Inever thought I’d be someone who would be sad about her age. As one of the oldest in my grade, I had consistently met birthdays with a giddy, head-on mentality. Being oldest meant doing everything first. I was first to drive. First to vote. First to (legally) drink. Even when I ran out of privileges that came linked to age, I was still thrilled at my age. At twenty-five I felt sophisticated and adult, celebrating with friends in my tiny one-bedroom that I shared with my boyfriend. At twenty-eight I felt mature and responsible, sipping wine with my now husband and our newly married friends. As thirty approached, I was sure I’d approach it with the same anticipation. Thirty was a threshold, an age that finally held enough weight for me to really achieve the dreams that necessitated maturity and wisdom and life-experience.
But thirty wasn’t like what I’d imagined. Turning thirty made nothing feel fair and everything feel scary.
Because of the hypothetical baby.
I’m not pregnant. Nor do I have any intentions of getting pregnant for a few years. But even typing that sentence made my hands turn sweaty with hubris. After turning thirty, every decision I made had the unspoken caveat ringing in my head: “But what about the baby?” I’d search job message boards, wanting to leave the stress and frustrations of teaching, only to find myself thinking about how this company would handle my maternity leave or if it would offer health insurance to cover me during pregnancy. I’d go to drinks with coworkers on Friday and fret over how much fun it was to have a glass of wine after a long week, wondering if I was going to be the idiot who missed out on having a child because she liked happy hour too damn much.
The worst offense was when my husband found me a sobbing mess over the computer screen. Pages and pages of searches: Can you horseback ride when you’re pregnant? Is horseback riding safe while pregnant if you’re experienced? Which trimester is safe to horseback ride during? “It’s not fair!” I finally wailed to my confused husband who had never even thought of this hypothetical baby. “It’s not fair that I have to stop something I love just to have a baby.”
I’d grown up riding horses and rode throughout college on my school’s equestrian team. But I hadn’t been on a horse since we’d moved to New York City for grad school almost ten years earlier. It wasn’t until my thirtieth birthday when my incredible husband bought me a package of lessons at a barn about an hour upstate that I realized how much I missed it. I’d been taking weekly lessons for nearly six months when I decided to Google how my hypothetical baby would affect my riding. Bad idea. Turns out along with so many other things I enjoy, like sushi and deli meat sandwiches and coffee and alcohol, horseback riding is on the long list of things that are dangerous for pregnancies. My mind immediately began to race through scenarios, calculating how many years of riding could I get in before I had to give it up for the baby.
And that was when I realized this feeling I’d had since turning thirty months before. I feel like I’m racing my baby.
On a logical, reasonable level I know that there are many women who accomplish many things before, during, and after pregnancy. But the illogical, unreasonable part of my brain was screaming at me since I’d tipped the age scale: How can you finish writing your novel when you have to care for an infant? How can you have insurance to cover the vaccine costs for a newborn and still search for your dream job? How can you possibly spend money or time on something as privileged as horseback riding when you have a baby at home? My mind is unable to see the possible balance of a future with a baby wedged into it.
It would be different if I knew what I wanted. If I could say for certain that my arms longed for the weight of a baby, then I could confidently make the sacrifices. Or if I was sure I wanted a life free to worry only about myself and my husband, our adventures, our wants, our desires. Then I could play happily with my nephew when I visited and leave confident that I wasn’t missing out on something.
Until then, I’ll live in a grey area, terrified of each passing year that takes me further into thirty, as I keep racing my hypothetical baby.