What a way to start the new year — two more of Kardashian-Jenner ladies are expecting! While Jews worldwide celebrated the world’s birthday by observing Rosh Hashanah 5778, word spread that 20-year-old Kylie Jenner is pregnant with her first child. Apparently, this “triggered” friends of Lena Dunham, who tweeted: “A solid 10 friends texted me triggered by Kylie pregnancy. I’m like ‘ladies she’s 20. We were all v fertile then, we were just broke.’”
While we don’t know the identities of Dunham’s “solid 10 friends” and whether they are currently on fertility journeys, they certainly could be. Of course, it’s also possible that they are simply single women still searching for The One and hoping to become mothers, given Dunham’s follow-up tweet: “You know the fertility industrial complex has pushed us too far when we’re trying to stay neck in neck w/ reality stars who can’t drink yet.”
Dunham’s tweets raise several interesting — and thorny — issues. Let’s consider five in turn.
1. Fertility Is a Gift
While there are certainly women (and men) who have pondered parenthood and preemptively rejected it, motherhood continues to appeal to most women. It’s a vocation that seduces us with its siren song of sweet baby smiles and tiny toes. Most women won’t make history at work; our legacy will be the love we lavish on our children and the admirable adults they become.
2. Age Can Make a Difference
Yup, Kylie’s a young and spry 20 years old. So, while every woman differs, peak fertility happens when women are younger (think 20s). The more we delay childbearing (into our 30s and beyond), the harder it becomes. Some women may be incredibly fertile or prefer a small family, so they never test their fertility limits. However, more women are testing those bounds. IVF is increasingly common in part because of that waiting, and surrogacy alone is a $6 billion industry.
Dunham mocks the “fertility industrial complex” on this age point, seemingly unaware that our culture regularly urges young women to delay motherhood. Every woman must decide when she’s ready to become a mother, but we do young women no favors by pretending it’s just as easy to start a family at 35 as it is at 25; for most women, it isn’t, in terms of getting pregnant or having the requisite energy to chase toddlers. Another upside to starting earlier is that if there are any underlying fertility issues, time and options are on your side.
3. There’s Pregnancy News Etiquette
Let’s leave Kylie Jenner, a celebrity most of us will never meet, aside for a moment. Re-read Dunham’s tweets and consider the most tactful way to respond when a friend, colleague, or relative reveals she’s preggo. It’s not this.
When a woman you know tells you she’s pregnant and is visibly happy about it, congratulate her. If she considers her pregnancy joyful news, it’s kind to share in her happiness.
Of course, to someone on a fertility journey, hearing such news might be painful, because it’s yet another reminder of what you want but don’t have. In that case, it’s important to have a support system in place — friends, family, or dedicated professionals — who can help, whether through listening, encouragement, or other proactive steps.
4. Fertility Struggles Hurt
Because longing to be a parent is so natural and central to many adults’ identities, it hurts when it’s hard. Whether the challenge is starting (primary infertility) or expanding an existing brood (secondary infertility), fertility journeys can feel long, lonely, and isolating.
Certain times of year can be especially hard. There’s spring, when rebirth is everywhere, and Rosh Hashanah, when Jews remind ourselves of Sarah and Hannah’s miraculous births. When that miracle hasn’t (yet?) happened for you, the waiting and wondering can feel interminable. It’s helpful to feel acknowledged and included, to know that you haven’t been forgotten.
5. Lena Dunham Needs to Learn Appropriate Empathy
This brings us to Dunham’s Empathy. Dunham seems focused on her friends’ negative reaction to the news of Jenner’s pregnancy. Perhaps that’s not surprising, since Jenner’s pregnancy is reportedly provoking upset in Dunham’s circle. A good friend should care about her friends and how things affect them emotionally.
However, it was impossible for me to read Dunham’s latest tweets without recalling her last fertility-related kerfuffle. Last December, Dunham announced on her “Women of the Hour” podcast, “Now I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.”
Dunham was predictably taken to task on Twitter for treating abortion like a fun experience everyone should want. That comment felt remarkably tone-deaf. Given this newer information, though, I wonder: If Dunham has friends struggling with fertility, how can she discuss abortion so breezily?
There’s nothing like struggling to become pregnant or experiencing pregnancy loss to make someone not only appreciate the value of life but also highly cognizant of life’s fragility. That’s where abortion becomes a highly sensitive subject (as if it weren’t always). If there’s any group likely to rush forward, volunteering to adopt the lives created in unplanned pregnancies, it’s those adults yearning to be parents and finding fertility challenging.
According to American Adoptions, “Some sources estimate that there are about 2 million couples currently waiting to adopt in the United States — which means there are as many as 36 couples waiting for every one child who is placed for adoption.”
That’s quite a disparity. If Dunham wants to be sensitive to her friends and others, she should keep those numbers in mind. Dunham needn’t wish to experience fertility challenges, but she could speak more thoughtfully, remembering there are individuals who have struggled, or still are struggling, to build the families that mean so much to them.