A bit of discourse stirred up a lot of grief and sadness for me. Noah Smith did an analysis of the much discussed Atlantic piece “The Myth of the Broke Millennial.” His breakdown is excellent and I recommend the Twitter thread where several of my geriatric millennial friends weigh in on how late in life security has come for many of us and how precarious it still feels.
What jumped out at me most in Noah’s breakdown is whether millennials will feel financially secure enough to have kids if it’s indeed true that we are getting less precarious.
That matters as a question as having children appears to be a driving force towards conservative politics but also a general preference for less government involvement. Noah wondered if millennials will be less woke and less inclined to socialism if we don’t turn out to be downwardly mobile. The theory is we might be if, and it’s a big if, we feel secure enough to have children.
There is one age-related factor that appears to draw people to the right, however: having children. Fertility rates are down, and Twenge discusses some reasons for this in her article. But what really matters for politics is probably not the number of kids that get born, but the number of people who end up having any kids at all.
I’ve got bad news on this front as the first wave of elder millennials who haven’t already had kids probably can’t. Why? Our women are aging out of fertility before they find the security they feel they need to consider having kids.
By the time millennial women get to a place where it seems feasible we’ve long entered “geriatric pregnancy” territory. I froze my eggs right before it was considered a geriatric situation. Which is give or take 31-32 now as we redefine fertility. I am now 39.
Now that’s a longer story for me personally as freezing my eggs felt like a consumer decision, was marketed as insurance policy, and ended up being a life changing catastrophe. And I still don’t have kids.
The process of egg extraction triggered an inflammatory disease and I may never be able to carry to term. And I have complicated grief stricken emotions about the entire affair. And we spent a small fortune getting me healthy enough to go back work.
But my suspicion is that many millennials will learn that fertility isn’t as easy as they imagine if they try to deal with it past 35 let alone past 40.
And we simply cannot seem to discuss the issue in a way that is productive. The discourse is toxic as cultural warriors, often men weigh in with their complex emotions about what it means to have a family, support children and generally deal with women’s health.
Shaming and controlling women’s bodies doesn’t really do much for the cold hard reality that we failed many millennial women by assuring technology could solve for the hard questions on fertility. So we marketed these new medical options and sold it at premium. Silicon Valley mounted a whole campaign to freeze eggs for its female workforce.
I’m afraid we are too deeply entrenched in a culture war to discus this productively as most of the people I see with the message that fertility is complex tend to view things in a more traditional context.
I personally love playing a tradwife on Twitter because I’ve learned a lot about how reactionary feminists and baroque online misogyny views motherhood. They talk to me and I’ve listened.
But we need to get women of all politics and preferences and family structures involved in this conversation as a full decade of millennial women are going to need to consider their relationship to their own fertility and bodies in short order. And for many of us it’s too late.
Treatments like IVF and egg freezing & extraction are expensive and have considerably more risk than we are comfortable discussing. Surrogates are a quarter of a million dollar expense which disgustingly is for bureaucratic costs not the surrogate herself. If you want multiple children it’s not crazy to plan for a million dollars. And don’t get me started on how adoption plays into all of this.
A generation of fucked fertility with myriad corporate profit motives driving decision making sounds like the stuff of conspiracy and cranks but don’t be fooled by extremism. We’ve done a shitty job investing in women’s healthcare in America and it will have consequences.
I know it’s scary to look at head on. I regularly break down with my own grief on the matter. I’ve been looking at it for years. Having a serious health crisis brought on by family planning has been a blessing to my marriage but that blessing has enormous costs. I’d expect this process of addressing the fertility of a generation of women to be challenging for us all no matter your personal choices or politics.