There’s a fundamental conflict between a woman’s career ambitions and her hopes for having a family.
In the first of a 2 part blog, Fertility Practitioner and Coach, Kate Davies talks to Caroline Flanagan, founder of Babyproofyourlife.com, about the hard facts surrounding a woman’s fertility.
What was she thinking? When Mother Nature chose women to bare the burden of bringing a new human into being, I can’t help wondering how much thought she’d put into the whole thing. OK, I get that way back in the beginning it was all about hunting and gathering, and this firmly established man as the breadwinner and woman as the homemaker and nurturer, but did it really never occur to Mother Nature that things might change? Did she never imagine that one day we might evolve sufficiently, not only as a species but also as a gender, to be able to turn around and say: “You know what? There’s more to me than this. I’ve got a brain, as well as a body and I’m ready to use both!” Really, wasn’t she forward thinking at all?
OK, so perhaps it’s not all Mother Nature’s fault. But when it comes to building a successful career and simultaneously raising a family it’s pretty evident that someone hasn’t thought things through. How else do you explain the harsh and utterly exasperating conflict that exists between our fertility and our career potential? Just as we start making cracks in the glass ceiling the gravitational pull of our biological clock threatens to undermine years of commitment and hard work. It starts off at the beginning of our career as a quiet friendly whisper: “You’re a woman and one day you might want babies and just so you know, anytime now is good with me.” But by the time you have the opportunity to enter senior management ten years later, that quiet whisper has become a roar so desperate, deafening and clamorous that we can barely hear anything else: “Hurry up! You’re running out of time and I’m running out of steam. It’s now or never! Women on boards be damned, either use it or loose it. Babies NOW!”
This isn’t just any old conflict with a small ‘c’. This is the conflict that plays out when career meets woman and it’s the biggest conflict there is.
So when you tell us you feel conflicted, confused and frustrated, we hear you. Catch the two of us chatting together over a glass of wine and you’ll hear that conflict played out in real time. “It’s got to be about the career,” is what I say. “Women have never had an opportunity like this before. We’ve come so far there’s no turning back now. And anyway times have changed. I know it works for some, but there are a lot of women out there who have worked hard to get where they are. They don’t want to be left home alone holding the baby while their partner realises his potential and watches his earnings soar.”
It’s true. We’ve come a long way these last fifty years. Nowadays more than half of graduates are women, which means that at least at the beginning of our careers we are level with men. But there’s still so much to do before we achieve the same equality at the top. This is why women have to hang in there, to keep pushing and keep our eyes on the prize, even when Mother Nature comes calling. For many women this means waiting to have children later on in their life when they are more firmly established in their career.
“Now hold on a minute”, Kate retorts as she takes a sip of her wine. “I hear what you’re saying and I’m just as passionate as you are about wanting women to have it all – the career and the family. But there are some essential facts that career women who delay starting a family need to be aware of so they give themselves the best possible chance of conceiving later. Opinion is divided as to whether your fertility drops off a cliff at 35 or not. However it’s a cold hard fact that there’s no slowing of the biological clock. A woman is born with her full supply of eggs but these naturally decline each month and we don’t make anymore. Which is why we really need to look after the ones we’ve got. A woman’s eggs are exactly as old as she is, so essentially as we age, so does our supply of eggs. So the quality of your eggs when you reach your 30’s and 40’s is significantly lower than it is in your 20s”.
For every career woman who reads this these are cold hard facts indeed. Facts that we want to ignore or hide from because all they do is draw attention to problems we don’t know how to solve and raise questions we don’t know how to answer: If I focus on my career will I pay the ultimate price later? If I have a baby now am I throwing it all away?
After my conversation with Kate one thing becomes clear: ignoring the issue is a risky strategy. To give yourself the best shot at resolving this conflict, perhaps it’s better to look those cold hard facts straight in the eye.
Coming up in Part 2: Is fertility preservation the answer?
Caroline Flanagan is a mother of four and founder of www.babyproofyourlife.com , providing coaching and resources for the career woman who wants it all.
Kate Davies who is a fertility practitioner and coach, has two children and is the founder of www.yourfertilityjourney.com