Ladies in waiting 

Don't panic.

That's advice from the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," and good advice it is. When was the last time you panicked and it turned out great? You hear, "I panicked and shot him, but that flash of metal I saw was just an Eskimo Pie." You never hear, "I panicked and earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Now I teach at Wellesley and summer in Nice."

I bring this up because I've read about a panic -- spreading like a cold through a classroom -- among young, professional women over whether they've waited too long to have children. The mommy train is leaving and they're tottering after it, afraid their chance has passed. Evidently the panic stems from Sylvia Ann Hewlett's "Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children." In her book, Hewlett asserts that fertility begins declining when we're 28 and keeps decreasing.

None of the women I know thought they'd get more fertile with age, and none are panicking more than usual. Those of us who might want kids are doing what we've always done. The biological clock goes off, and if we're not baby-ready, we hit the snooze alarm. We're ignoring our biological needs, true, but we do that all the time. We diet when we're hungry and lose sleep to get to work. Even if we do take into consideration our biology, we have the sense and compassion to consider the child we might bring into a substandard situation. We should be applauded for this.

Which is why it makes me sad to think of women throwing birth-control pills out of windows like Rip Taylor with a confetti bag. I'm sad that we're blown about by every gust of media-inspired insecurity; this one -- fertility isn't guaranteed -- is common sense masquerading as a big find. If you want kids and can raise them, well, lucky you. Knock yourself out, or up. But is panic a spirit to do it in?

Baby talk

It's easy to want kids. Commercials show adorable, cooing, odorless babies being raised in wacky-but-warm households, but they're trying to sell you a product and, subtly, a lifestyle. What else are they going to show you? Monsters?

Even I get baby hunger, though for years the opposite was true. I grew up in a traditional suburban nuclear family and knew early on that, if this was the American dream, I was ready to wake up. I later opted for the French dream of smoking and feeling superior, as well as the Brazilian dream of having the best costume in the room at least once a year. These ex-patriot dreams serve my character perfectly, but even I am shanghaied by biology sometimes and want a baby of my own. All the birth-control propaganda out there is directed at teen-age girls, and since I don't have to worry about pregnancy interfering with cheerleading tryouts, this doesn't help me. People with kids have overwhelming cultural support for their lifestyle in our family-mad society. You will hear people stupidly tell a childless woman, "You should have kids," but you will never find them asking a mother of three, "Was that last one necessary?" Now, in the face of this supposed new trend, women who wait or opt out of motherhood altogether need all the support they can get. This is the stuff I think about when the biological clock gets louder than Chuck E. Cheese on a Saturday:

Look at all the publicity that the nuclear family gets. Any-thing that needs so much PR can't be that great. Look at 'N Sync. Of course TV babies are adorable, but what if you don't get such a pretty one? What if you give birth to Uncle Fester? Or Joey Buttafuco? Look at the adults around you. Do you really want to make another one? People are wildly overrated and already take up too much space, needing deodorant and hair spray that destroy the atmosphere.

Walkin' tall

Is it really so important your DNA goes into that stewpot? Who are you anyway, that your genes need Xeroxing? They're probably more ordinary than you think. Isn't there an orphan, a pet, or a cause that could benefit from your surplus of love and money more than a whole new person who may be a grievous disappointment?

If I win the lotto, or if Prince Charming (who seems to be on the same travel schedule as Christ) ever shows up, maybe I'll think differently. Until then, I hope other waiting women will take heart rather than give in to panic. Mothers are often cast as unsung heroes, but the women who forego motherhood out of a different sense of duty are unseen and underappreciated. Just because you can't push your contributions in a stroller doesn't mean you aren't making any.

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