Sacrificing Motherhood At the Altar of Career

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In most cases, by the time a woman clocks 35 years, they are expected to have settled down and, perhaps, had a child. However, the trend is changing as more and more women put on hold having children well into their 40s and beyond.

Some decide not to have children at all in favour of career advancement, writes Carol Natukunda

Three powerful women are talking about their careers during a tea break one morning. One is a senior university lecturer, another a lawyer and the third, a spokesperson of a high profile government institution.

The university lecturer is a single mother of two. She talks about the little quarrels she is having with her grumpy adolescents.

The other two just look on without a bother in the world. Well into their 40s, there are no tiny feet running around their impressive homes.

“It is wonderful to have children,” the lecturer tells them. Her argument is that even though she separated with her husband, she takes comfort in her children. “At least adopt a child if you cannot have your own,” she advises.

The lawyer retorts: “Look girl, (yes, they call themselves girls even at 40!) I do not even have time for myself. Where do you expect me to place children or a husband in my already busy life?”

The two women go on to explain how not having a child does not make them feel incomplete.

“I want to do so many things and reach my full potential. A child would get in my way,” the other says.

A growing phenomenon

These women portray a new breed of Ugandan women who consider themselves too busy to have children. They have worked tirelessly to establish themselves in the workplace and want to enjoy the fruits of their success without any “crying babies” to jeopardise it. They are convinced that career and motherhood just do not mix.

“A baby? No, maybe later,” says 36-year-old Annet Byarugaba, who is doing her doctoral research in psychology at Makerere University. “You have to think of a daycare, rushing home to be with the child, and you cannot go on a trip abroad because you have a baby!”

Several international reports suggest that many women aged between 40 and 44 with a master’s degree do not have children; the more educated and successful a woman is, the less likely she is to become a mother.

In her book Why Have Kids? author Jessica Valenti questions the widely held assumption that motherhood is fulfilling.

“Child-rearing can be a tedious and thankless undertaking,” writes Valenti, questioning whether smart women might be better off opting out altogether.

“Most of the women who choose not to have children are among the most highly-educated and successful. Perhaps it is time to ask: do women who do not have children know something that parents do not?” the author asks.

Byarugaba shares the same sentiments. She is worried that she is likely to be “under house arrest because of a little tot.”

Frightening

Perhaps what a woman like Byarugaba will not publicly admit is that she might be frightened. By all appearances, Rebecca Nakabugo (not real names) had a great life, good friends and quite a number of hunks asking her out.

Somewhere along the way, the men seem to have “disappeared.” Now, just the thought of turning 37 or 40 when she is still single and without a child is creating a lot of anxiety in her life. She talks about how painful it is sometimes to wake up and realise she is alone.

“My siblings and age mates are all busy with their own families. On big days like Christmas, I am lonely. Many times, I wake up and go to join them, but I still have to return to an empty house in the evening,” she says.

Lauren, a proprietor of a crafts shop in Kampala, says she is now 42, but is trying to quietly move on. She says there were lonely days and nights when she would cry.

“I would lie in bed awake for hours, tears running onto my pillow,” she says. Lauren was mourning over being childless, yet she could have had a baby earlier if she wanted.

“I find myself grumpy when my friends are talking about ‘my husband, my baby’. But I do not reveal that side to anyone. To the public, I am a happy and contented single woman, but I know better. Life gets busy as you grow up and people focus on their families. I tell young girls to settle down while in their 20s and have babies before it is too late.”

Biological implications

Women who have children later in life face the risk of becoming burdened in future.

“You are retired, looking after ageing parents and bringing up toddlers,” observes Laura Aryijuka, a part-time sociologist/community psychologist at Kyambogo University.

Aryijuka, who is in her mid-30s, says because of cultural beliefs, a woman without children is seen as an alien.

She, however, says this is beginning to change. “A lot of my friends are childless. Some are still not married. It is not really a big deal in our social circle. Families are different,” the mother of two says.

Aryijuka further notes that if the phenomenon continues for another generation, it means some grandparents will have to wait an extra 20 years, until the age of 70, to have their first grandchild.

Social stigma aside, women who delay childbirth are also at a higher risk of birth complications or infertility. In fact, they have to rely on surrogacy motherhood or in-vitro fertilisation if they want to have children.

In an earlier interview with Sunday Vision, Dr. Patel Prakash, a gynaecologist at the Fertility Endoscopy Clinic in Nakasero noted: “Women today are more educated and career-oriented and do not have much time on their hands. That is why some of them decide to have children at a much later age.”

Prakash says most of the women who resort to in-vitro fertilisation are aged between 25 and 45.

Individual choice

Aryijuka says ultimately, it is up to an individual to choose whether to have it all or hold back.

“To me, it comes down to the fear of balancing career and motherhood.

There is no formula, but it is doable. We have successful women who are mothers. All a woman needs is support from family and friends. But you should not cut out all relating because of a career.

At the end of the day, you cannot live in isolation because of your master’s degree!”

Implications of delaying childbirth

Complications at birth

Infertility

Risk of birth defects

A woman’s risk of having a baby with chromosomal abnormalities increases with her age.

nThe risk of the mother dying before the child becomes an adult increases by more advanced maternal age.

About author

Kemi Wale-Olaitan

Kemi is a retired broadcaster from the service of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria; while in service, she had her interest in women issues and had interviews with several notable women in the course of her duty as a producer in the service of the Federal government. Her interest in broadcasting was informed by her creative writing prowess; she has been very active in creative writing since her undergraduate days, and she has written a few fictional works in form of short stories and novel. Some of her short stories have appeared in anthologies of Short stories. Kemi was also very active in the establishment of the Women Writers Association of Nigeria (WRITA) and she served on its first Executive Council.

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