Today I bring you a guest post from Detoursfromhome, my baby sister in spirit as I have called her for many years. Enjoy!
About two months ago, I had “the talk” with my gynecologist–the infamous “birds and the bees” talk, wherein she reminded me about the looming dangers of getting pregnant…at this age. You see, I’m turning 35 in a month and, apparently, in the medical community that is a time to sound the alarm. As if I didn’t already know, she proceeded to tell me that I needed to think about having kids soon—asking me all kinds of questions about my personal life with my (now ex) boyfriend, telling me that in “egg years” mine were on the verge of extinction. Even the word menopause entered the conversation. After all of this, she decided to inject some of her own personal life into our talk. She told me that she was the oldest of 10 kids; because of her experience as the older sister-mother, she and her husband decided not to have kids. I sat there bewildered as to why a seemingly intelligent, professional woman who had purposely chosen childlessness for herself would feel the need to project unnecessary baby panic into my life, especially in 2011.
After leaving the office and lifting myself out of the depression into which I was plummeted by this conversation, I began to think about the social pressure to have children particularly among highly educated, successful, professional women. I know this topic has been done to death. Yet, it seemed especially relevant to me considering what I’m seeing among my close friends who are mothers, some stay-at-home, some working. They all love their children. But, a few of my working mother friends have admitted to me that, if they could, they would be stay-at-home moms because of their job’s unwillingness to accommodate their lives as mothers who work. Having barely developed a rhythm between her and her child, the mother rushes back to work after three months; her boss harasses her during her time off; and she pours obscene amounts—if not her entire share of the spousal income—into daycare. I don’t blame them. Under these circumstances, I’d want to stay home as well. My friends’ complaints seemed to have all one thing in common: they would rather invest their energy in the home than fighting a system that does not and has never accommodated them as mothers.
There is so much social pressure to have children, but there is very little pressure to keep women at work, and to reform our workforce so that women can be successful at home and in the office. And it seems like all these talented women—including my married, childless gynecologist—have bought into the idea that women must choose where they can do their best work. And, ultimately, that choice pushes them out of the workforce.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not an attack on stay-at-home parenting. To be a stay-at-home mom, like any decision a woman makes about her body, is a personal choice. And, often, it can be the best, most fruitful choice for a woman, her child, her home and/or her spouse. But, rarely do we hear of men staying at home, with few exceptions—one of them being my friend Steve who chose to forgo his career so that his wife Ruth could go on to an Ivy League school to pursue her doctorate in sociology. Ruth is now one of the country’s top sociologists in education and race; meanwhile, Steve lives happily as a part-time campus minister and stay-at-home dad. Nonetheless, this example is rare. When I see droves of highly educated, degreed women—I’m talking about women with Master’s, MBAs, and doctorates—retreating to the home because there is no space for them at work to navigate and balance both options, it gives me pause. It makes me sad. And it makes me realize that, in spite of all our degrees and our so-called “progress”, this is still a man’s world. And it horrifies me. When I hear of places like Canada, France and Mexico (yes! Mexico!)—which are certainly not utopias and are fraught with their own social and political ills—where women get significant time off and, in some instances, child care subsidies, I realize how far we have yet to climb as a nation. I fear that, the more women stay at home, the more we are creating an ethical vacuum in a male-dominated system that, as we can see, is crumbling due to its own unchecked greed and corruption.
I don’t want to prevent women from staying-at-home. I want to make a way for women to stay at work.
My gynecologist may very well have had good intentions by giving me “the talk”; in fact, she was probably doing her job. However she probably doesn’t realize that my having a child—under my current circumstances—would require me to make a choice that would not only impact me but, especially, the system in which I work, where faces and voices like mine are sorely needed. So, when she asks me next year why I’m not rushing to fill my womb with seed, I will remind her that I’m filling another space with another type of seed that, I hope, will endure for posterity—with my voice as a black woman.
Detoursfromhome is an on-again off-again blogger and a self-described recovering evangelical who is currently completing her Ph.D. in Latin American and Caribbean literature. Like Blackgirlinmaine, she hails from the Windy City but, perhaps foolhardily, decided to move to a large college town in the rural Midwest to pursue her graduate studies. When she’s not plowing through her dissertation, she likes running and discussing religion, politics, race and feminism.