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Family Planning Gone Too Far?

An election is coming! An election is coming! Shout it from the rooftops. No baby this year. An election is coming!

For many election-obsesseddevoted women and men whose jobs revolve around campaigns, having a baby in an election year is too disruptive to their work. So, they plan around it. Elections in even years. Baby in odd ones.

But there's a problem with this that Post reporter Libby Copeland touches on:

"My job was to plan and to see around corners and to know what was coming and plan everything out so meticulously," says Mindy Tucker Fletcher, 37, a former spokeswoman for the 2000 Bush campaign and later deputy campaign manager for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2006 reelection campaign.
Fletcher lives in San Diego now. Recently, she's been trying to get pregnant. She and her husband have tried fertility treatments. She wishes she hadn't waited so long, wishes she'd known how hard it would be. She wishes she'd known that the "adrenaline rush," the thrill of being needed and being in the midst of the news, was a trade-off. That the political cycles are infinite, but the eggs are not.
"I wish I'd known earlier," Fletcher says. "I would have worked it into my life plan."

Putting your job ahead of having a baby for too long may mean that you just might not be able to have a baby. The average age of mothers giving birth has risen to 27. In 1970, birth moms' average age was 21. For many who establish careers first, waiting too long means that potential parents may have a much harder time at becoming a parent at all.

And then, planning goes out the window. Potential moms-to-be who try to conceive via assisted reproduction can plan when they start a cycle, but they can't make the expensive procedures work. Adoption happens when all the pieces fall into place. That certainly can't be planned for most folks.

And what happens if you do manage to have that baby in the odd year? You're still entering early to mid-toddlerhood when the next election cycle rolls around. For me, taking the leap into parenthood, which happened just three months into the 9/11 story, was leaping into a world where all the previous plans got thrown out the window for new ones.

Does family planning by job cycles scream a priorities question to you? Or is it simply part of being a realistic parent to recognize that certain high-stress work times aren't conducive to giving birth?

For an alternate view, check out On Balance.

By Stacey Garfinkle |  October 31, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Relationships
Previous: Questions Unanswered | Next: Skimpy Skirts or Modest Fairies?


I really dont think it is anyones busines how/why I (or anyone else) choose to plan my family. If women schedule pregnancy and childbirth (a medical condition) around life events that is their business (and proactive in my opinion). Planning to have a child you are looking at (unpaid) medical leave (if you work), insurance coverage (the mothers and childs), the need for savings, etc. Scheduling the best itme timewise as well as moneywise just makes sense.
Please, lets not criticize women for using family planning.

Posted by: jess | October 31, 2007 8:39 AM | Report abuse

"I wish I'd known earlier," Fletcher says. "I would have worked it into my life plan."

You have got to be kidding me. If a smart, engaged 37-year-old woman didn't know before now that her fertility has a shelf life, then it's because she deliberately set out not to know, or she thought that it didn't apply to her.

Anyone who has even glanced at a newspaper any time during the past 10 years knows that a woman's fertility usually diminishes as she gets older.

Posted by: Lizzie | October 31, 2007 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Has anyone seen Idiocracy? The movie speaks to the entire subject of career-driven people putting off having children and the (silly and extreme) repercussions it ultimately has on society. Not my opinion, necessarily, but a funny take on it.

Posted by: Jen | October 31, 2007 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Of course you should plan it. Don't have a kid when you can't afford them, are too stressed, aren't ready, or are having relationship problems. Plan it!

Posted by: Olney | October 31, 2007 9:12 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Lizzie. For an educated woman to say she had no idea that she had a biological clock is totally ludicrous. She's either a total idiot or chose to ignore it, and based on her career success, I doubt she's an idiot. She chose her career over having a family, and now she has to live with the consequences of her choice.

Posted by: Dennis | October 31, 2007 9:14 AM | Report abuse

"Gatorade! It's got what plants need!"

Posted by: Lizzie | October 31, 2007 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I disagree with you Lizzie and Dennis. Women who are now in their late thirties were raised in an environment that said they could balance work and family by choosing to start a family later in life. We were told in our early twenties that the biological clock did not make it imperative to start a family as soon as possible, we should take time to establish ourselves in the world, and there would be time enough later for children.

Posted by: Contrary | October 31, 2007 9:45 AM | Report abuse

She is not saying she did not know, she is saying she did not know HOW HARD IT WOULD BE. It is different. Don't be so preachy and judgmental.

Posted by: D | October 31, 2007 9:54 AM | Report abuse

My interpretation of what Ms. Fletcher is saying is that you never really know if you will struggle with infertility until well, you're struggling with it. So she could have tried to get pregnant earlier just to see if she could but how irresponsible would that be.

And before you tell me that every 37-year old should assume she will have difficulties getting pregnant I'd like to introduce you to my younger sister and my husband's 2 younger brothers who are all "change of life" babies. There are plenty of women in their late 30's and early 40's who get pregnant unintentionally - and many who assumed they couldn't possibly be pregnant because they are too old. Perhaps just not as many who desperately want to get pregnant but can't (or perhaps it's just a difference between who the media is paying attention to).

Posted by: m | October 31, 2007 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Why is it a "priorities question" to plan a pregnancy for a time which is less stressful for the parents? When I was pregnant I had to stop a lot of my usual activities because I just didn't have the energy for them. But I did that at a time when I could. While I decided I was not willing to wait until I finished the degree, I'm certainly glad that I was not in the throes of my coursework while pregnant.

Posted by: Grad Student | October 31, 2007 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I think family planning is a good thing, but keep it in perspective. Sometimes, even the best-laid plans go awry, and some pregnancies will be unexpected, and you'll just have to do the best you can under what you think are non-optimal conditions. My grandmother had her three children during wartime - one in the hospital basement while said hospital was being bombed. Three babies, emigration, poverty, struggle. Non-optimal, to be sure, but she managed, they made it, and they never regretted their much-loved family.

Posted by: Katie | October 31, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

from me but are there any comments to be found here today?

Posted by: No comment | October 31, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

I see Washpo is up and running finally!

Posted by: No comment | October 31, 2007 10:06 AM | Report abuse

This is a silly topic, both here and at On Balance.

Of course people should plan their families the best they can (obviously infertility and surprise multiple births and medical problems can change those plans), for whatever reasons are personally important to them.

What is there to discuss??

Someone wake me up when there's a real discussion to be had about parenting.

Posted by: Boo! | October 31, 2007 10:26 AM | Report abuse

I think what's important here is to realize that yes, women these days have a lot more choices, but also that some things are out of our hands.
You can put off having a baby, but realize that you might still get pregnant (it happened to me) or you might have trouble conceiving later on (also fertility treatments can be a cost burden for many families).
I don't think there's anything wrong with planning around work, people have been family planning for years, though the reason hasn't always been work related.
For example, I recently had my second and it was a tough decision because I had just gotten a new job, but I didn't want to wait longer because I didn't want a large age difference between my kids. You just have to figure out what's best for you family, but in the end, it's not always up to you.

Posted by: mommywriter | October 31, 2007 10:27 AM | Report abuse

"Women who are now in their late thirties were raised in an environment that said they could balance work and family by choosing to start a family later in life."

I am 33 and have seen "don't outwait your fertility" articles since I was in college. There's a big difference between telling women that they don't have to have kids at 21 and that they will remain fertile for as long as they please, and lots of women have been able to find the middle ground here.

I totally understand a woman who finds her career intensely compelling until all of a sudden she doesn't anymore, but in that case, it's more accurate to say "I thought I would continue to be happy with these choices and it's surprising and painful to find that isn't true" than it is to say "I had no idea that it's more difficult to get pregnant at age 37 than it is at age 27! Why didn't anyone tell me this?"

Lots of women have no problem getting pregnant later in life. It's a personal choice as to whether you want to hang your hat on hoping that will be true for you.

Posted by: Lizzie | October 31, 2007 10:33 AM | Report abuse

i think family planning can be a matter of courtesy to your fellow co-workers-- if one person is out on maternity leave, it may be considerate to wait until they return to have your baby. That was my plan-- to get pregnant and in nine months return after my co-worker had returned but I ended up getting pregnant one month earlier than I planned-- so I am afraid she may have felt compelled to return one month sooner than she had planned to because of my "surprize" baby.

Posted by: baby-work | October 31, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

There are so many needy children in foster care dreaming of loving parents. Older children, children with issues -- all need families. Yeah, it will be tough - but IVF as an alternative can be just as tough. Through foster-to-adopt programs the kids get some much need parents/families.

I know kids will happen when the time is right. I am not ready to get married just for the sake of marriage and kids for the sake of kids. It may be another 5 years until a great guy arrives - until then I am living a great life with a lot of travel, dear friends, adventure, and boyfriends. If biological kids happen, great - if not adoption/fostering is always there. I would rather wait to have a positive marriage and family life.

Posted by: DC singleton | October 31, 2007 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Again, I agree with Lizzie. My wife and I are in our late 30s and we started trying to conceive right after we got married 7 years ago because we were well aware of the risks of waiting.

Yes, you can have fertility problems when you are younger, although there is less of a risk. And if you are younger, you have more time to try to work through them.

Of course Ms. Fletcher didn't know she would have fertility problems. At the same time, I find it hard to believe she didn't know about the possibility of having fertility problems and how the chances increase with age.

Life is full of choices and we all accept the consequences of those choices, good and bad.

Posted by: Dennis | October 31, 2007 11:21 AM | Report abuse

I think it's total bull-oney that people have a hard time conceiving only due to age. I've spoken to women who use their age and their careers in their 20s as rueful excuses as to why they can't have kids, but I think it's total BS. I know of too many friends who had sex without birth control in their 20s and never got pregnant. I know of too many people who miscarried at 29, 30, 31, 32. I know that we had no problems getting pregnant in our 30s. There are many factors at play, but I seriously doubt age is the "first" factor in any pregnancy issues.

Posted by: DCer | October 31, 2007 11:36 AM | Report abuse

"Life is full of choices and we all accept the consequences of those choices, good and bad."

Some of the ancients knew this, don't know why Ms. Fletcher doesn't. She's not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 31, 2007 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Why not just have all your babies when you're a teenager, you're at the height of your fertility. This is just as bad as that stupid woman a couple of years ago telling women they should have children in their 20's as opposed to their 30's due to possible fertility problems. Sure life doesn't always work out as you expected, it may not be fertility problems, what if a spouse dies, what if you lose your job, or suffer a serious illness or aliens attack earth? I work with a guy that was disappointed that they didn't plan their second kid better, since the baby is due in January and he won't be able to get the tax credit this year... bummer.

Posted by: stayoutofmywomb | October 31, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I think everyone's pretty well covered it here. There's planning for when you can have a baby which is awesome and more people should do it, and being so wrapped up that you completely miss your window by, like, a decade.

Anyway, she's a Bushie, so maybe she's allergic to sex ed and all those fertility articles? It also may be why she's wasting her time on fertility treatments instead of plunging into the adoption process (which can take more time than IVF).

Posted by: Kat | October 31, 2007 1:19 PM | Report abuse

There are many factors at play, but I seriously doubt age is the "first" factor in any pregnancy issues.

Posted by: DCer | October 31, 2007 11:36 AM

I agree. We had our first at 34 and our second at 40. We conceived within 3 weeks of trying on each attempt. I'm not saying age is NOT a factor, but perhaps age is the preferred factor to blame by some who see pregnancy primarily as a topic for public policy debates and not as a personal decision.

Posted by: anonfornow | October 31, 2007 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Game, set, match to Dennis and Lizzie.

Sorry Contrary.

Posted by: Game, set, match | October 31, 2007 1:44 PM | Report abuse

"Women who are now in their late thirties were raised in an environment that said they could balance work and family by choosing to start a family later in life."

Um yeah, later but not 20 years later! I think we were taught that we didn't have to have babies in our early 20s like our parents did, but every woman I know knew that there would eventually be a cutoff.


Posted by: wow | October 31, 2007 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Planning is good.

The problem is planning and expecting everything to go to plan, and/or planning and then being unhappy with the very predictable consequences of said plan.

The reality is that once women truly take control of reproduction and hold men to full parenting expectations as they are now expected to to do, all of these issues will have a completely new playing field on which to work.

Until then, well they are stuck where they are.

Posted by: Liz D | October 31, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Two things:

when there is a real societal acceptance (and policies and attitudes that accept that) women will once again feel they can have their children in their 20's.

I waited until I had enough career traction that I could set my own hours, work from home, take leave when I had too, etc. That was at 35 when I started TTC. It took 14 months for it to happen.

Second Thing: You can only plan so far. After that your body has its own timetable. I finally conceived right after relocating and in the middle of a job hunt. Not the best time. But, we had decided it was the right "time" in our lives for a child, so we kept trying even though I knew that exact scenario was a possibility.

Posted by: former DC | October 31, 2007 3:36 PM | Report abuse

"While I decided I was not willing to wait until I finished the degree, I'm certainly glad that I was not in the throes of my coursework while pregnant."

I was in the throes of coursework while pregnant, and it worked out great. I called my lil basketball belly my "good luck charm" and actually had the best academic semester of my transcript - all while taking the hardest courses. Granted, the semester started after the morning sickness had worn off, and it was not always easy, particularly when sciatica set in around week 28. I'm not saying that either of us is right - just that I did it and had a great experience!!

I got pregnant in my late 20s after years of hemming and hawing about having kids. I actually now find myself regretting that I didn't start a family earlier - I think my energy levels would be a lot higher if I were 23 as opposed to a decade north of that.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 31, 2007 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Up until the mid-1950's, babies were all oopsies (accidents). Nobody planned them. Now with birth control pills, IUDs, vasectomies, whatever -- nobody should have accidents, and I can't imagine anybody in their right mind actually wanting a kid. You've got to be nuts.

The US populatin alone is over 300 million. Your individual contribution is not necessary. You do not have to use your stretch marks to get special privileges. Furthermore, that 'educated' 37-year-old whose biological time clock is nearly dead -- too bad, Toots. Were you sleeping during sex ed? Nurture now, achieve later, or vice versa. You can't do both.

Posted by: baby boomer accident | October 31, 2007 5:01 PM | Report abuse

It would be nice if people were more accepting of women in their 20's choosing to have kids then rather then waiting. I have my daughter just shy of my 23rd birthday and some of the comments I have received were ridiculous. I actually had a woman ask me how it was to give up my childhood. (This was a person who waited until 40 to have her child). I think we should be more accepting of when everyone chooses to have their children. If they do wait they all know the consequences for their actions and need to accept them, not figure they will be the one that is ok. There are no guarantees.

Posted by: anon | October 31, 2007 6:08 PM | Report abuse

I learned an important thing about birth control when I was very young. A scientist wisely stated that birth control is a bad term for what we are doing. We can prevent pregnancy, but there's no guarantee that things will work out for you when you are ready to get pregnant. I never forgot that. I joked to my hubby when I was 31 that we'd better get busy before I turn into one of those women who spends all her hard earned "career" money begging for donated eggs and paying surrogates to carry our child. We now have two wonderful kids and I am glad I didn't wait.

By the way, if during election years, you don't have time to get pregnant - trust me, you DON'T have time to be a mom or dad. Your kids are not going to fit around your schedule after they get here. They ARE your schedule. You'll have to pay attention to them every day of the year, not just in the off season of no elections. If you have trouble accepting that, then you may want to rethink walking the parenthood path.

Posted by: Kris | November 1, 2007 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Not everyone has all that much of a choice in the matter. Not all of us are married by the time we're 25 and following a life plan. And most of us don't want to have children without the help of a partner.

Saying that women are choosing between a career and family is overly simplistic and somewhat condescending. Life usually doesn't follow a plan; there are an infinite number of possibilites. And you may not meet your mate until your "fertility shelf life" reaches its end.

Posted by: Kaylee | November 2, 2007 6:04 PM | Report abuse

The idea of a life plan frankly makes me guffaw at this juncture. I have a congenital problem that I knew meant likely trouble conceiving. I got married when I was 23 - then spent 5 years convincing my husband that kids were a good idea, which he PURPORTED to agree on when we married. I knew darn well that I needed to get started, because it was going to be rough.

Long story short, planning wasn't. Whenever I got pregnant would be fine for me. I started trying in earnest at 27, and had my first baby at 31. That's after a devastating mid-term miscarriage and a lot of fertility treatments.

We call it "family planning," and maybe it works that way for some people. But once you have the babies, will you ever be able to genuinely plan or control anything ever again? This is life and death, pray that the outcome will be what you want: you are along for the ride on the process.

I understand that people want to plan, that a desire for control is natural (believe me). But I've learned little from my life except to plan for the unexpected and assume that you might fail.

Posted by: bad mommy | November 5, 2007 2:51 PM | Report abuse

It is impossible for me to feel sorry for someone who had a choice and made the wrong decision. Most of us don't have a choice - we have to wait until we meet someone of the opposite sex who is parenting material, i.e. marriage.

Posted by: Boraxo | November 5, 2007 4:29 PM | Report abuse

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