IT IS A TRUTH universally acknowledged that a married woman in possession of a good job must be in want of a child.
However little known the feelings or views of such a woman may be (to further paraphrase Jane Austen), this truth is so well fixed in the minds of others, that she and her uterus are considered as the rightful subject of general public inquiry. Or, as my grandmother recently put it when she called to wish me a happy 35th birthday, "So when are you going to have a baby already?"
I do not blame Grandma for trying to get me pregnant. She, after all, is upholding a traditional role. But, lately, she seems to have allies everywhere. I go to the movies and Diane Keaton has a baby. Molly Ringwald has a baby. Ted Danson, Steve Guttenberg and Tom Selleck have a baby. Pee-wee Herman seems to be on the verge of having a baby.
And the Star, my authority on these matters, is crammed with diaper-to-diaper coverage of real-life celebrity accouchements : Princess Caroline's and Caroline Kennedy's, Fergie's and Demi Moore's. Even Diana Ross, at 44, just had a baby.
"So why aren't you having a baby?" my grandmother repeats.
Fortunately, she hasn't read the newspapers today or she would ask me why I am the only woman in my generation who hasn't given birth. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that a "slight increase in fertility of women in their prime childbearing years resulted in an estimated 3,829,000 births last year, the most since 1964."
If anything, this figure seems low. It seems that I have received at least this many birth announcements and/or invitations to baby showers. In fact, if the birth rate gets any higher, I will have to start a sinking fund at the Stork Shop to cope with the financial burden of the baby-boom echo.
"There's no such thing as a cheap baby gift," I recently told a friend. "Everything under $20 is flammable."
"It's an investment," said Connie, who had just returned from her third baby shower of the weekend. She gave the mother-to-be a $29 infant carrier, but now she feels guilty that she didn't spring for the $64 interchangeable car seat/carrier. "Your return is what you get when you get pregnant."
"What are you waiting for?" Grandma asks me.
I don't know. It certainly would make me more popular at parties. Everywhere I go, everyone is talking about breast feeding, amniocentesis, epidurals, child-care classes and baby sitters. And everyone seems to have a baby, which they take everywhere.
"The adults just stand around watching the babies interact," says Wendy. "One jumps in and dabs a face. Another jumps in and straightens the little hat. It's like a grown-up circle game."
I think it is wonderful that so many couples are having children. But I also think that if these couples really want to persuade me to have a playmate for their newest family member, they should repackage their pitch. As it stands now: I go to visit the new baby. Generic new mother is invariably exhausted, nervous, brain dead, fat, flat broke. Her hair looks terrible, her house looks worse, and she tearfully confides that she hasn't had sex in a year. And then she asks, "Why don't you do this, too?"
"It doesn't get easier when you wait too long," says Grandma.
Unfortunately, she read that Newsweek cover story on miscarriages, so she has a new worst-case scenario with which to scare me into motherhood. According to Newsweek, the risk of miscarriage "rises with the mother's age." I try to look on the bright side. Last year, the same magazine reported that women in their 30s have a better chance of attracting a lightning bolt than a husband. Many bolts later, these same women generated a contradictory trend/cover story. At least so far, I have been spared a "very special infertility episode" of "ALF."
"Everyone always wants to get into the horrible stories about people who can't," laments Claire, whose mother-in-law calls daily and makes biological-clock ticking sounds. "Then they tell you the horrible adoption stories. And you sit there thinking that you better go home and get with it or you're going to be up a creek."
"Are you trying?" Grandma pries.
I am trying not to lose my temper. But people won't leave me alone. I have actually had total strangers come up to me at business luncheons, look at my wedding ring and ask why I am not pregnant. Frankly, I do not think that this is an appropriate opening gambit. I prefer anything--even "What's your sign?"--to "Are there scars on your Fallopian tubes?"
But the hallmark of this baby boomers' Baby Boom, which should be rechristened the Baby Bore, is graphic public disclosure of what used to be considered private parts. Infertility, everything from slow-moving sperm to the morning's basal temperature readings, is now casually discussed over dinner. And after dinner, if the couple has defied the odds and actually managed to conceive, they proudly offer to show me close-up color videos of the birth.
This is not my idea of after-dinner entertainment. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing worse than watching such a film is starring in one. Nobody is going to point a camera between my legs while I am giving birth.
"Doesn't your husband want children?" Grandma asks me. Why doesn't she ask my husband? Why doesn't anyone ask my husband?
They all say, "We don't feel comfortable asking your husband."
So why do they all feel comfortable asking me? Or, in Grandma's case, telling me.
"We have to name a child after Grandpa," Grandma wails.
The guilt factor involved in denying a 75-year-old widow a great-grandchild named after her beloved husband is considerable. Still. . . .
"I cannot name a child Irving," I tell Grandma.