The XX Factor

More Women Wait To Grow Up Before They Have Babies

The New York Observer is featuring a faux-trend : the new, younger mother who shuns feminist foolishness like establishing a career before having a family in favor of producing the kids early, with (vague, ill-defined) plans for returning to something (work, school, whatever) later. Putting off children is “out,” as are old-school concerns like abortion rights and birth control-all at the bottom of the list for women “too busy mopping up crumbs” to concern themselves with rights that they (secure in Brooklyn) have long taken for granted.

Fortunately, based on the New Demography of American Motherhood study released today by the Pew Charitable Trust, it looks like there are about as many “Morgans” (the name the Observer reporter gave to the young woman who’d put off finishing graduate school and a career in favor of a toddler and a second pregnancy) out there as there were women in the “opt-out revolution” a few years ago-which is to say, a few, but not many. The Pew study finds that mothers of newborns in 2008 are older and better-educated than the typical first-time mother in 1990. Births among teens and women 20-34 were down, with a increase seen in mothers 35 and older, as the overall birth rates remained about the same. Those stats place “Morgan” at the forefront of not a trend, but a blip, worthy of a quick news story, and maybe a few cautionary words about exactly how “easy” it is to pop out and get a job after taking time off for motherhood, and how much more difficult that might be if you’ve never established a career or a track record in the first place.

I’d end there, but the words of one woman quoted in the Observer piece gave me pause-no, they made my skin crawl. “’Women are defining themselves more by their families than they are by themselves,’ said Pamela Paul, a 39-year-old mother of three in Harlem and author of Parenting, Inc . ‘It’s no longer about something as selfish and self-advancing as abortion or the pill.’ ” If that 39-year-old mother of three doesn’t want to “define herself” as a 42-year-old mother of six (and according to the Pew study, she probably doesn’t), she might consider offering a little more respect to the women who fought to make possible her right to choose when and how often she gave birth-and to note, too, that there are women all over the world who still don’t have access to safe, legal birth control, and other women willing to stop mopping up crumbs in order to fight to extend that right worldwide. Define me, please, by (among other things) my willingness to join in that fight.

Update: I just heard from Pamela Paul, who tells me her words to the Observer were ironic, not earnest. Define her as pro-choice, and deeply disappointed that anyone would remain willingly ignorant of the importance of the battles for women’s rights that are still being fought.