Women can have it all

Considering I spent my entire adult life believing that falling pregnant would spell the end of all of my dreams, hopes and desires, it is a little surreal to find myself fearing that if I don’t fall pregnant now it will be the end of all my dreams, hopes and desires.

There’s a lot of smug journalism about this very personal dilemma of mine, because it is also the dilemma of my generation – women who thought they could have it all and realised perhaps too late that they have run out of time to cross “family” off that great list of things to do. I can’t help feeling there’s a trace of malice in some of this reportage – a strong undercurrent of “silly women, they should have known better”.

This infuriates me. The fact that women have a limited biological window for giving birth can’t be ignored, which is precisely why societies should help, not hinder, women’s career progress. It comes down to maximising talent, imperative for any knowledge-based economy.

Scandinavian countries have got it right, with parental leave for both partners and workplace flexibility. In the developing world, women of some means can get ahead because the cost of labour is so low that they can afford full-time nannies and household help. Of course, poor women in these countries are consigned to leaving their own children unattended or with family while they spend all their time caring for another family.

In the US, the UK and Australia, the new norm is for both parents to work and divert a huge chunk of their income into childcare – even a professional couple earning good salaries can be stretched to the limit, just meeting payments on their home, schools and healthcare. Is this all we want from life? Where is the quality of life that our parents’ generation grew up with?

The question of whether a woman can “have it all” is economic, not gender-based. Any woman can have it all if she has means, or lives in a society that supports her career with decent childcare and education options. Girls’ schools should be putting a huge emphasis on business, finance and entrepreneurial skills – if our governments are failing us, girls can at least learn from the very start that financial independence is the path to freedom.

Snide articles about successful women who are now fretting over whether they can have a baby are not just cruel and mean-spirited, they entirely miss the point. These women should be applauded – they belong to that heady generation who dreamed it was possible, and forged ahead accordingly. We should be asking governments why they have failed us – and by us I mean husbands, partners and children, not just women. In the US, as the wealthy get wealthier, the “middle class” is being subsumed into a growing working class. It’s sneaking up on people – middle-class aspirations and desires, such as owning their own home and being able to afford a good education for their children, are increasingly out of reach. They are working class, they just don’t know it yet.

That’s the big picture. If we come back down to the micro level, where women like me are desperately hoping they haven’t left it too late to have children, it is even more complex. Yes, we were among the first women in history to plan our lives around career aspirations rather than acquiring a man and bearing children. But as any man can tell you, wanting to have a career does not mean that you don’t want to have a family.

In my case, I pursued my chosen profession, and never seemed to find the right partner to consider having babies. If babies had been my main objective, then perhaps I would have “settled” for one of my old boyfriends years ago, or devoted more time in a ruthless hunt for the right man.

I wish I had met the right man earlier, but I don’t regret my career or my experiences traveling the world. The thought of having stayed put in my home town all of these years without those adventures or those opportunities to advance myself fills me with a kind of creepy horror.

So here I am, one of those 30-something women trying to get pregnant. I’m thinking of this as my latest adventure.

This past week I went to the doctor three times for intrauterine ultrasounds to figure out exactly when I would ovulate, so that we could in turn figure out exactly when to have sex. Having a doctor prescribe sex in the next hour or two sent me into fits of giggles. “Rufus, meet me at home asap!” I texted madly, or words to that effect.

The doctor, a cool guy whose years in California seem to have given him an “I’m ok-you’re ok” mentality, always wears an “I heart OB GYN!” button on his white coat and is immune to embarrassment. A squeamish OB GYN is no use at all, I guess.

This week I learned that an ovary is about as big as an almond and looks like a black blob on ultrasound. One ovary usually releases an egg each month when it swells to around 17mm-22mm (although mine had not got around it even at 22.3mm). The doctors says it’s best to have sex only every 36 hours to 48 hours during the fertile days surrounding ovulation – although googling reveals a healthy debate about this. The idea is to give the man time to rejuvenate his sperm, and as sperm lasts in the body for several days, this ensures you have some swimming about constantly while the egg is being released.

So we have now made love at the prescribed times and are dutifully waiting now to see if we hit the bull’s eye.


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