Rethinking fertility: Why I believe it’s time to send a new message
Fertility is a strictly personal matter and the way it impacts our lives is shaped by choice or by circumstance.
Yet, the impression I get is that there is only one default position regarding fertility, and that is that women are expected to fulfill an unspoken role regardless of their decisions or – even worse – regardless of undiagnosed medical disorders.
Why do we need another message?
Society and workplaces are making childlessness incredibly uncomfortable by contextualizing it in terms of selfishness or “not trying hard enough.”
In these terms, fertility becomes a story of marginalization, praising the ones who comply with the norm and viewing the ones who don’t suspiciously, even assuming that they could have children if they really wanted to.
I believe we need another message, one of inclusion, so that we can let people we meet surprise us with the richness of their life experience, instead of judging their lives in terms of outcomes.
How can we all benefit from a wider perspective?
We all have families, even if they may take different forms. Parenting changes one’s life and one’s priorities – and so does death, illness, and caring for a beloved one. There are a number of transformative experiences that we may encounter that will challenge our beliefs, inflame our anger, awaken our compassion, and let us feel unconditional love.
A life that draws meaning from all facets of the human experience makes individuals more empathetic, not selfish. And emotionally competent humans – be they parents or not – are of crucial importance in communities and workplaces that thrive on collaboration and support.
What can you do?
Get curious about your urge to fix this situation!
If you find yourself thinking there’s something wrong with people (especially women) who don’t have children, ask yourself: what does your concern over other people’s most intimate matters reveal about your own deep fears and insecurities? Enjoy the relationships that give meaning to your life and allow others to feel good about their own version of happiness.
If you are struggling with judgment for your childlessness, remember: your life is by no means any less meaningful and worthy! Explore, re-define, and feel at home with your definition of family. What matters is how you make a difference in the life of the people that matter to you. And I bet there are plenty!
In a (Western) world where we praise ourselves for no longer questioning same-sex couples for their sexual preferences and for no longer pitying disabled persons for their impairments, I think it’s also time to stop judging women for their choices, or conditions, around their fertility.
I believe this message is worth taking more into account because it means supporting compassionate, adaptive, and resilient individuals who are capable of establishing deep human connections, regardless of their reproductive status.
This means acknowledging that life is never what you expect, and that you are called to make things work with whatever is handed to you.
Let’s start a conversation!
I think you’ve started an important and justified debate. And I completely agree with you as far as social evaluation is concerned (there is the word already: evaluation, because childless women are actually evaluated).
In the job context, however, I’ve experienced it differently and also heard it from friends and acquaintances: that having children is a disadvantage. But only for women. I have never experienced a male colleague for whom it would have been a disadvantage. He would have thought about what that would mean for his career. No, everybody finds it progressive when a man takes time off during working hours in homeopathic doses to attend a theater performance or a school bazaar of the children. I’ve always been really annoyed by this celebrating fathers and patting them on the back. The incompatibility of family and job is 99% at the expense of the mothers.
Germany – what’s wrong with you?
When it comes to gambling, the motto is always: the bank always wins. Unfortunately, the opposite is true for women: they always lose. Whatever you do, you do it wrong. If you don’t have a child, you look suspicious. Just as you write it, parts of society subliminally assume that you haven’t tried hard enough. And woe be to she who actually decides against a child of her own free will. And at work, mothers are considered low performers – not resilient, not always available. In the end, it all comes down to this: society expects reproduction, companies expect productivity.
There was an editor-in-chief of a women’s magazine – one more time for emphasis: a W O M E N’S magazine – who answered the question a few years ago why she offered so few part-time positions. She said that an editorial office is not “assisted living”, in economically difficult times you cannot “drag employees along”. Germany – what’s wrong with you?
The fight of the mothers
I’ve seen mothers who were doubly frustrated. They were frustrated because they could not devote themselves full time to the child, and you can’t believe how much this toxic maternal ideal continues to have an effect today, even in enlightened circles. They were frustrated because they did not work full time. They felt as if they were driving on the job with the handbrake on, while their childless colleagues were rushing by towards careers. It always hurt me to see these women fighting like that, experiencing this inner turmoil. This little rush from the office at 3:00 pm with a guilty conscience.
And before everyone yells at me now and the HR bosses write that this is not the norm and with them it is quite different: of course I am aware that there are positive exceptions, also in Germany. That there are companies that think this dimension forward and with it. But this is not yet common sense.
Why I don’t have children
And now I have to and want to get a little personal: I have no children either. Why, I certainly can’t answer that completely. There were various factors involved. I only met the man with whom I could have imagined this at the age of 37. But there would have been a window of opportunity. However, over the years I became more and more aware of one thing: it was also because I didn’t dare sacrifice my career. To struggle like my colleagues (see above) to not do justice to either role – not the mother role, nor the leadership role. You can also put it in a formula: if the motivation and the desire to have a child is only moderately developed and the general conditions in the respective job environment are difficult, you’d better not have a child. Yes, that is avoidance behavior, you could also call it cowardice. I have avoided this fight, and I’m not proud of it.
What others do right
I’ll never forget a story a friend told me. A friend of hers, a German, landed in the Netherlands and worked for ESA there. She had a child and went back to work. Her boss, himself a father of four, actively talked her into having another child – and not because he wanted to get rid of her. How great would it be if we lived and worked in such a climate? How great would it be if it wasn’t just the mothers who had to rack their brains about what to do with a child? How great would it be if there was no gap between socially desirable and professionally feasible?
If only working moms never had to answer the question ever again of, “How do you manage it?”Tags: Career, Debate, Germany, Motherhood, Society, Workplace