Women who want to have children should make it a priority in their twenties to find a partner. That's because one of the most dramatic issues facing Generation X is infertility. No generation of women has had more trouble with fertility than this generation, who received the terrible baby boomer advice, "Wait. You have time. Focus on your career first."
But in fact, you have your whole life to get a career. Obviously, that's not true of having a baby. If you are past your early twenties, and you're single and want to have children, you need to find a partner now. Take that career drive and direct it toward mating - your ovaries will not last longer than your career.
In case you're waiting for "the right time," there is no evidence to show when is best to interrupt a career to have a child. No matter when it happens, a women's career is thrown off track. Phyllis Moen, professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, says, "Don't wait until the right time in your career to have a child or it will never come."
There is plenty of evidence to show that the quality of your eggs takes a nose dive at age 35. And about 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, which means you have almost a 50 percent chance of having to go through three pregnancies to have two children. And it's recommended that you breast feed, which decreases your ability to get pregnant, at least while you're breast feeding. So be realistic: You can't count on getting pregnant three times in three years. You can't control fertility. Waiting until your midthirties to start a family, if you want to carry the babies yourself, is a risky endeavor. Which means, of course, you probably want to find a partner by the time you're 30.
The good news is that psychology research shows you will gain more happiness anyway by finding a partner than by having a good job. While you should not have to choose between a satisfying marriage or a good job, your biological clock does not care. You can control where you spend your time and energy, and you should search for your mate if you don't want to face fertility problems.
What's the alternative? There is no science magic that makes a midlife pregnancy a low-risk endeavor, but here are two things you can do while your clock ticks to decrease the risk of a high-risk pregnancy.
1. Hedge your bets by testing your eggs for premature aging.
Eggs age differently in different women. And the aging process can get faster or slower relative to the general population. That means that while most women need to start having babies before age 35 to manage risk well, some women need to start even earlier. If you want to know if you fall into that category, go to Repromedix.com. Dr. Mike Burns, chief executive of the Woburn infirtility testing laboratory, says the firm combines indicators based on age, eggs, and the amount of two specific hormones to determine a woman's age in fertility years.
2. Freeze your eggs. If you don't want to exert control over your life by searching for a husband, how about saving some good eggs? The Wall Street Journal reported that even though it's actually not proven technology, women are signing up in droves for egg-freezing services. The procedure is expensive - up to $14,000 - but often that's easily affordable for women who will spend their most fertile years climbing corporate ladders.
So if you don't have ethical problems with the technology, maybe you should consider it. You never know where you will fall in the fertility lottery: Hedge your bets the best you can.
Penelope Trunk is the author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success. Read her blog at blog.penelopetrunk.com.