Here are the great myths about pregnancy: Women can put it off until they establish themselves in their career. Women can control the reproductive system. Women can make a grand plan. Forget it. I'm pregnant now, and I know.
I'm pregnant now, and I waited until I had established myself in my career. I climbed up the Fortune 500 ladder. I started two of my own companies. I told myself the whole way up, Thank god I don't have kids, and I worked long, long hours.
I didn't get married until after my second company went under, and I could leave Los Angles and live with my husband in New York. I told myself I would get settled in a new job, and then have a baby. And just as I got settled, I got laid off. So after fifteen years of carefully planning my career and my family life I was old enough to be in the high-risk pregnancy category (35), and out of work in a recession.
To get back to where I wanted to be in my career before I had a baby, I would have to find a job (average six months) get settled (let's say six months) and get pregnant (at my age — average six months). But that would mean having my first child at age 37 — if I had average luck with pregnancy and the job hunt. If anything went wrong — 38, 39, who knows. Let me tell you about the risks of having a baby at 35: 1 in 169 chance the baby has Down's syndrome; 1 in 200 chance that the test for Down's syndrome kills the baby. And the odds get worse every day I get older. People did not tell me these odds when I started a company at age 32 in LA instead of getting married in NY. People said, “You have time, you have time.”
Now, fearing that I might wait too long to be able to carry a child, for the first time in my life, I risked my career for my family. And wouldn't you know it, blowing away all statistical odds, I got pregnant in a week. I felt lucky, I felt excited, but I also felt scared: I was laid off and pregnant, facing a six-month job hunt, where I would get a job, work three months, and then take maternity leave. Needless to say prospects are looking dim.
What I want to tell you is that my grand plan didn't work. I grew up thinking that women had everything: I had access to education, I had access to the pill, I had access to money and jobs. I felt that society easily accepted my choices to be single, to focus on my career. Everyone told me “don't worry about kids, you'll have time.” I thought I was in control, making choices, but there are so many factors that I could never have controlled. I thought I was so smart, so organized and driven for waiting. But I'm not sure if waiting got me all that much except a high-risk pregnancy.
I will have a pause in my career. I think it might take me a while to get back on the fast track after I have a child. Maybe two. I am not sure why a pause in my career now would have been any different than a pause in my career at any other, earlier point in my career. However I am sure that the pregnancy would have been easier if I had done it earlier. I am not sure what a solution is, but I am sure that the way women today meticulously plan their families and their careers means that women leave themselves open to the inherent unpredictability of volatile markets and high-risk pregnancies.
Don't get me wrong. I'm really excited to be having a baby. But as the first generation of women who had access to career planning and family planning, I'm here to tell you that nothing came out like I planned.