I heard this line on a sitcom recently and it stirred some thoughts and emotions. Shortly after hearing this line, I read an article in Psychology Today giving women a “heads-up” on fertility, warning of research suggesting that women are way off as it relates to their understanding of the impact of age on fertility.
This discussion on women, careers and babies often presents two very distinct perspectives in the media. The first story line is that modern women are delaying having children to focus on careers. The message here is clear…be careful; wait too long and it might be too late. The second storyline is that of women well into their 40s (mainly in Hollywood) are having babies every day…you’ve got lots of time! The Psychology Today article (and many other articles, TV shows and books) warn us that we don’t get the whole story in these cases regarding the difficulties and challenges these women face behind the scenes. Fair enough. This is certainly a legitimate point. In fact, I respect many of the experts out there providing the real facts on fertility so people have all the information when making decisions as to when they are ready to start a family.
But here is my real frustration. Is it me, or do all the fertility story lines have an underlying theme of blaming women when it comes to infertility? So, if your 40 and haven’t had a baby it’s because…best scenario… you knew all the facts but chose career instead or worst scenario…you were way off base on your expectations and it cost you deeply.
I propose another scenario I don’t often hear which I think is very common. What if, it’s not women’s fault at all in most cases but rather it’s an opportunity issue. I am not convinced that every woman is slamming doors in the face of men clambering with proposals. And, is being selective on mate selection a flaw for women? In my case, I didn’t end up getting married until I was in my mid 30’s having both my kids late into my 30’s. Yes…I had a great career in a Fortune 500 company and worked on an MBA in my late 20’s, but this hardly explains my choice to marry and have kids later. That’s when I found the person I thought I could spend the rest of my life with. The kids came after that. This isn't a crazy concept!
I was talking to a friend recently who has a daughter who just turned 40 and decided to freeze her eggs. Apparently, she has been in several long term relationships in the past decade, but ultimately, the proposals haven’t come. Yes, she is successful in her work, but perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that her work was a choice over a family.
Nobody ever says men make a choice to be successful rather than have a family. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – research has long shown that there is a "fatherhood premium" and a "motherhood penalty" when it comes to the workforce. That all said, let’s not be so quick to blame women for “choosing” work over family. The media loves this story line. My experience is that many women want a family and it doesn’t always happen for them when they are ready or when they are at their most “fertile”. So certainly, they have more time to focus on their careers, but that’s making the most of things, not choosing work over family. I think this is a story line worthy of some media attention too.