Why I can’t afford to have another baby as a member of the sandwich generation


This week I am truly seething just thinking about the efforts to restrict women’s access to contraception. Wasn’t this a battle we fought and won almost 50 years ago? Who are old white men to dictate a woman’s reproductive choices? The talking heads, pundits, policymakers and Bishops sure don’t appear to have many women among them.

As for policy I would say emphatically that if you are in a position of providing health care or health insurance, you must provide all of the safe and legal reproductive health care that a woman or man would need. For women in particular, reproductive health care is often our main need for health care and the issue that gets us into the doctor’s office on a regular basis. The truth is that women have all sorts of reasons for their reproductive choices, and I believe firmly that none of these decisions should be anyone else’s business besides a woman and her doctor and any family and friends she chooses to involve.

You would think that at age 43 and married for 15 years, this might be a hypothetical issue for me, or one that I would only be worried about for my daughter’s generation, but it’s not. In my case, it has been incredibly clear to me lately that I cannot afford to have another child. Not for financial reasons, but because of where I am in my life and the incredible pressures I have been under. For the past two years, I have been not a “stay-at-home Mom” but rather practically a “stay-at-home-adult-caregiving daughter.” Starting in March 2010, my life as I knew it started to fall apart. My father fell ill suddenly and needed intense attention (especially since my parents were divorced and I am an only child), then immediately after I had gotten him moved and settled, my mother got critically ill and lived only seven weeks before passing away. I took care of my mother for those intense seven weeks, which was both an honor and a sad, immense life milestone. Some days, I feel like I will always divide my life into Before and After losing my mother, who was my confidante, support system and my best friend. And, in addition to the emotional transitions, a year and a half later, I am still finishing up my work as the executor of her estate. And now, my husband is learning what it means to be a sandwich-generation son averting a crisis by finding care for his mother and helping her relocate nearby.

All the caregiving energy I have is going into my family members including my father and mother-in-law, as well as my daughter. I cannot afford the stress, physical demands, or sleep loss of mothering another child. I am 43 and I am moving on to another stage of my life, and I am thrilled to be the mother of an almost-teenager. I can’t imagine starting all over with another baby until I am ready to be a grandma, a decade or more from now. And ironically, my husband and I would have welcomed a second child with open arms up until I turned 40, but we were apparently suffering from “secondary infertility,” which means that we had no trouble getting pregnant the first time (3 months of trying), but were never able to get pregnant a second time (5 years of trying). I say ironically, because the medical consensus is that even if we were probably infertile and could not count on having more children, there was always a chance that I could become pregnant, so if we decided that our family was complete, we would need to use birth control. Because of additional medical benefits, I chose a contraceptive that was both expensive and would be outlawed by “personhood” laws that have been backed by conservatives including two Presidential contenders, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Santorum has very specifically, directly opposed contraception even for married couples. All of which makes me ask, what country am I living in? What year? What planet? Of course if people don’t want to use birth control that is their personal decision but where do they get off telling other people what to do? I feel like we have lost all sense of what responsibility and accountability means when employers talk about offering birth control as part of an insurance plan as an infringement of their own religious beliefs. No one has to use birth control and offering heath insurance does not mean that you endorse the personal choices that people make under that health care plan–again, important health care decisions of all kinds are not anybody’s business except a patient and her/his doctor.

Why am I telling you these personal details? Because life is complicated, and women are smart and thoughtful people who deserve to be trusted. Because I am angry and outraged that anyone would try to come between me and my health care in such a personal, imperative part of my life. Because it is absolutely essential that women to keep speaking up–the Susan Komen-Planned Parenthood funding backlash shows that a spark is there, that women will speak up against the War on Women [see also NY Times] which has really gotten out of control. Because the media coverage of the latest controversies about birth control has lacked the personal, grassroots voices that bubbled up so effectively and suddenly in response to the Komen controversy. Real women with real-life concerns need to reclaim our stories and stand up for what we need, every day. What do you have to say?