When I got pregnant with Henry, I was almost 34, had been working in journalism for over a decade and had some ambitious career goals that I feared would give way to sippy cups and diaper wipes once baby popped out. I was also worried about when to go back to work postpartum, who would watch my kid, and how I’d feel about all the changes.
This anxiety painted all things pregnancy, work, and family life highly political. I was livid at America for its lack of supportive maternity policies, lack of subsidized daycare, and for making it so hard to be a modern working woman and a mom (unless you’re a super model).
Because I worked for myself, I had more flexibility than most. If I could keep my eyes open, I could ostensibly work at night after the baby went to sleep. Yet even with my flexibility, I felt a personal affront whenever I was reminded about the lack of support for new moms, to say nothing of the drama surrounding pregnancy over 35 and women of advanced maternal age popping out lil’ ones.
Watching my friends struggle with anemic maternity leaves and work pressures, more than once I thought it was no wonder a lot of women choose to get pregnant at age 35. Or older. Better get that career dialed in and humming before rocking the boat…
Two kids and about five years into this Mom gig, I still stand by my beliefs that America does a crappy job of making it easy on families to procreate and prosper. But I don’t get as riled up about it as I used to.
I no longer feel like I have to jump head first into every battle that has to do with women, work, children, and the timing of childbirth. I had one child pre 35 and another pregnancy over 35. I know what worked for me. Far be it from me to say when a woman should or shouldn’t get pregnant OR to tell a woman what to do with her eggs or her body while she makes personal decisions about reproduction and work and personal life.
I think it’s cool that women have the option to freeze their eggs. I have single friends who have done it while they continue to cultivate their careers (and other parts of their lives). I might have considered it if I hadn’t met Jeff or if I had a career I was passionate about and didn’t want to put on hold to have a baby.
But some of my friends—mothers who are decidedly more career driven than me and, from where I stand, infinitely more successful than I could ever dream of being—had some visceral, negative reactions.
One commented: freezing your eggs does not free your career. Coming from a middle upper class or upper class family frees your career, because you get a usually-paid-for-by-your-parents college education, go to a good college, make the right connections and then you can afford to freeze your eggs, if you want to put off having children. This has everything to do with your class and little to do with your actual career.
Another offered: I find [this topic] a major bummer because it continues to send the message that our biology is a problem. And if something as drastic as freezing your eggs is now seen in the business world as an option, I worry that there will be some VERY subliminal, subconscious pressure to consider this as one way to be successful. And if you don’t choose it, then maybe you don’t want success enough.
I love and hate having smart and independent working mom friends. Love because, well, that’s obvious. Hate because they’re so insightful and they make me think hard about things, and sometimes I’d just prefer to check my Facebook feed while “reading” the dictionary to the toddler.
But think I did, and I came to the conclusion that they (and the myriad other women and men who took to Twitter and Facebook about the story) make really good points about a nuanced and fraught topic: when is the right time for a modern-day woman to have kids and who gets to decide that? In my idyllic world, that answer is obvious: the woman and her partner (if she has one).
In reality, it’s a lot more complex.
There are a hell of a lot of people who believe that women who postpone having children until older age are selfishly ignoring biology as they try to play God. Then there are others who want women to just let technology solve the problem. Freeze your eggs, use fertility treatments. Just time that pregnancy so you don’t mess everything up.
What seems clear is that there is a too much derision being bombarded at pregnant women and new moms and hopeful new moms, and a lot of mixed messages. I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’d lost track of that big debate.
But the article and subsequent discussion on social media got me thinking. What will it take to put this issue—women and family and work and technology—to rest? Given how unique and disparate our lives are (i.e., my version of “leaning in” has more to do with mountain biking than with corner office aspirations while Sheryl Sandberg’s is the exact opposite) is there a standard answer or protocol?
Before I had kids, I was sure I had the answer. Now, I’m equally certain I do not. Do you?