IT IS A FEW WEEKS before my 35th birthday, and I am staring at a shelf filled with dozens of pale-colored pamphlets with titles like Donor Insemination: A Guide for Patients, Egg Freezing, Using Donor Eggs; Adoption: A Guide for Patients', and Single Mothers by Choice.
"So, you're having trouble having a baby?' asks Dr. Mindy Schiffman, the psychotherapist sitting across the room from me. "Yes," I say, turning my gaze away from the pamphlets and back toward her, but then I correct myself: "Well, not exactly. I haven't even had sex in four months. I just know that I want to have a baby."
She looks at me quizzically. I feel a warm flush of embarrassment rising on my cheeks. I wonder if she thinks I am unhinged, if I am the only woman who ever has shown up at her office in such a state.
It has been four years since that day at The Cloisters when Alex and I broke up. Recently, I opened the wedding section of The New York Times and saw the announcement that he had gotten married. 'Tm still single," I explain to Dr. Schiffman. "I don't want to have a baby right now but, ever since my relationship ended, the pressure has been growing to find Mr. Right. It hasn't happened yet, and I feel it's time to consider my options. I recently had a dream in which I was sitting at a large banquet table with my entire extended family. Even my dead grandmother was there, sitting next to my father. I was apologizing to all of them for taking so long to pass along the family genes."
I tell Dr. Schiffman about a conversation I had with a friend at a dinner party. At 39, she had just become engaged to a film scout, a scion of a rich and eccentric Chicago family. She told me she loved him but was nervous about getting married. Part of her believed he might not always be in her life, but she had decided to take the plunge anyway because, she explained, she did not want to miss out on the opportunity to have a child.
"A child is permanent," she said. I was taken aback by her comment and surprised that her craving for more stability made her want to get married, not because she believed in the permanence of the institution, but because she wanted to commit to having a child with someone. I always have believed that marriage is permanent as well. My parents have been together for better or worse for more than 40 years, and my family always has been my rock, but in an age when the divorce rate is so high, many people feel that love and commitment either are fleeting or...