Wednesday, November 23, 2011


This maybe a huge, great Thelma-and-Louise-off-a-cliff-leap here, but I think best-selling women’s fiction author, Jane Green and I are kindred spirits.  We are British ex-pats living in the north east of America--she in chic Westport, Connecticut, where I nannied for a brief orbit of the sun; me in Brooklyn and Pennsylvania. We’ve both spent considerable time in New York, we are/we have been married to Americans and we like the ritual of cooking: rich stews, fragrant casseroles, warm, farmy, comfort fodder!  The one great fat fly in the ointment is that she mothers arks full of children.  She even cooks for them all.  Whereas I… I’m gestating novels and not much else.
I suppose I have been thinking about this a lot lately as, not only have two girlfriends given birth in the last week, and six that I know about in the last year, but I am listening to Jane Green’s Babyville.  It’s a wee bit dated with pop-culture commentary, the heroines don’t text or tweet or FB at all, they drink lattes like they don’t contain 200+ calories, but the overall story supersedes these flinch-worthy retro references, because to me, it is about early thirties British females discovering the best of NYC food, cock and the unignorable tock of their biological clock. 

In Babyville we meet Sam—happily up the duff; Maeve—ruthlessly career-focused and unhappily up the duff; Julia—desperate to be up the duff, and as mad as a rather mad eye-rolling-cow circa 1998 rural England; and Bella the urban Manhattanite who—thus far—is plagued with neither dictatorial ovaries nor a pregnancy plotline.

I must confess, Julia, at first, was not a character I could really sympathize with.  With a fabulous career in TV production, and not exactly the most enviable relationship, why would she go so bat-shit-crazy that she would drop £200 at Boots Pharmacy (at a time) on pregnancy testing kits?  That’s just not rational.  That’s bonkers!  Think of the nice pair of tan-topped black leather riding boots she could buy with that?  The dress at Karen Millen?  The flight to Paris and back!  This, methought, is just the sort of lunatic that gives sane thirty-somethings a bad name, and makes men sigh and use the condescending phrase “women’s issues.”

Julia is, undoubtedly, held captive by her raging hormones and obsession to conceive, and her whack-job behaviour—picture her in a white sheet make-shift toga and penis-carved candles—loses her the sympathy of her partner, her colleagues and even, just a smidgen, her friends.

I have far, far more empathy with sharp-suited and pointy-toed Maeve.  She has drive, ambition and no time to think of anyone but herself, least of all a baby.

And then it happens.  The unthinkable.  After a few tequilas, there she is, in an unlit alley way, consoling Julia’s now ex-non-baby-daddy, a sympathetic snog, a grope and bing bang, bang, bang, boom, it’s an unwanted embryo.  Within weeks this well-put-together woman becomes the victim of her hormones, a screaming harridan, a chocolate fiend.  (I realised at this point in the story that I really miss English chocolate, particularly Picnic, Lion Bar and Double Decker.  FYI, Christmas Gift Purchasers.)

So I started thinking about the cliché: do women really have a biological clock?  What if some run really slowly, or some women don’t hear theirs because they are focused on something else and then, Brrrrinnnnnnnnnggggg it rings, but the time they hear it, it has been whacked to snooze so many times that now opportunity has passed and it’s too late, and heck, sorry sister, you were too busy la la-ing your own song… what then?  What?

The Duggar Tribe. 19 children and counting...
Seriously, her uterus must be the size of China.
A woman’s biological clock, so I understand, is triggered by the presence of certain hormones.  Some women obviously have more than others.  I’m thinking Ma Duggar and the Octo-mom are the Jose Canseco of the female egg world.  Is this age specific?  Frame specific?  Diet-specific?  Is it something that is influenced by those around you: all close friends spawning, and causing contagious ‘something-in-the-water’ breeding?  Is it affected by circadian rhythms?  The lunar phase?  The day light perceived and timed by magical receptors in our retinas, sending hormones surging and knickers a-plunging?  Or, is it something that is fired off into the stratosphere if you meet the right person?

Unlike men, women do have limited fertility.  Men have little age-related decline in fertility since they have stem cells that can produce semen all day long.  Yeah, thanks!  That’s one in the eye from Oh Great Creator/ Evolution/ Other.  Instead we are born with 2 million eggs and we never produce anymore, they just… DIE.  Like lemmings.  Every month.  There’s some dying right now… “AHHHHHhhhhhh!”  I can hear them.  30 to be precise.  30 a day.  1000 a month.  13,000 eggs a year.  Only 400 eggs get to ovulation in our lifetime, which means, by the time we hit 40ish, the larder is eggless, yolkless. 

That’s one sad little breakfast muffin with no eggs, just sausage.  (Make mine a soppressata with provolone, grazie!)

Is it any wonder women in their 30’s can become hob-knob-crackers-woof-and-trail-mix-nuts crazy?  Of course not, they have organs committing hari-kari everyday!  How would you feel?

And now we are living to an older age, and climbing the career ladder, more couples/singles are putting off spawning, but Egads! By mid-thirties 25% of women are infertile.  That's 1 in 4.  1 in fucking 4!  Did I mention lots of my friends have kiddos?  *Gulp*  As we age the number of eggs and the quality of eggs go down.  Infertility is an epidemic.  More western world people are visiting doctors for infertility issues, not heart disease or diabetes.  In.fer.tility.

Shit.  Maybe Julia was not so nutzoid, after all.  Maybe it is just fear that sends our biological clocks a-buzzing.  The urgent, unignorable wake up call that signals, “HOLY CRAP, we’re dying here.  Would you just throw us a bone, you selfish, work-obsessed bitch?”

Maybe the cliché biological clock is merely awareness.   As we age, we become aware of our limited availability to produce the perfect 2.4 pigeon-pair family.  And maybe the conception of this life-altering nugget of knowledge, fused with other factors is what primes the alarm.

I know it’s changed for me.  I know now that three meals a day are better than the one I felt so virtuous about eating.  I know that the less-than-one-hundred-pounds I weighed five years ago would have housed a womb about as welcoming as Wyoming.  I know now, that just because so-and-so has a brat who does not understand “no,” who constantly has a runny nose and sticky fingers—which he generously wipes on me—does not necessarily mean that all children (namely, mine) will be badly behaved; I understand that nurturing and educating a little bundle of cells can be the most miraculous gift one could give and receive.  A bundle I hope to teach compassion, to have passions, integrity and honour; to know French, some Italian, spellings, Capitals, Kings and Queens, inorganic chemistry, horse-riding, swimming; how to make creme brulee and risotto; and to say "lovely, smashing and super!"

Sure, awareness has me staring into the face of the alarm clock, like it is 4.29am and I wish I could sleep a little longer, but I can’t.  I close my eyes, but the anticipation holds me prisoner.  One can never lose consciousness in such circumstances. 

But there is a catalyst: a magical, mystical overriding element that speeds up time and suddenly it is 6am and the little tinny alarm is tolling like the bells in Notre Dame.  “The Bells, Esmeralda, the bells!”

And that, Dear Reader, finally, after years of falling for Non-Compatibles—whose Levis I shouldn’t touch, let alone their chromosomes—is knowing myself better: being more able to identify those I might be compatible with and whose genes I might like to comingle. 

I’m writing this because I’ve found the 180 degree change in me interesting.  I’m not speaking for womankind, just myself.  I understand there are many factors at work determining our instinct to follow our biological imperative.  I am sure those ladies so desperate to mother that they go to sperm banks and sign up for their carefully selected semen, feel their biological clock a-tocking just as strongly as if they had just met the Love-of-their-Life.  But I've needed the latter.

Will I be racing to Babys R Us and signing up for a registry?  Absolutely not.  (Sorry Mum.)  But maybe I’m paying more attention now.  Maybe there is more reason to?  Or maybe I am just some character in a Jane Green novel, who learns that there are some instincts that trump even work ethic.

Maeve: He has become, other than Viv, my most favourite person in the whole world, and I can’t think of a better person to be raising my child with.  I love the idea that my child will be half mine, and half his.  To be honest, I can’t think of a better combination.  Other than Steve McQueen, of course. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so comfortable with a person, other than my family.  You know, you’re my best friend.”  --I’m not sure quite what has come over me, because spontaneous outbursts of affection are really not my style, but I don’t think I ever really knew how important it was to have someone before.  And I don’t mean another half.  I just mean someone to share things with, someone like a best friend, or a brother, someone like him.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Jane Green, Babyville


  1. Brilliant as always. :)

    As a side note, what is the current thought/science on frozen eggs? While the ones from my fridge that my drunk friend placed in the freezer seemed about as able to be fertilized as cement, I have heard this is an option for women going through chemo and the like. Perhaps we should just freeze them all until we find Mr. Right? Though 2 million eggs seems like it would take up an AWFUL lot of fridge space. ;)

  2. In Babyville, Sam, the happily preggers one, takes to motherhood like I take to sport. (I like the idea of it, I know the rules, and yet, I suck). She makes fish pie and other mushy comfort food to appease baby George, freezing individual bite -sized portions of said mush, in ice cube trays.
    You now have me thinking of freezing eggs thusly! Maybe with D.I.Y vacuum nozzle attachments!!
    At home Egg Harvesting Parties! Mark my word, by 2040, it'll be all the rage!