Having it All

My column that was published in newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan this week was a synopsis of this three day series I just blogged about regarding overscheduling kids with sports. So I thought that rather than publish that, I’d run a column from 2005, that most of you haven’t seen.

Having it allFor those of you who battle infertility, I know this is such a hard subject, and I’m not trying to rub salt into wounds. But perhaps you know more than anybody how important it is to prioritize what we really consider most important. Here goes:

We women have been told for years that we could have it all. We tell it to our little girls, too: want to be an astronaut? A Supreme Court judge? A plumber? No problem! And if you want to be a mom, don’t worry. That can always be squeezed in.

There’s a difference, though, between how men are able to squeeze in parenting and how women are able to squeeze it in. I’m not only talking about the negotiating over who arranges the doctor’s checkups, who shows up for parent-teacher interviews, or who stays home when Johnny has the flu. Both parents can perform these sorts of functions.

But there are some things that, much as feminists might like to forget, only women can do. Men cannot get pregnant, give birth, or breastfeed. And these tasks can’t necessarily just be “squeezed in” when it’s convenient.

Though I had my children young, I didn’t have an easy time of it. I have two lovely daughters here, one son in heaven, and another whom I never knew because I miscarried so early. One of the blessings I had, though, was that even though I lost two children, my husband would just look at me and I’d be pregnant again. Were we to try today, chances are it wouldn’t be as easy.

It seems almost unfair, but women’s highest rate of fertility is between ages 20 and 24. It stays pretty high until age 30, when it slowly starts to decline, with the rates after age 35 falling pretty quickly, just as the rates of miscarriage and birth defects start to climb. I’m 36 right now. I feel as healthy as I did at 25. I exercise just as much, I’m in good shape, I eat well, I sleep better. Many women feel at their peak in their mid-30s. Why shouldn’t this be a great time to start a family?

Unfortunately, one’s reproductive system may not cooperate. At age 24, 86% of those who want to be pregnant will get pregnant in a year. By age 35, it’s only 52%. And this doesn’t mean couples are infertile—they may still get pregnant. It’s just going to take a lot longer. And when one is 35, that extra time is very hard to bear.

Too many women are told to put off marrying and having children until they are established. You wouldn’t want to rely on a man, after all. And you wouldn’t want to sacrifice your identity—meaning your career—so get that first. Feminism has told women that not only can we have it all, but we should have it all. But maybe trying to have it all exacts too high a price. Instead of trying to have it all, maybe we should concentrate on going after what we want most right now. It’s okay to live your life in chapters. After all, in our ageing society it’s more and more likely that today’s young adults are still going to be working in some capacity at 70 or even 75, so it’s not as if one’s career years will magically end at 55. If we take a decade off at the beginning to have children, then we still have many decades to meet our career aspirations.

Some women would dearly love to start a family, but they’re lacking the rather important ingredient called the man. That’s a very difficult place to be. But as Beverly Hanck, the Executive Director of the Infertility Association of Canada, recently told Reader’s Digest, if you’re 28, and in a happy, healthy relationship, now may not be the time to start your Ph.D. It may not be politically correct to say it, but we need to be honest if we’re going to avoid heartbreak in the long run.

We can have it all, just not necessarily at the same time. And that’s not a bad thing. There is a time for everything, but that doesn’t mean that time will always be on our side. Let’s use the time we have now wisely, and we’ll likely find that our priorities will still fall into place.

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Comments

  1. This is a wonderful article. Thank you for sharing. We get so caught up in being successful in the world’s eyes, we forget what is the definition of success itself. Thanks for reminding us.

  2. This is a great, thoughtful article! Though I am thankful for the fertility options that are available to older women–since I didn’t even meet my now-husband until I was 30, and we both feel it’s important to at least get a year of marriage under our belts so we can establish a strong relationship before kids enter the picture, I may not have much of a choice!

    • ButterflyWings says:

      Hubby and I had that discussion before we got married. He wanted to wait, I’m three years older than him (32 at the time) and have huge gyno issues and wanted to start trying straight away because I had genuine medical fears I would not be able to conceive at all (even with medical help). In the end, before we were married we settled on 6 months – heinitially change his mind after we were married (like as soon as we were back from the honeymoon) and decided he wasn’t even sure he wanted kids at all but after a few months he decided to put it in God’s hands – and guess what? we got exactly 6 months before we fell pregnant. He’s actually happy about it, and I’m so excited to be having a miracle baby that I had been told I probably couldn’t conceive, and that if I did I would miscarry (neither of which has happened and we’re passed the safe point now – the only potential complications now are a high risk of premature labour but that’s a lot easier to deal with).

      But whatever works for people – I think both trying immediately or delaying a year or so can both be trusting God – because no method is fool proof and if God wants you pregnant, you will be ;)

  3. “Having it all” is an urban legend. Both celebrities and real people fall victim to this lie and there is always someone in the background suffering for its pursuit. An illustrious career comes at the expense of family relationships (ask Martha Stewart or Barbara Walters). A solid marriage comes at the expense of a promotion (ask the CEO who stepped down to care for his ailing wife). An ambitious executive doesn’t realize her 13 -year-old is pregnant for seven months ( don’t ask, but pray).
    I am heart-broken to hear of another couple this week divorcing so that they can “be happy”. What does that mean? That “having it all”.becomes the siren call cloaking one’s idolatry. Whether it’s ambition, money, or vices our grasping can lead us to a place where other people (and their demands) are finally silenced. Because we are all alone.

  4. Thank you for the wonderful reminder! As a 31yo who left the working world, 3 years ago, to raise my 3 young children (8, 5, & 3) I often feel looked down upon by society. This truly is a wonderful season of life and it will pass much to quickly. Sometimes I need the reminder that my job is important too ;)

    • ButterflyWings says:

      It’s even worse as a 21 year old. I had just finished university, given up going on to do medicine (postgrad course), and I got nothing but cruel horrible attacks for staying at home with my daughter – what’s worse is I didn’t even have any say it anyway. I was ill, my then-husband had a massive psychotic breakdown just weeks after our daughter was born. I was too ill to work and had a newborn (no childcare available either) and a very mentally ill husband to care for.

      Society puts way too much pressure on women and ignores what best for children, women and their husbands too. SAHM is the world’s most valuable job. Not everyone is able to be one, but those who are should be celebrated not condemned.

  5. This is great, and not at all the message that the world is sending. I have a close friend who is 32 and just finished her law degree and started working as a lawyer. She will tear up immediately when talking about how badly she wants to have kids, but feels like she can’t because of the situation she put herself in. I really hurt for her, and I pray that when they do start trying to start their family, that it happens quickly and easily for them.
    Megan G. recently posted…update soon!My Profile

  6. I went into motherhood thinking I could have both kids and career and it would be an easy balance. After having my son my world changed. I didn’t want my son in daycare and it was so hard to be away from him after I went back to work (my inlaws watch him 3 days a week and my husband and I do 4 day work weeks). I am pregnant with our second and I am planning to only work casual after my year of maternity leave. In the last couple years I have turned down 2 opportunities for promotions which was really difficult. I know I can’t devote the time I want for my kids and maintain a full time job. I think there is a misconception that stay at home moms don’t care about their careers, I do care about mine but have decided to postpone it for something more important. I think the time we have with our kids is so short and there are moments we can never get back and I want to be present for as many of those moments as possible. Once my kids are older I plan to go back to school to get a Masters Degree, so I totally agree that there is a time for everything…before I met my son and fell in love with him my perspective was so different.

  7. This article was an interesting read for me, as a feminist in a happy, healthy relationship, three years into a Ph.D. and struggling to get pregnant. Lots of what you wrote hit on some aspect of my life. I have to say, though, that it always surprises me and makes me sad to see the condescending tone articles like these take toward feminists. “There are some things that, much as feminists might like to forget, only women can do.” I’m not interested in forgetting that women are ones who get pregnant, give birth, and breastfeed. I want to do these things more than I can possibly say. I am also pursuing a career and my husband plans to be a stay-at-home dad. If we are lucky enough to have a baby, I trust that we will be able to make the right decisions for our family. Having career ambitions doesn’t necessarily mean a young woman is ignorant to biological reality or the responsibility of parenthood. I think what is often left out of the “Can Women Have it All?” discussion, is the fact that “having it all” means different things to different people. To me, it includes pursuing a career I feel passionately about and having a close, happy family. Letting my husband take on more of a childcare role that men traditionally do, and trusting that he will be amazing at it, will be part of the package, and that’s just fine with us. To a different woman, “having it all” could include being a homemaker her entire life, having a large family, making dinner from scratch every night, and homeschooling. To yet another women, “having it all” could be what you propose, focusing on motherhood first and having a career in a later chapter in life. I see a whole range of unique choices that work in the families around me. Personally, I don’t think it’s helpful for us as women to uphold divisive attitudes and look down on each other’s priorities and choices because they might be different from our own. I can honestly say that none of the feminist blogs that I read tell women to put off marrying and having children, to not rely on a man, to find their identity in their career, or to deny their biology. I think the cornerstone of feminism is women (and men!) being able to make their own choices about what is best for their families and what “having it all” means to them.
    Courtney recently posted…some b&w picnic picturesMy Profile

    • ButterflyWings says:

      Courtney sadly I’ve read a lot of “feminist” bogs who do tell women to put off marrying and having children- or strongly push neither marrying nor having children (unless you are being a single mother), but in saying that, I think it’s a misrepresentation of the word “feminism”. The early feminists were pro family, anti abortion, pro marriage, pro children etc. The problem is certain women in this world have hijacked the term “feminism” into a man-hating, “women are more important than everyone including their children” attitude.

      I’m like you – I think feminism is important, but I also despise what most of society has come to assume “feminism” is.

  8. Courtney, I really appreciate your post and agree with all of it. I understand the statistics, but there are many, many exceptions to them. I’m a lawyer, I married immediately after graduating law school, and I spent 4-5 years learning my craft. I had 3 children – at 32, 34, and 38 (NFP strikes! :)). No fertility problems whatsoever, easy, healthy pregnancies and deliveries. I had established myself as valuable enough to my employer that I was allowed to work half time for 15 years. I pumped at work and breastfed all 3 children – one for just short of two years. It was absolutely the best of both worlds. I know a lot of women colleagues who had children without problems at similar ages. I also know people who are trying to go back to school and get their advanced degrees after their youngest child is in middle and junior high and they really struggle. They are exhausted, over extended and very stressed. I think it’s hard to have a career and then shift gears to having babies and childrearing. It’s also hard to try to get an education and pursue a career later in life after your children are older. Pick your hard.

  9. What I have to say will make the feminists hair curl. When we married we were both in our 30s and my wife was in her mid 30s when our two children were born. WE (I emphasise WE) made the conscious decision that my wife would leave the work force (she has an MA degree and was a teacher) when our daughter was born. She never returned to it. My work paid enough for us to live comfortably but not extravagantly on my salary. The children benefited because mum was always there for them. Neither of us regretted that decision. Now we are both retired, more in love than ever and we thank God daily for our marriage.

    • P, I think it’s lovely that you and your wife are so happy. Why would you think your happiness and success would make a feminist’s hair curl?

      • Simply because we made the choice that she would walk away from a well paying career to look after our children which does not usually fit in with the feminists ideal. If I am wrong, then I apologise, I did not intend to upset anyone.

        • ButterflyWings says:

          P if it makes a “feminist’s” hair curl, then sadly she is not truly representing true feminists ideals. Too many people call themselves “feminists” while attacking women who want to stay at home. Which is really sad. The women you are talking are the majority of “feminists” these days, but they do not have true feminism in their hearts.

        • P – no worries, I’m not upset. I do find it puzzling that people insist on viewing feminists as man hating, family neglecting, career obsessed shrews. Most of the women I am friends with consider themselves feminists. Most are happily married, have children, and love their husbands and their kids. Some stay home while their children are young, and some continue their careers. Those who work outside the home are energetic, committed and dedicated enough to find creative ways to pursue their God given talents and raise a family. In fact, I’ve never actually met a man hating, child neglecting feminist. I’m sure they’re out there, but not nearly as prevalent as some apparently believe.

          • There are a lot of feminists out there that support women killing their offspring if they don’t want to care for them. Until feminists stop supporting that, they are guilty of far more than just child neglect.

  10. Speaking as an eighteen year old in a happy, stable relationship, I have no interest in being a stay at home mom. I’m interested in pursuing a career. It’s not that I don’t want to take care of future children I may have but from a young age it was drilled into my head to ‘take care of myself, then worry about kids and a family.’ My dad (in his first marriage) had a child pretty young without going to college or joining the military like he always wanted. After he got divorced and married his second wife (my mother) they had my older sister. My mother dropped out of college to get a full time job to help support the family.

    I had to see all the struggles my parents went through raising three children without having degrees or a military career. For me, I’d rather finish school, get a career going, and then focus on kids.

  11. You touch on it, but I think more needs to be said about the risk to both mother and child as maternal age increases.

    The chances of birthing a baby with a chromosome abnormality goes up significantly with age:

    15 to 24 years 1/500
    25 to 29 years 1/385
    35 years 1/178
    40 years 1/63
    45 years 1/18

    This is hardly the only consideration, but it needs to be part of the calculating.

    Beyond that, there is a lot to be said for having your kids grown while you are still fairly young. It also gives you a chance of having grandchildren while you are healthy enough to really enjoy them and see them become adults.

  12. As a 42 year old, with my final baby less than 3 years from graduating high school, I find this article to be very uplifting. My husband and I were young, and passed our babies off to each other while attending college, and he went on to pursue his career, while I took on the challenge of motherhood full time. We knew no career would pay enough to put our kids in day care, and though I’ve typically had some sort of part time or full time job throughout the years, my primary goal was to raise our children, and to be there for them. I wouldn’t change this past chapter, and as I look to the next one, I know I CAN do anything! I can’t wait to see what the future holds!

  13. ButterflyWings says:

    “Some women would dearly love to start a family, but they’re lacking the rather important ingredient called the man. ”

    Most of the women I know in their 30s who are struggling to fall pregnant sadly fall into this category. Yes they have had careers, but they didn’t sacrifice relationships or baby making for their careers – their careers were merely what they did until they found the right man and while they were trying to fall pregnant.

    Some women feel incredibly pressured to marry men they are not sure are compatible with, or are too immature to be getting married yet because they know the risks of leaving trying for children into their 30s or later. It’s a terrible decision – marry a man you’re not sure about, or wait for a man you are sure about (or wait until you’re sure the man you’re with is ready for marriage) and lose the chance of having babies.

    Even those who are married may have some valid reasons to put off trying for children. In my first marriage, I didn’t discover til after I was married that my husband was mentally unstable. I desperately wanted children, but their welfare came first, even before they were conceived, so I put off trying for children. My daughter was an “accident” (not technically an accident, rather he raped me the day after I had major surgery, part of why I was actively trying to prevent falling pregnant because he was really mentally unwell at the time) – a very much loved child, but I always wish it could have waited a few years until (hopefully) my then-husband got better. The timing off her birth meant he deteriorated badly and never recovered.

    Sadly even in christian circles, some women don’t find out they’ve married a man who genuinely should not have children (at least at that stage) until after they are married. I wouldn’t trade my daughter for anything – and despite the difficulties, if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t undo having her, but at the same time, I would never have chosen to try to fall pregnant at that time.

    And after she was born, I actively tried to make sure it didn’t happen, and with my then-husband’s mental state at the time, doctors decided it was worth the risk to my physical health to continue using contraceptives when I had further surgeries as they realised if I fell pregnant again, he’d deteriorate further, and the risk to my physical health was more from him than from using contraceptives and having surgery.

    Then after our divorce several years later, it years before I remarried. I wanted to get married sooner and not wait a few years, and I wanted to start trying for children straight away, but there are two people in a marriage, and I submitted to my husband’s wishes – and he was the one who wanted me to finish my degree before getting married (I was happy not to) and he was the one who wanted to delay having kids to have some married time without a baby first.

    I had hoped by now (33yo) that I would have at least 3 or 4 kids, maybe even more. But I had to take responsibility that it was too dangerous with my first husband to have more, and then had to wait to find the right man, wait for the date he wanted to get married and wait for him to be ready to try for children. Miracle baby number 2 is on the way, and I’d definitely like to have more (but I know hubby wants to wait at least a few years before trying when it’s highly likely even if we started trying as soon as the baby is born I won’t fall pregnant) but my husband’s wishes have to come into it.

    I know if we have fertility problems, heaps of people will condemn “my” “choice” to wait without actually seeing if it was my choice. I mean, yes it is a “choice” to wait to marriage” and a “choice” to submit to what my husband wants but I don’t see those as genuine choices. It was hard enough when we were trying to conceive bub on the way all the attacks, not just from strangers but so called “friends” saying I shouldn’t have waited til we were married – that I shouldn’t have even waited til I found my husband. That if I wanted more children, I should have just gone out and slept around. Or that I should have tricked hubby into sleeping with me before we got married and tried to get pregnant that way.

    Which is really sad.

    I do know some women put their careers first and only realise too late they’ve missed out on having children, but in the christian community most of the women struggling to conceive I’ve met are just those who didn’t find a Godly man until they were in their 30s, waited until marriage for sex and are discovering now that they may never have children because of it. It’s sad, but what I pointed out to those so called “friends” who said horrible things to me is that as much as I deeply desire children, it was not worth sacrificing my God given values for.

    Having children is a special gift and I pray for those who have made the mistake of putting off having children too long for non Godly reasons can still have children though – God can overcome anything, even our human mistakes.

  14. So, don’t take this the wrong way, but there are plenty of women who are absolutely meant to be moms (I’ve been told that I’m a great mom by many women from many walks of life) who are better moms BECAUSE they have a career.

    My husband and I put off starting the family until I’d finished my Masters and pursued a PhD. By the time we were ready, my health was not up to it (not that it was previously), so we focused on careers and getting my health stabilized. I’m now 36, well established in my career and considered a valuable enough employee that my bosses have been very accommodating through two pregnancies and maternity leaves. We have a three year old son and twin 8 months son & daughter. Praise God! Ironically, I am healthier when pregnant!

    That said, if I stayed home with the kids, I would be a poor mother…. and I don’t mean financially. I know myself well enough to recognize that I need… well, very intellectual pursuits that aren’t attainable in the home… unless you live in an engineering lab? I thrive at work, which rejuvenated me to thrive at home.

    I can honor the choices and paths of others, but please don’t assume that statistics and bell curves EVER allow for a single recommended path. That’s not how math works. I waited 8 (often painful) years for my first child, yet praise God for knowing better than to give us a child before my health was stabilized.

    The only correct answer for EVERYONE when it comes to choosing their life paths is this: Seek God’s will.

    That is all.

    God bless!
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