- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 30, 2002

The best thing about Sylvia Ann Hewlett's latest book,"Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children," an expose of the near-impossible juggling professional women who want/have kids have to master, is its honesty about the fertility difficulties women face once they've reached the age of 40.
For many reasons, including media hype and the medical community's desire to make money, many women have received the message that they can simply wait and have kids when their careers are well under way, say in their 40s.
Not so, says the author. In fact, half of all professional women are childless at 40 and only a small portion of these women say they intended to stay childless. They just do, because career and money were prioritized over relationships and family life. And when these women feel ready to have children, they may have trouble finding a mate, and even if they find a mate, they may have to use in vitro fertilization or donor eggs, which can run as high as $100,000, in order to conceive.
But they still may not be able to have kids because they waited too long: A woman in her early 40s has, on average, a three to five percent shot at achieving a live birth through standard IVF procedure; at the age of 22, a pregnant woman faces an 8 percent chance of losing her baby through miscarriage, but at age 48 that possibility increases to 84 percent.
The author says, in order to avoid undesired childlessness, all women need to face these fertility limitations early on in life.
She says it's important in one's 20s and early 30s to try to visualize where one wants to be at age 45. If a high-powered career is the only thing important, then no problem, just go full-throttle on the career-climbing ladder. But if you want to have a family and a career, it becomes a little trickier: While working on a career, a woman in her 20s must put equal effort into finding a mate, and in her 30s, she and the mate should try to have their first child before the woman turns 35, when fertility drops off dramatically.
In short, the author encourages women to be as focused about having a family as we are about having a career.
Of course, it would be easier for career women to choose to have a family if there were more workplace and government support systems, writes the author. But since there are few maternity perks around, she encourages career women who want to have children to investigate which companies and careers are family friendly. She says female lawyers and doctors have a difficult time juggling family and work because of the long hours. The same is true for corporate women. But, she says entrepreneurial women which she never really gives any examples of (what are they exactly?) do best.
Among company perks that benefit women are a reduced work week, company-provided daycare, a flex schedule and the ability to take unpaid leave when needed. The author also advocates expanding the Family Medical Leave Act, which enables women to take 12 weeks off when they deliver a child, to include all employers, not just those who employ more than 50 people.
All of the author's recommendations will most likely make sense to women with children. The government programs she suggests are at work in Europe, where in some countries women get more than a year's worth of paid maternity leave. But her recommendations probably won't fly in this country, where the spirit of individualism rules and where the motto is for everyone to chart their own course.
Having children, though, is not just beneficial for the individual, but for society as a whole, and therefore, argues the author, we should give working women who have children better than equal treatment. They are doing us all a favor when they raise productive citizens.
While, to most of us, it seems doubtful that her arguments will convince company executives and policy makers to conduct expensive changes to their policies, the author says she's optimistic. Why? Because retaining good, trained employees is important and companies will start realizing this. A good employee is worth more than a capital investment, such as a computer, she says (in the year 2000, fully 22 percent of all women with professional degrees were not in the labor market at all, according to the book). We'll see …
Another obstacle for career women who want children is how they are viewed by childless colleagues who may think these mothers and mothers-to-be receive more perks than the childless do, when in fact, American parents, enjoy rather few benefits (as shown above).
For men, on the other hand, the scenario is quite different. The better their career, the more likely they are to get married and have children, even after they turn 40. The author also shows that men with families out earn men without families. So why is that men can have it all a wife, children, money and good career when women can't?
This is where this otherwise well-crafted and researched, book runs into trouble. First of all, what is the definition of "having it all"? Secondly, do men, who work 80-hour weeks and seldom get to see their sons and daughters sporting or drama events, "have it all"? We don't hear from these men in the book. Instead, assumptions are made.
Having it all, all the time, may be an unattainable goal for each and every one of us. Life is about trade-offs, and finding solutions that work for you, the individual. If you choose to eat ice-cream and potato chips every day, you may not be able to have that washboard stomach. You may not be able to eat fried chicken every day and still have a healthy heart. You may not be able to take that trip to Europe and make your 401K contribution in the same year.
At every turn of the road, we are faced with decisions and we probably can only have a little bit of everything, a little bit of the time. If you want the big bucks and high status, family life may suffer, whether you are a father or a mother.
Of course, we're always fed the pictures of rich, famous actresses who have children at the age of 50, and they seemingly have it all, don't they? Not really. Would you like to have every move you make scrutinized by tabloids? Probably not. Would you like to have paparazzi take pictures of you topless in your yard for the world to see? Probably not. There are, in short, always trade-offs.
Whether one agrees with the author's observations and recommendations, one thing is for sure, "Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children," is a brave, fact-filled book, that places itself smack in the middle between conservatives (who probably will disagree with the author's government and corporate recommendations) and liberals (who may say the author is "pushing" the agenda that women should have children at an early age, when they may not be ready).
Sylvia Ann Hewlett should be applauded for her courage in pointing out the facts of fertility and for presenting unpopular ideas about company and government perks that could help American parents. Her book will continue to push the much-needed debate about women as mothers and productive citizens, and what's needed to juggle the two roles. A successful juggler might never be able to have it all whatever that means but may be able to have some of it, some of the time. And that's pretty good too.

Gabriella Boston is a reporter on the metro desk of The Washington Times.



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