It was time. In April, on the recommendation of a close friend, I decided to try out a new gynecologist. The gyno I’d been seeing for over two decades was leaving her practice, and it had been a couple of years since I’d had a checkup.
Going to see a new doctor always fills me with some trepidation, but this appointment had me particularly on edge because I also wanted to ask a fairly loaded question:
“Should I do fertility testing to see if I have a shot at getting pregnant?”
To be clear, my husband and I weren’t looking to start “trying” any time soon. We’re still very much on the fence about parenthood, but I was wading into my mid-30s, and I wanted to know how available the option was.
As I sat anxiously in the dimly lit waiting room, surrounded by ’80s throwback wallpaper, I noticed that most of the women around me were expecting. Some rubbed their stomachs, others looked nervous and excited while reading baby-centric pamphlets. Whenever I made eye contact with one of them, they’d smile knowingly, as if they thought I, too, shared the secret of life.
I went back to Instagram scrolling, only to be confronted by a veritable onslaught of friends’ baby photos. I silently cursed the universe for her subtlety, and then the nurse called me back to the exam room.
The gyno, or rather OB-GYN, looked to be in her late 60s. While she was perfectly nice, she also seemed to be running on autopilot. We had some semblance of a conversation, but it mainly consisted of her telling me about her daughters and grandchildren.
Just when I’d decided to rip the Band-Aid off and ask the dreaded fertility question, the doctor beat me to it. But not in a way I was expecting or prepared for at all.
“So are you thinking kids, or are you like the rest of these millennial women who’re choosing themselves over kids?”
I looked down because it felt like my jaw had just hit the floor. While she may have meant it in a tongue-and-cheek way, I couldn’t help but think she was also boxing me into a generational stereotype — and a completely unfair one at that.
I just mumbled something like “We’re still thinking about it” and proceeded to nod like a kid getting chastised as she doc-splained geriatric pregnancy to me and pushed egg freezing.
I walked out of the office feeling enraged. What right did this woman have to judge my life choices? Would I start hearing similar things from my family as I crept up through my 30s?
I’d gotten inklings of baby pressure from them, but I’d always pushed it off by implying having kids was more of a “when” than an “if.” My mind started churning, fearing how potentially changing my decision to “child-free” might impact my relationships with them.
I shared the unsettling experience with several friends (also millennials) later that week and discovered that this type of generation-shaming is hardly rare.
One friend, who’s now 6 months pregnant, said that once she and her husband bought a house, her parents constantly implied it was time to start having kids. Another often avoids phone calls from her mom, who has started regularly gauging her biological clock.
It’s common for the brunt of this baby pressure to come from one of the most interested parties: Mom. When I spoke with several millennials who had experienced procreation pressure, it was clear that Mom’s desire to be a grandma is often the hardest to ignore.
When Jessi Beyer, a personal development coach, decided to tell her mother that she wasn’t planning on having kids, she was blindsided by the response.
“I’ll never forget this conversation with my mom. I was explaining to her that I didn’t want kids, and her response was that she wanted grandkids. I literally stood there in shock for a moment, as I had no idea how to respond.”
Beyer wishes her mom hadn’t been so blunt, but in hindsight, she understands where such entitlement might come from. She thinks older generations hold this hard line because they didn’t see not having kids as an option when they were younger. Having kids was simply what you did.
While her mom has since learned to be more sensitive about her grandmother pleas, Beyers says she still seems to think she can change her daughter’s mind.
Women get the brunt of the disapproval when it comes to making any decision about our own bodies, and deciding whether to have kids is no different.
People with more traditional beliefs tend to make statements like “All women should want to be mothers.” Many try to dub a woman’s choice to remain childless as just temporary.
Lisa M.’s encounter with her mentor (a man 20 years her senior) is a prime example. “We were discussing my plans for my career, including prioritizing opportunities that maximize international travel. He asked what’s going to happen when I have kids, and I told him I didn’t want kids.”
“He asked what happens when I meet the ‘right guy’ and he wants kids, and I told him I’ve known that I didn’t want kids since I was one and can’t imagine that the right guy for me would be someone who didn’t accept that. His response was ‘You’ll see, that will change.’”
Lisa M. felt extremely patronized by the response, and rightfully so — a relatively removed party had tried to insist he knew what was right for her better than she did.
It was blatantly disrespectful and made her wonder if it was possible to have an older male mentor who could understand that becoming a parent comes with different expectations for men and women.
While Lisa says there are no hard feelings, she hasn’t seen her mentor since.
Once you settle into a partnership (marriage or otherwise), the pressure to conceive typically mounts exponentially. My husband and I had been married all of a month when we started getting not-so-subtle inquiries about our childbearing plans.
For Erin Artfitch, a blogger from Seattle, Washington, the pressure was unrelenting. “My husband and I have been pressured not only by our family members and friends, but even complete strangers.”
At the time, the couple had a high cost of living and didn’t think it was financially sound to have a baby yet. But that didn’t stop their friends from pushing them.
“Not only did [that] convey a sense of disapproval for our current lifestyle, but there was this insinuation that we were still considered children for not having children of our own,” continues Artfitch.
It made conversations with friends difficult at times, because the couple knew they weren’t telling their friends what they wanted to hear. So they tried to avoid the topic as best they could.
While the couple did eventually decide to have a baby, friends and relatives are now asking when they’ll be adding another child to the family. Today, however, they feel more confident about their decisions. “[There] isn’t much room to argue with us.”
So many of us are facing an inordinate amount of pressure from older generations to have kids, despite the seemingly unending economic, environmental, and social challenges in the way. And yet when we don’t meet the expectations of our older relatives, they blame us! It’s frustrating and can put a significant strain on our relationships with them.
While that visit to that particular OB-GYN was the last one I planned to make, ditching your friends and family members isn’t so easy.
Sadly, there’s no magical solution to the generation gap that exists on this issue. I’ve decided to try to be much more open with my older relatives when they ask me about our parenting plans. We are legitimately on the fence but have no desire to be given the hard sell by outside parties.
If anyone tries, I plan to listen and then calmly say, “Thanks, but we’ve got this one.” And judgments will be met with an unsubtle subject change.
There’s so much we’re up against in the world today. There’s no reason that list should include the people who are supposed to be on our side. The best you can do is be honest with the people in your life.
Explain how those generation-shaming comments truly make you feel. If they don’t appreciate your reasons for your choice, have a conversation about it, and if they’re still unsupportive, move on to something else. There are other things to talk about that are more interesting than babies.
Not all family members are like my last OB-GYN — you shouldn’t feel like you have to never show up again.
Ally Hirschlag is a writer and editor at weather.com. Her work has been featured in Cosmo, Allure, Audubon, Huffington Post, Mic, Teen Vogue, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. Follow her musings on Twitter and Facebook.