Start spreading the news: statistically speaking, motherhood can’t always wait

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I had lunch the other day with a colleague who told me something totally alarming: that after age 40, the chances of a woman conceiving using natural methods is 5%. Five percent! Her point is that women suffer a great disservice when we’re told, over and over, that motherhood can wait. Go ahead, grind out the hours at the office; gun for the fast-track projects; raise your hand for the business trips on which you’ll never meet a guy who isn’t hiding his wedding ring in his suit pocket. Career first; kids later. Right?

In researching this, I came upon this article on that outlines your medical likelihood of conception at various age groups. Helpful, but not definitive. Here’s an illuminating Q&A on WebMD with a Dr. Amos Grunebaum, medical director of the WebMD Fertility Center.

But the most thought-provoking story I found on this topic is Nancy Gibbs’ 2002 piece in TIME, titled “Making Time for a Baby.” She writes,

Baby specialists can do a lot to help a 29-year-old whose tubes are blocked or a 32-year-old whose husband has a low sperm count. But for all the headlines about 45-year-old actresses giving birth, the fact is that “there’s no promising therapy for age-related infertility,” says Dr. Michael Soules, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine and past president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). “There’s certainly nothing on the horizon.”

In her article, Nancy discusses Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, which was at the time stirring up a big fuss: would Hewlett’s argument that young women must change their approach to having families and careers derail the gains of the feminist movement in the workplace?

Five years later, I’m not sure of the answer—at least for my generation. On the one hand, I look around at my own workplace and see two of my colleagues return from maternity leave and immediately receive well-deserved promotions. But in my current role squatting in middle management at TIME, I can tell you it’s not a sane job for parents of young ‘uns. I can name a number of talented, high-performing peers—male and female—who actively avoid promotions in order to keep a schedule that allows us time with our little people. By doing so, am I undermining hard-fought feminist gains? Or just doing the best I can to stoke a reasonably satisfying career while raising a family?