Pregnancy And Society’s Outlook On Age
Emily T. Stone
Word Count: 1,450
Pregnancy And Society’s Outlook On Age
From the time we are young, we look up to our parents and the standards they have set for how we should look, act, and feel. In other words, we imitate the aspects we believe make them successful, or alternatively, we work to avoid making what we believe to be mistakes our parents made. When we begin to approach puberty, we may question the concept of future fertility or lack thereof—this is especially true for girls. Many women will look up to a mother or “mother figure” to understand the social norms for the correct age at which they can or should conceive. Put simply, every woman has been taught a different standard for when it is socially acceptable to bear a child. Even with plenty of scientific, social, and socioeconomic research on the topic and the optimum childbearing and rearing ages, depending on the social structure a person is born into, they will have their own particular views and beliefs on the topic. For my Norm Violation, I took this theory to the Mall of Abilene where I posed as a young pregnant woman displeased by the service on a busy day at Victoria Secret. I did this to test my theory of the relationship between age and the public perception of pregnancy.
Pregnancy and Society’s Outlook On Age
New research on fertility and childbearing is concluded through studies every year, though many women do not wish to acknowledge this proven information because of the social structures they grow up in and the beliefs they hold dear. Author Leslie Goldman (“Does Age Really Matter?”) wrote the following:
“Ask several women what they think is the ideal age for pregnancy, and you’ll get wildly different answers. Those who give birth in their early 20s benefit from seemingly boundless energy and resilient bodies; the 30-something new mom is grateful to have established herself in her career before taking maternity leave; the woman in her early 40s delivers with a strong sense of self and few qualms about being able to afford diapers.”
While these factors may be true, some other negative factors include the following: a 20-year-old mother may not have a stable partner or marriage yet, she may still be in school or simply not yet established in her career field, and she may not have the means of paying for all that a child requires. A 30-year-old woman may have a harder time conceiving since the biological likelihood of conception and viable pregnancy goes down with age, while early adulthood into the 20s are considered a woman’s “most fertile years.”
The 30-year-old expectant woman may also be not ready to give up her life, her money, or career she has built up at the time to have a child. As a woman in her 40s, the unfavorable factors may be that one third of every pregnancy will end in a miscarriage, the risk of having a stillborn baby will double, and the chances of a chromosomal abnormality will increase dramatically. Depending on the social group she grew up with and how it influenced those personal decisions, a woman may feel pressured one way or the other about age of conception; her pregnancy may be seen as a blessing or a curse.
When I walked into Victoria’s Secret that Saturday afternoon, I didn’t plan on engaging with anyone there. I wanted to buy my items and leave. It was not until I overheard a conversation a teenage girl was having with her grandmother that the idea of pregnancy and public perception hit me. The girl had to be about middle-school-aged, and thrilled about her first time at the store. The grandmother seemed less than pleased about the merchandise her granddaughter was viewing and the implications they may have for her thoughts on sexuality. The conversation quickly turned to the Christian beliefs on sexuality that the two held. I thought I was able to portray the perfect example of a norm violation because of the reactions I imagined if I were to act out what these people imagined to be their “worst-case-scenario.” As we all know, Abilene is a very Christian town, and with the key information I received from growing up in a Catholic and Christian family, I felt intrigued by the idea of seeing the reaction of the public at large regarding a young, unmarried pregnant woman.
When I got up the cash register and the woman asked me “How was I doing today,” since I had thought of what to say ahead of time in line, I quickly responded with “tired, hot and pregnant.” Not only was the family I was first intrigued by in shock, but so was the woman beside me and the lady at the register, and everyone around me looked disappointed. The other people close by got quiet quickly as the clerk apologized for my wait, and briefly told me about a sale, then even followed me to help pick out another item.
As I got back in line and looked at the reactions, there were a couple of awkward smiles and even a disgusted look on one of the faces of the women beside me. One woman was standing in line with her husband—both looked to be in their mid-40s. She displayed a rustic cross necklace around her neck, which I had missed seeing prior to being at the front of the line. As the clerk asked me questions about my due date if I was excited, and the sex of the baby, I explained that I wasn’t due until next spring. I was excited but my fiancé was just deployed, and I did not know the sex of the baby. The woman with the necklace beside me had stopped what she was doing to listen and make faces of disapproval in reaction to my responses.
As I left the mall that day, my curiosity shortly changed to anger. I left thinking about how judged I felt, and how poorly I was looked at. I expected the reactions I had received, however, I was still upset that the social normality for certain cultures of women seemed to be to not have any children before they were at a certain age. They clearly assumed I was not at the point in life which society deems as “ready.” Since I was also around a group of Christian women who believe in abstaining from sex until marriage, I have a feeling that may have played a role in their reactions. According to science, I am of proper childbearing age, however, the thoughts and actions of those in the store were based on their cultural expectations and personal beliefs regarding pregnancy.
It is in my opinion that many women are missing some of the key factors when they look at fertility by age. Age may sometimes mean being better off financially or physically, however, what about the emotional aspect? Many people in society see a young, middle aged, or older mother and think about if that age is “right” or “wrong,” but they do not think about mental, emotional, and other factors that go along with that. Perhaps the 40-year-old is better off having a supporting family than a 30-year-old who is an alcoholic.
ARE YOU EVER READY TO HAVE A BABY?
According to Blackburn, “Babies do not always ask when you are ready. Sometimes they come early. Sometimes they come far later then our heart would have hoped for.” (Blackburn 2018) As a woman, it’s your choice to become a mother despite age or to decide it’s not your time yet…or ever. Sometimes a judgment on how “ready” or “unready” society thinks someone is can be way off when every aspect of that person’s life is considered. There are times in life where things happen that aren’t planned and because of the social norm we have followed our lives, we either decide to embrace the outcome or reject it. That factor alone shows that age does not matter. The social group a 20-year-old was born in could be pushing her to keep the baby because of a religious belief, or a social group could be pushing a 40-year-old to terminate a pregnancy because of her age.
In conclusion, my norm violation has made me see that society’s outlook on age in fertility, specifically pregnancy, is affected by practically endless variables. My research has shown me the scientific facts of a woman’s age during conception and how they may vary. At the end of the day, I believe that age should not matter in a woman’s choice to reproduce as long as they feel ready to take on this responsibility.
Blackburn, Katie. 2018. “Are you ever ‘ready to have a baby?” Retrieved from (https://www.mother.ly/child/are-you-ever-ready-to-have-a-baby.)
Goldman, Leslie. 2017. “Does Age Really Matter?” Retrieved from (https://www.fitpregnancy.com/pregnancy/pregnancy-health/does-age-really-matter
McCarthy, Laura. Pregnancy at 20, 30, 40. 2016. Retrieved from