There is lots of chatter about whether or not it is empowering, problematic, or progressive for technology companies to have their insurance coverage include IVF or freezing of their employees' eggs or sperm. This policy is meant to support women in the tech sector as the pipeline from university to work is a leaky one. We have all seen the statistics, women are underrepresented in the tech sector or leave. Since Adrienne Rich's germinal book, Of Woman Born, the literary genre about women and mothering, parenting, and societal expectation has flourished. When it comes to the discussion of when is the "right" time to plan on having a family, if you even think you want to, everybody has a strong opinion. I heard someone refer to these policies as inherently anti-feminist, but countered that we should not be wage slaves. This caused me to think about academia and the way in which women talk about family planning.
I have found that at professional development workshops or panels, a common question from graduate students or junior colleagues is: when is the best time to have children? Members of the editorial collective have discussed this question here at Univeristy of Venus. My response does not vary much: there is never the best time. Instead, think of better times or when you are ready. I had one daughter after I was ABD, and my other daughter after I had my Ph.D. This worked well for me. Many of my mentors either had their children while they were in graduate school, once they got their first tenure-track job, after tenure or did not have children and were happily child-free. This topic, though, typifies personal politics for most women.
I can remember asking a mentor about when was the good time to have kids and he suggested I ask a younger faculty member, but I think it was code for suggesting that I speak with a woman faculty member. I did ask a few women mentors and the verdict was that I needed to figure out what I wanted. Any choice was going to have some cost. Either I would have young children during the most stressful period of my career or I might have trouble having children if I waited too long. Perhaps the tech companies are trying to encourage the attrition rates for women in the industry and the coverage of IVF, egg freezing, and sperm freezing is meant to encourage women to stay in the workforce. Is this progress, or is this an example of way in which the burden of family planning and career is placed squarely on the shoulders of working women?
I would really like to have more conversations about work-life balance and having it all. Dialogues around family planning, work-life balance, and having it all (whatever that might really mean) are connected, and must include men. Until these conversations are honest and inclusive, it will be hard to openly discuss the issues in a meaningful way. What advice would you give to your younger self? What does it mean to have the choice to have kids or not have kids?
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