Earlier this week, “Sex and the City” it-girl Candace Bushnell admitted that she regrets not having children. In an interview with the Sunday Times Magazine, she admitted her 2012 divorce made her realize how not starting a family made her feel "truly alone."
"When I was in my 30s and 40s, I didn’t think about it," she recalled. "Then when I got divorced and I was in my 50s, I started to see the impact of not having children and of truly being alone. I do see that people with children have an anchor in a way that people who have no kids don’t."
It’s hard not to feel a bit of Schadenfreude here. I was a huge fan of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” which was based on Bushnell’s book. Yet as I got older, Bushnell’s fictional doppelganger Carrie Bradshaw made me feel like I was missing out on all the fun. While I was spending my 30s having babies, breastfeeding at 3am, cleaning up puke and poop, and failing to shower for days on end, Bradshaw was living a glamorous life.
Today, I’m in my mid-40s, with three young children and the reassuring sense that I made some really good decisions when I was young. I missed out on some international travel and I can’t afford Botox and various other procedures to make my skin taut, but I know I made the right decision. The difficult years and the sacrifice were worth it.
Yet, while Bushnell’s comment is heartbreaking, it also shows she remains completely clueless about female fertility. It’s clear that Bushnell, now 60, thought she would have easily fallen pregnant when she was in her “30s and 40s” but that simply isn’t true. Women are at peak fertility in their 20s. By 30 years, fertility starts to decline. This decline becomes more rapid once you reach your mid 30s. By 40, an average healthy woman has only a 5 percent chance of getting pregnant per cycle. And by 45, fertility has declined so much that getting pregnant naturally is unlikely for most women.
Naturally, this (very real and very common) problem was barely addressed in Bushnell’s famed series. Rather, the central message of the series was that women can and should delay marriage and children and even home ownership (I believe today these heretofore normal behaviors are all captured in the word “adulting”) in order to pursue their dreams of personal, professional, and sexual satisfaction. Bushnell’s character Carrie Bradshaw also made clear that women should delay marriage until the perfect man (in her case the deeply flawed Mr. Big) proposes. Delay, delay, delay!
Many in my generation did just that, only to be shocked when they didn’t get pregnant easily in their mid to late 30s.
Sure, the series did tiptoe around the consequences of these decisions, though late in the series–mainly in the last season and in the follow-up movies. For example, the series touched on Miranda change of heart on getting an abortion when she realized her unplanned pregnancy might be her only chance at motherhood. Charlotte’s infertility was a central theme later in the show but her problems conceiving weren’t age. Rather, the writers avoided culpability, making Charlotte’s problems a rare biological issue. Uh huh.
Meanwhile Carrie continued her pursuit of an unsuitable, married man—to the bitter end of the series. The discussion of children never seemed of interest to her, yet the writers always kept her age ambiguous—as if the decision to have children was hers and hers alone, no time limits for this ageless party girl.
The legacy of “Sex and the City” is regret—a regret that Bushnell now admits. Millions of women, who, like Bushnell at 25, failed to look ahead and consider what they may want and need at 60, now must live with these decisions. Hopefully Bushnell’s sincere confession will encourage a new generation of women to view her not as a role model but as a cautionary tale.