” sears the headline in last week’s The New York Times Thursday Styles section, one of several articles that paper and others have published in recent years on the growing group of women over 40 still hopeful they can have children - seemingly because fertility and infertility are fashionable topics these days – although I bet a story on male infertility would be found in Tuesday Health.  The story describes childless and child-hopeful 40 plus year old women who believe that their youthful appearance might be a reflection of their inner fertility goddess, making it easier to conceive at this later age once they’ve finally found the man they want to marry.  In a condescending manner, the piece (and many of the comments attributed to it) laughs at the subjects with gleeful “Schadenforty:” Their eggs are cooked; their wombs are vacant; their bet is lost; they waited too long.  The underlying truth is that some of those who succeed at love and children enjoy wagging a “we warned you” finger at the 40-something woman’s career, ability to pay for her home, clothing and occasional spa day, and her healthy-looking demeanor to say: “Who does she think she is? She’s naïve to think she’ll be able to have what we do.”

Like one of the experts the article cites in reference to “42 ½” year old Jennifer Aniston and her optimistic quotes alluding to having a baby one day, The New York Times wants to “reach over the table and throttle [us]” simply for being optimistic. By the way, I think Jennifer Aniston did her share of feeling throttled when the potential father of her children left her to have children with another woman. And was the “1/2” added to her 42 years an extra little ‘zets’ for thinking she could actually conceive with every passing month?

Between naiveté and pessimism

So why the kick when we’re down on luck and love? Let’s put aside that a healthy lifestyle can at the very least help, not hinder, the fertility of a woman in her later thirties and forties. And certainly keeping herself attractive can help her find a man with whom to try to get pregnant.  Plus a childless woman at 40 may have the earning potential to have saved enough money to afford IVF or other procedures to help preserve or extend her fertility. She’s prepped and ready to go when the light on love turns green.

The mind is a very powerful thing and so perhaps the most essential tool for preserving her fertility is found somewhere between the naiveté New York media would admonish her for, and complete cynical pessimism the same media would have her believe.  That happy medium is optimism and it’s what keeps us sane, hopeful and happy. While not a cure for infertility at any age, it’s a welcome ingredient when we’re finally able to get cooking. The hopeful optimism that one day an equally optimistic OBGYN will place a newborn infant on our chest, and welcome our legacy into the world with a high five for not letting anyone convince us it was impossible, is what we really see in the mirror.

The collective vitriol against women in their later years of fertility for their hope in being able to conceive is what’s getting old, while our happy optimism is keeping us 40-somethings young – and dare I say, wrinkle-free.

3 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Schadenforty”

  1. Amy Gugig September 5, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    Another great piece.  It seems, that with regard to fertility, children, etc.. there is almost no choice or circumstance for which the gleelfully sanctimonious will give you a pass..  There is always someone out there waiting to tell you that every choice you’ve made is wrong, and every circumstance is your fault, or even something that warrants blame.

    We need more voices speaking positively about women across the spectrum.  Thanks for being one of them.

  2. Mia September 8, 2011 at 11:58 am

    I think this idea that being youthful = fertile/more fertile has some truth to it, and I agree with you that it’s wrong and unhelpful for society/media (etc) to blame us women (even those with kids, as I do) for thinking this. Those of us who were born in the 70s were very much pushed towards careers and equality (all good things) but with no real awareness by the medical community or our mother’s that fertility is aged related. It is talked about Now but that is not very helpful to those in their late 30’s – 40s.

    I also think that yes, while fertility is, of course, aged related – I agree with you that optimism is also important. There is a definite trend (I know women myself) who have been unable to have kids, gone via IVF and then had their own without assistance. Presumably as they were not as stressed about it. This is clearly a new and still researched area but it definitely occurs. And, clearly being youthful  – whether it is one’s mental attidude or actual physiology –  is important. If a woman is in her 20s and obese (for example) that has just as much, if not more detrimental effects on her ability to have kids, or to bring them to term healthy – as a older, but fit and healthy, woman.

    Btw – I agree with your comment about Jennifer Aniston. She was in a marriage and he left Her at 36 for a younger woman. All issues aside (their personal lives etc) that was an appalling thing to do and a complete betrayal of trust. I suppose it made his life better but to leave a woman in her late 30s is going to be difficult in many more ways for the woman being left.


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