Changing the Narrative of Balancing Motherhood and the Workforce

Are you a woman who wants to be a mother but not at the cost of her career? Have you even been told that it is ok to wait until after you have an established career to begin the journey of childbirth? Are you confused about the options you have as a woman when it comes to motherhood?

In order to answer some of these questions that many women have about balancing a career and motherhood I had the privilege of interviewing Miriam Zoll, author of Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility, and the Pursuit of High Tech Babies.

Zoll tells me that, like many women in the United States, she decided to delay motherhood and as a result encountered age-related infertility. She had attempted to get pregnant naturally for two years and at age 42 she went to an in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic. After multiple failed attempts, Zoll and her husband had to face the reality that science had failed and that this cultural understanding that science has the solution to late-in-life pregnancy was not true for all women.

Zoll wrote Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility, and the Pursuit of High Tech Babies in order to create a more transparent conversation about delaying motherhood. Zoll explores a few questions of her own: “Are we delaying motherhood because we believe the science can help us get pregnant? Is it because of economic options? Is it because we haven’t found the right partner? Where does biological motherhood fit into this equation?”

Zoll believes that “Women have the right to be workers and mothers. And should not be punished for wanting both.” We here at Take The Lead could not agree more!

Zoll truly believes that “women need to be their own advocates on this. If there is one thing I am telling them, it’s to get information and get objective information. Make the most informed decision you can.”

Women’s reproductive health has been a huge topic in mainstream media and so I asked Zoll how the issue of infertility was related to other reproductive health debates, namely access to abortion. She responded by saying that in both cases there is “the need for women to have choices and able to have SAFE choices. Women have the right to have safe reproductive health care and the same can be said about infertility. And we do not currently have long-term data tracking the health of scientific infertility options.”

Zoll referenced a story of a female medical student, Anna Jesus, to provide an example of the dilemma faced by many women and their partners when they both have a career but yet want to have children. Anna is faced with the decision that if she wants to attempt childbirth it would be safer, from a medical standpoint, not to wait and that she should start the process while still in her 20s. Attempting pregnancy before reaching medical residency and then becoming an attending doctor was also the advice she received. Anna decides not to wait and gets pregnant during her second year of medical school at age 27.

There is an important distinction that must be made in this story: Anna recognizes her own agency in the fact that she has a spouse who can temporarily support them while she takes time off from school. But many women are not afforded such a privilege. Women face barriers such as a low socio-economic status, not being at a stable place in their careers, not having the ability to take time off (especially unpaid), and the list goes on and on.

Taking these barriers into consideration, one of my favorite quotes from Zoll during the interview was when she highlighted how “we need to re-frame work not reframe parenting.” It is time that employers realized that the workforce has changed in the fact that there may not be an available parent to stay at home and take care of the kids. In fact “40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family,” according to Pew Research Center.

So when it comes to balancing a family and a career, the workplace environment in this country needs a serious reality check. Some of the ways the workforce could adapt would be for employers to provide “paid family leave for both mothers and fathers, a flexible workplace, a re-entry policy, pay equity reviews, childcare and dual-career assistance,” Zoll mentioned to me in a follow-up email.

Every woman is different and every woman has the right to both a family and a career if that is what she wants.

One piece of advice that Zoll leaves Take The Lead readers with is this: “if you have it in you to run your own business, and operate off of your own values it would be great if more women ran their own businesses.” So come on ladies, Take The Lead and be your own boss!

Does the thought of running your own business make you nervous or hesitant in any way? Never fear! Take The Lead is offering a unique webinar opportunity for you to embrace your relationship with power to advance your career. So be sure to register today!

Interested in the issues raised in this post? Get more in depth with the conversation about IVF, infertility, and the risks and benefits to different options of motherhood by checking out Miriam Zoll’s book, Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility, and the Pursuit of High Tech Babies.

About the Author

Kaitlin Rattigan is a recent graduate with an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution with a concentration in Gender and Peacebuilding. She is a firm believer in social media as an effective and meaningful tool to promote positive societal change. Never underestimate the power of 140 characters. Kaitlin is a voice for the Millennials, a constructive disruptionist, an advocate for women’s leadership, and is a believer in challenging and expanding the definitions of what it means to be a feminist. For gender-analytical fem-tastic commentary on current events, follow Kaitlin @KaitlinRattigan. Do you have an issue you want highlighted on The Movement Blog? Is there an area within women’s leadership that you feel passionate about and want to share with a wide audience? Feel free to send Kaitlin a DM or Tweet to @KaitlinRattigan with the hashtag #Women2025 and let’s keep the conversation going and work together to propel women into their equal share of leadership positions by 2025.