In this edited extract from the new book by author Nell Frizzell, she ponders the “panic years” – the period in a woman’s life when she needs to decide whether she wants to have a child.

Becoming a parent is the only decision that comes with a biological deadline, the only one that can’t be reversed: it’s therefore the one decision that throws all others into such sharp focus. You can get a new job, move house, make new friends, find new partners, but once you’re a parent, you’re a parent for life. And yet this period has no name.

Unlike childhood, adolescence, menopause or the mid-life crisis, we have no common term for the tumult of time, hormones, social pressure and maternal hunger that smacks into many women like a train.

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There’s no medical term, no compound German word, nothing in Latin, Arabic or French. Astrology may refer to the seven-year cycles of the Saturn Return, but this nebulous phrase speaks little of the grit and girth, the blood and weeping, the travel and transformation that I’ve witnessed, in both myself and the people around me.

While in the midst of it, you feel as though you’re twisting through a web of impossible decisions – about work, money, love, location, career, contraception and commitment – each one pulling like a thread on all the others, impossible to untangle or move through without unravelling the whole thing.

In hindsight, many, if not all, of those decisions were rendered so intense by the pulsing, beating, inescapable knowledge that your fertility is finite, that you’re running out of eggs and that one day your body will no longer give you the option to have children.

These years are compelled by the eternal question: Should I have a baby, and, if so, when, how, why and with whom? That question then creeps into every area of your life. It’s the rat-a-tat of the tracks beneath your feet.

The bassline to everything. Whether you want to be a parent or not, from your late 20s into your 30s, and perhaps into your 40s, the slow march of unfertilised opportunity brings an urgency to your life that no other period can quite match. You have to decide what you want, now, before your body takes the choice away from you.

The Panic Years (Penguin Bantam Press, $29.99) by Nell Frizzell is available on February 16.

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