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Motherhood, It's Time We Talked

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Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
This week we’re hearing from mothers and non-mothers of all ages, professions and experiences – and we want to hear from you too, so please join the conversation on twitter @refinery29uk and on our facebook page @refinery29uk #motherhood

As of last year, two of the most forward-thinking companies in the world, Apple and Facebook, started offering their U.S. employees egg freezing as part of their benefits package. Richard Branson said he wanted to “steal the idea”.

Biologically, our chances of babies decrease after 35. I checked this with a gynaecologist of over 35 years experience, who said – probably for the millionth time – that “From 35 onwards, the quality of the eggs deteriorate and it may not be as easy for a woman at 35 trying to have a baby. Of course the line is not so clearly demarcated that a woman aged 34 and 11 months can conceive easily, and a woman aged 35 and 1 month can’t."

Last month, the BBC told us that for the first time in 70 years, in England and Wales, more women are having babies over 40 than under 20. Maybe that hot new stat is made up of the increasing number of women in their 20s freezing their eggs – something else I didn’t realise I was supposed to be thinking about, and paying for, in monthly instalments. Read about it here.

Between a thousand surveys, doctors, and the British press, I'm yet to see – or perhaps accept – the answer to the age-old question ‘when is it too late to conceive?’. And I feel similarly perplexed by maternity leave, which, as a childless woman, has so far served me rather well in the form of fortuitous maternity cover. The first thing that pops into my head on the subject is that “controversial” (was it?) feature written by British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, originally for the Daily Mail, but heavily quoted since, where she says that women must “accept there can be consequences” to taking time off to have babies. I imagine she’s right, but surely in the most basic sense, accepting the consequences is having the baby in the first place.

I asked one of the most accomplished women I know, Caryn Franklin, for the answer to first: whether you can do both the career and the children successfully, and second: whether once you’ve won the right and haggled your price, it’s even worth it for what you miss out on? Caryn went back to work (for the BBC) two weeks after having her first child, and three weeks after having her second, both of whom she had over the age of 33, and SPOILER, the feature includes a photo of her collecting her MBE with a huge smile on her face next to her two grown-up daughters. You’ll be glad you read her advice here, and please tune in to her Facebook Live Q+A on Wednesday at 5.30pm for more.

Then what about – everything else? Finances? Read a mum-of-two's weekly money diary on a salary of £64k, which sounds like a lot until you have two children and a mortgage (publishing Wednesday.) What about your body? What about the bloody birth? What do all these things look like when you’re not a heterosexual working woman of 25-35 who lives in a country with a free healthcare system? What do they look like when you’re a 50-year-old trans woman, who’s wanted a child for as long as she can remember? Read her personal essay on Thursday. What do they look like when your baby is born with a serious health condition, and being invited to the exec meeting is the last thing on your mind? What do they look like when you're diagnosed with stage four cancer at 28, and get put on an aggressive chemotherapy course that cuts your fertility by 50%? Read how Ariane is coping with that motherfucker on Wednesday.

Yesterday, The Times published an article by Mandy Rhodes, "the journalist closest to" Scotland’s formidable first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in which it was revealed that Sturgeon suffered a miscarriage aged 40, a personal tragedy that she kept private, despite intrusive public questioning and assumptions from the press and political opponents, for six years. “If the miscarriage hadn’t happened, would I be sitting here as first minister right now? It’s an unanswerable question. I just don’t know,” Sturgeon told Rhodes. “Having a baby might have so fundamentally changed our lives that things would have taken a different path, but if somebody gave me the choice now to turn back the clock 20 years and say you can choose to start to think about this much earlier and have children, I’d take that.” Two extremely sad statements that summarise the very present gender disparity in the working world, and the weight of being a woman.

'Motherhood' still sounds like a very grown up word to me, and that's a problem. This week we're having grown up conversations with women and men of all ages, professions and experiences, who are living through, or have lived through these questions. Join in on twitter @refinery29uk and on our facebook page@refinery29uk #motherhood

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