Last week, Time Magazine dropped a “B-Bomb” on HBS women and career-oriented women everywhere that makes the “H-Bomb” look like carpet static. In an article about the new book by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, the author tells every reader what she wonders why her gynecologist hasn’t been telling her for years. According to the magazine article:
“According to the Centers for Disease Control, once a woman celebrates her 42nd birthday, the chances of her having a baby using her own eggs, even with advanced medical help, are less than 10%. At age 40, half of her eggs are chromosomally abnormal; by 42, that figure is 90%.”
How’s that for an emotional nuke? The Baby-Bomb. How close are you to having “chromosomally abnormal” eggs? The fallout has been raining down on women everywhere, and especially no more than here at HBS, even beyond the few HBS women featured in a 60 Minutes segment last week. (BTW: Care to write an article about your experience?)
The widespread conclusion is that, at the least, career-oriented women need to at least start thinking about having children much earlier in their lives than they originally thought. Some pundits are trying to frame the implications in terms of “women really can’t have it all,” but this seems to be an overreaction. The primary thrust of the evidence is a reframing of the tradeoffs about which we already knew, most notably it advances the decision-making timeline uncomfortably forward. Many women here feel like, instead of deciding at some future point (yet to be determined) when and if to have children, the hour of planning has already arrived.
But notably missing from this debate is the role of men. If the decision about when and whether to have children has moved forward in the lives of women, unless those women choose artifical means, then it has also moved forward in the lives of men. Issues such as these can often act as the nexus between biological gender and gender stereotype. “Women are more nurturing, women bear the brunt of child rearing, women are the ones who must sacrifice their career for the sake of children.” and on and on and on.
Contemporary women and men alike, however, should see these kinds of stereotypes for what they are. The reality is that much of the challenge of bearing and rearing children can be shared equitably. Some women may choose to bear the brunt of the sacrifice, some men may choose the same, but we must be mindful that our lives are often more subject to our own design than traditional myth would have us believe.
A master of twisting tradition and tapping into contemporary fantasy, producer David E. Kelley added a plot twist to his show Ally McBeal this season when Ally, the quirky, coy, and ambitious Boston lawyer, is suddenly promoted to Partner and also receives at her door – a long-lost daughter of Ally’s from when Ally donated (“chromosomally normal”) eggs years ago. Suddenly, Ally had it all: Firm Partnership, a 10-year-old daughter, a new home, and a budding romance with her handyman Jon Bon Jovi.
Sadly, however, for most women, the life of Ally is uncomfortably far from reality, and the life they thought they could put off is uncomfortably close. Women, however, should not be thought of as alone in this plight. Most women will partner with men to have children, and these men can play as active a role in pregnancy and child-rearing as the couple desires. While obviously (for now, anyway) only women can actually carry and give birth to a baby, most of the tradeoffs involved, if shared, do not necessarily need to be as daunting as the popular spinsanity around the subject implies.
But as any HBS man or woman well knows, the widespread panic from being caught off-guard is sure to sell many magazines and books.