As I’ve said before on my instagram feed, I’ve never been raised to be ‘aware’ that I’m female. For me, it’s kind of a non-issue. So while I’m happy to celebrate the achievements of women (particularly those from yesteryear who enabled me to go to med school and have a vote and a voice), from my own perspective, I sometimes feel a bit fraudulent. What I mean is, I don’t really ‘suffer’ because I am a woman. That’s not to say we don’t have some fights left both in the UK and in particular globally. It’s just that unless I travel to places where women aren’t so equal, I just don’t notice it in my day-to-day work. I’m lucky.
I’m now at a point where I’m happily married, have a fun career and a lovely house. The next expectation is that we will have children. (Side rant: I also HATE this expectation to be quite honest- it’s a societal issue and the number of times my ovaries seemed to be mentioned within my first year of marriage- UNTRUE!! I was moaning to one of my male friends- a self-proclaimed staunch feminist- and he started laughing and said, “Don’t you know that your one true achievement has to be procreation??!!” It’s definitely an achievement but he’s right that I hadn’t really been aware of this expectation of me before I got married. Or at least, I was unaware that total strangers in society think it’s totally fine to discuss this with me once I’m married. What if I couldn’t have children? What if I actively can’t stand the thought of having them? What if it’s not your business??!! Anyway, that’s a different rant and I digress).
The simple fact is that I don’t know if I want (or, who knows?, even can have) children and that decision is definitely the business of myself and my husband. Some women long for children, some don’t. That is (very) slowly being accepted as normal (insert further side rant, but not now).
The thing is though, I’m a planner. I don’t particularly want to even try to plan out my life in terms of whether or not we have children, but I am a realist. I would like to be able to have an open dialogue with employers so that I can plan what happens with any future projects or career moves. At the moment though, in an effort to ensure that women aren’t asked about their ovaries (quite rightly), we’ve kind of got to the point that we just DON’T talk about it.
I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while but I’ve genuinely felt nervous. Does it harm my career to openly say that, as a woman in her 30s, I might be thinking about having kids in the next few years…?? I know logically it shouldn’t. I also know though, that my husband, supportive and brilliant though he is, doesn’t quite have these same concerns. It comes down to one simple thing really:
CAN WE ALL JUST GET OVER THE FACT THAT WOMEN HAVE TO BE THE ONES TO PHYSICALLY HAVE THE BABY?
I was listening to a discussion about this during the height of my nervousness on the radio. One lady was saying that the fact that the law protects women from being asked about their plans has meant that many women of reproductive age are being overlooked for jobs. A small business owner rang in and replied that of course he thought twice about hiring them- how unhelpful must it be for women to work for a month then leave and then not come back and he, as the employer, has to foot the bill…?
It’s funny that for all our learning and education as a global society, it seems we still can’t wholly move past the fact that we’re not seahorses. Biologically, yes, the responsibility of child birth does have to rest with the female of our species. For the most part, so do the first few months.
So is there a brighter future? Has something changed my mind about being nervous about stating all these thoughts out loud?
Firstly, I see the women before me that have juggled successful careers while having children. Secondly, whilst I didn’t quite agree with the small business owner, he may have a point that couples ACTIVELY PLANNING might not consider going for short term posts perhaps (not easily planned or policed though so really his point falls apart then… Unless the question is about where the funding comes from- digressing again).
But thirdly, what helped me relax has actually been the support of some of the men surrounding me.
I will always be grateful for the parents I’ve come from; they have every faith in me whilst knowing how to support me. I have an incredible husband whom I know will accept his responsibilities too while supporting me with mine.
Next, there are some brilliantly structured medical PhD funders such as the MRC that specifically advocate for keeping women in research and granting family time for men and women. There’s the Athena Swan Award. There’s increased Paternity Rights within employment law. But also, I have some wonderful male and female supervisors and consultants. I even approached some of the lab folk in Health and Safety to ask about how labs work with pregnant women and what I might be prohibited from doing if I were pregnant (I mean, I work in Infectious Diseases, so pragmatism is always welcomed!)- I got some really thoughtful and constructive answers. And the other week my (male) consultant quite emphatically told me that we’d just work with it. It’s life.
So whilst I whole-heartedly agree that we shouldn’t be asking about each other’s reproductive plans(!!), there perhaps should be a little more open dialogue about it. If I’ve been nervous about this, I can’t imagine I’m alone.
What do you guys think?