Recently, I discovered “the Aniston syndrome.” And I’m not talking a mid-90s hair flip or Angelina Jolie’s extremely-played-out-imaginary nemesis. It seems a certain smug-section of bloggers have coined “the Aniston syndrome” to refer to careless old women who have dared to put their careers first, only to be suffering barren wombs and lives never truly lived. Which clearly, is represented in the tears of 40-something Jennifer Aniston, despite her amazing career, friends, body, and bank account.
It’s possible you’ve exploded with annoyance at this point – I’m sweeping up my own pieces right now. Because despite our post-feminist inclinations, society seems as hell bent as ever to shame childless spinster/old maids. If you aren’t hustling into motherhood post 35, you’re clearly tragic – even if you are Jennifer Aniston. And as a recently-engaged 38-year-old woman who wants kids but waited for the right partner, this has struck a nerve. Or two. Or twelve.
Here’s why. My fiancé and I are not rushing to get married. We are not rushing to get pregnant. We are not rushing, period. And we want children. I adore my nieces and could easily walk home with any of my friend’s babies, maybe possibly returning them in five weeks or years.
But try explaining this to the masses at large. “Thirty-eight and engaged” means “throw out the birth control pills, you aged fool” to many. I recently had an acquaintance congratulate me on my engagement and ask when I was getting married, only to immediately assert “Oh well, you’ll probably have to do IVF anyway. There’s no rush!”
To which I say – really? Really, self-satisfied acquaintance who represents a portion of society? Giving birth is probably the most personal thing any of us can do, yet it seems to be a topic on which many are eager to offer an opinion. Are fertility drugs the expected choice for struggling parents? And if fertility is now about choice, then why does it seem like adoption is the thing you’re supposed to consider AFTER you’ve put your body through courses of taxing hormones? What about the right to refuse fertility drugs?
I have several friends who used IVF with outstanding results. And with their wonderful children in tow, they couldn’t imagine not having made the choice to use them. I’m happy they did as well, as I love their kids as only an auntie bent on ultimate spoilage could. I was with them every step of the way through their struggles, supporting, crying tears of frustration and eventual happiness at their amazing news.
I love my friends, I love their babies, and I love that they made their own choices. Most of all, I love that they had the right to do it without my judgment. Everyone deserves the right to explore all options to start a family. And this include the decision not to take fertility drugs.
I’m not even going to begin to address the other issues that go into having a child or fertility treatments, such as financial position, stability and more. (A recent article in Newsweek details the extreme cost of fertility drugs here.) Despite the dire predictions associated with my bridal age, I don’t know if I will be faced with any extra costs to start my family. And since I also firmly believe that no one knows how they will truly react until they are in a situation – I can’t say definitively how I or my fiancé will address the issue if we encounter it. That’s the honest-to-Betsy truth.
But I do know this. A close family member, who is like my right arm, almost died six months after giving birth to her second child. She suffered an extremely rare condition called a hepatic adenoma, which was a benign liver tumor the size of a grapefruit. (Want to learn more about this condition? Click here.) She had no idea she had it until the day it ruptured. Bleeding internally for days, she would have died were it not for the skills of her insanely amazing doctors. (Shout out, UCLA Medical and Long Beach Memorial!)
And what caused her tumor in the first place? Hormones. We will never know if they were the natural hormones from her two pregnancies. We will never know if they were the artificial hormones from her use of birth control pills, since she had this crazy idea of not wanting to get pregnant on her honeymoon. But we do know that her tumor was caused by too much estrogen in her body.
Sure, her condition was extremely rare. And yes, it hasn’t happened to me – I know this because my doctor ordered an ultrasound for my liver and it is currently tumor-free. One of the greatest things about my life is that this family member, now sporting an impressive scar and a re-sectioned liver, is still hanging around. And that she gets to come with me next week to check out a wedding dress. Because she survived too many hormones in her body.
And – my point. The decision to take fertility drugs can be extremely complicated and should be respected. But same goes for the decision not to take them. It is okay to wait to have babies, and it is okay not to have IVF in your back pocket.
And best of all? I’m not the first person to think so. Fertility is everywhere in the news. We are aware of the science of conceiving and childbirth. We know it gets harder as you age. We don’t need you to remind us, creators of “the Aniston syndrome.” We can still choose fertility drugs, we can still choose to adopt, and we can still choose to remain childless. We just don’t need to be mocked/pitied/judged for it. And we don’t need to be rushed.
So, world at large, can we back off gossiping about older moms/barren women? What’s more, can we learn to respect all our different choices? I’m sure Jennifer Aniston is extremely tired of her public persona being one of tragic, childless spinsterhood. Because at the very least, we need to just focus on her how she got her amazing gams.