Savvy Auntie

A guide for cool aunts, great-aunts, godmothers, and all women who love kids.

Schadenforty

Do childless women suffer a special kind of Schadenfreude?

I admit I'm guilty of looking in the mirror and feeling grateful that there is not a wrinkle on my 42 year old filler-free face. I am even more thankful for a cluster of monthly zits, a possible sign that some of my more youthful hormones are still functioning. In the full-length mirror, I am proud of my svelte, toned body with a BMI of a healthy 30 year old. And I cherish the wide-eyed responses I get when I openly reveal my age to anyone who cares.

I refuse to pack away hope of a still-fertile-self with my miniskirts and graphic Ts. While I surely know that I may not fall in love in time to conceive a child -- assuming the man I love wants a child and assuming he can have children himself -- I will not give up hope. And yes, I will look for signs that it's still possible for me to have a baby by the only evidence I can see -- a youthful reflection. (By the way, the younger me who wore miniskirts and graphic Ts was too young to learn about freezing her eggs or believe that would ever be necessary.)

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I have everything else I could ever want. I'm building the company of my dreams. I have a fantastic circle of friends. I've written a successful book. I am madly in love with my nephew and nieces. Aside from not getting married and having children, I am happy that I am living life to my fullest potential within my control.

"We Warned You"

But I live in a world of Schadenfreude, New York City, where a woman over 40 is often single and childless, as well as powerful, beautiful, and fit. It's here that this 40-something city-dweller, the woman who to others has everything (minus the husband -- or wife -- and baby), is picked on, curiously, by none other than the newspaper she loyally wakes up to every morning.

"Are You as Fertile as You Look?" seared the headline in last week's New York Times Thursday Styles section. The article is one of several that paper and others have published in recent years on the growing group of women over 40 still hopeful that they can have children. (This one ran in Styles, I suppose, because fertility and infertility are considered fashionable topics these days, but I bet a story on male infertility would be found in Tuesday Health.) The story describes childless and child-hopeful 40 plus year old women who believe that their youthful appearance might be a reflection of their inner fertility goddess, making it easier to conceive at this later age once they've finally found the man they want to marry. In a condescending manner, the piece (and many of the comments attributed to it) laughs at the subjects with gleeful "Schadenforty": Their eggs are cooked; their wombs are vacant; their bet is lost; they waited too long. The underlying truth is that some of those who succeed in finding love and having children enjoy wagging a "we warned you" finger at the 40-something woman's career, ability to pay for her home, clothing and occasional spa day, and her healthy-looking appearance to say: "Who does she think she is? She's naïve to think she'll be able to have what we do."

Like one of the experts the article cites in reference to "42½" year old Jennifer Aniston and her optimistic quotes alluding to having a baby one day, The New York Times wants to "reach over the table and throttle [us]" simply for being optimistic. By the way, I think Jennifer Aniston did her share of feeling throttled when the potential father of her children left her to have children with another woman. And was the "1/2" added to her 42 years an extra little jab at her for thinking she could actually conceive with every passing month?

Between Naiveté And Pessimism

So why the kick when we're down on luck and love? Let's put aside that a healthy lifestyle can at the very least help, not hinder, the fertility of a woman in her later 30s or 40s. And certainly keeping herself attractive can help her find a person with whom to try to get pregnant. Plus, a childless woman at 40 may have the earning potential to have saved enough money to afford IVF or other procedures to help preserve or extend her fertility. She's prepped and ready to go when the light on love turns green.

The mind is a very powerful thing and so perhaps the most essential tool for preserving her fertility is found somewhere between the naiveté the New York Times admonished her for, and complete pessimism the media would have her absorb. That happy medium is optimism, and it's what keeps us sane. While not a cure for infertility at any age, it's a welcome ingredient when we're finally able to get cooking. The hope that one day an equally optimistic OBGYN will place a newborn infant in our arms and give us a high five for not letting anyone convince us it was impossible is what we really see in the mirror.

The collective vitriol against women in their later years of fertility for hoping to conceive is what's getting old, while our happy optimism is keeping us 40-somethings young -- and dare I say, wrinkle-free.

Melanie Notkin is the author of the national best-seller: Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids.

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